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Ready? Set? Go! Autumn!

October 25th, 2013 | Posted by in Field Excursions

Signs of fall tend to be subtle around the Environmental Learning Center, in the plant world, at least: We live in a dense coniferous forest, so the landscape remains mostly a swath of green. But the traditional seasonal hues awaited Graduate Cohort 13 on the east side of the peaks during our recent tri-annual Natural History Retreat. This year’s Retreat was a tad abridged due to….politics such as, um, a government shut-down. We rerouted, replanned, and still managed to re-treat ourselves to the explosive rainbow of the dry side. Stoplight shades of red, yellow, and green were most prominent, punctuated by flaming peach from the turning leaves of Spirea and faded indigo from the last elderberries drooping on roadside canes (the berries were gone a month ago here in the wet west). A sampling of nature’s floral palette? Sure!


snow budAn unidentified twig with soft carmine growth buds pokes through the snow on Cutthroat Pass Trail.


IMG_6161These rose hips, a.k.a. the fruit of the rose flower, were some of the biggest, roundest, and reddest hips I’d ever seen. Notably high in vitamin C, the hips are dried and consumed in everything from puddings to tea to candy.

» Continue reading Ready? Set? Go! Autumn!

Fall Vignettes from the Institute

October 23rd, 2011 | Posted by in Institute News

People experience the seasonal transformations of the natural world in a myriad of ways. Each of us may recognize subtleties taking hold of a landscape in times of change that others will miss completely because they have learned to pay attention to different details. Amidst downpours of rain in the lowlands and dustings of snow in the mountains, it can be easy to settle in to quieter and more thoughtful routines. It can be easy to put our noses in books and our feet in slippers, forgetful that these changes bring new forms of burgeoning and often unnoticed life back into the world.

For some, these changes affect most the olfactory realm, delighting that sense with smells of duff and rich, turning soils. For others, it is the sight of a golden larch contrasted against crystalline snow and mountain peaks, and still others notice most the mosses of the forest floor amplified to new shades of green by the quickening rains. Perhaps for some it is the elongated light and the shadows that persist which give new meaning to the color and character of the trees. Or some may simply feel it as an urgent knowing from deep within, a connection to the undercurrents of a timeless, cyclical change.

By combining our individual morsels of detail and thought about the essential elements of fall, we are able to paint a richer understanding of this place in which we live. We are able collectively to tell a story that captures the beauty of the changing seasons in the North Cascades ecosystem. In the process, we learn to draw on other’s knowledge in order to widen our own, ultimately coming to appreciate a more communal understanding of place. Below, staff and graduate students share their own unique vignettes of fall, offering perspectives of this region that span many seasons to just a few months.

Tigerlily pods ready to sow their seeds on the fecund soils of the Methow Valley. Photo by Jess Newley.

» Continue reading Fall Vignettes from the Institute

Title hunt

Gone huntin’

October 24th, 2009 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

Eyes on the side like to hide. Eyes on the front like to hunt.” With rhymes like these, we begin to introduce students to the energy relationships between prey and predator here in the North Cascades.  For this fall season’s Mountain School Ranger Program, fifth grade students examine a variety of mammal skulls.  There is a Cougar (sp. Felus concolor), a Black bear (Ursus Americanus), a Gray wolf (Canus lupus) and a Wolverine (Gulo gulo). The position of their eyes face forward, all of them serving as hunters in these mountains.

Among the group of hunters also exists skulls of a Mountain goat (Oreamnos americanus) and Black-tailed, or mule, deer (Odocoileus hemionus), the side position of their eyes indicative of their status as the hunted, the prey. The sense of wonder in these students’ faces as they examine eye position, teeth shape and cranial size in their attempts to, as young scientists, figure out which skull fits which mammal, is clear and inspiring to me as an educator.

Observing from the sidelines, I have, at times, seen students compare their own teeth, their own eye positions and jaw bones with those of the mammal skulls they have yet to determine on the tables. Watching them, I wonder — how do they view themselves in relation to these animals?  We are mammals, too. Are we, as humans, the hunter or the hunted?  Or, in a child’s mind, are we humans seen as separate from this ecosystem, outside of the realm of observation and inquiry these students so strongly exercise during Mountain School?

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