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red huckleberry buds

A Phenology Fix

March 24th, 2016 | Posted by in Life at the Learning Center

By Sasha Savoian, part of the Institute’s 15th Graduate Cohort.

The shifting of seasons. Temperature begins to rise as the arch of the sun lifts. Winds push and pull pendulous crowns of Hemlock and Western Red Cedar while gusts careen through limbs of Doug fir. Rains drench the lichen and moss covered landscape. Sun surprises. Days overshadow night. Subtle, sweet scents of spring waft unexpectedly in a warm breeze. Buds begin to break. Robins appear overnight.

Red Huckelberry

A Red Huckleberry limb with breaking buds along the Diablo Lake trail at the Environmental Learning Center.

The shifting of seasons. Spring is recently arrived, but the harbingers have slowly appeared up here in the North Cascades at 1,200 feet: buds of Willow, Red Flowering Currant and Indian Plum awaken, the catkins of Hazel and Alder open and dangle in preparation of pollen release, Varied Thrush, Chinese Teapots Wholesale Chinese Teapots Amber Spiral Bracelets
Robins and Pacific wrens sing the morning alive, a frog note travels through the air at dusk. At least a few of us up at the Environmental Learning Center on Diablo Lake are tuned to the frequency of phenology as we have eagerly awaited the firsts to unfurl. Phenology is essentially the study of seasonal cycles in the natural world, paying particular attention to the connectivity of the species within an ecosystem. Phenology encompasses events such as bird migration, phases of buds on trees and shrubs, hibernation and the hatching of insects related to changes in temperature, amount of sunlight and precipitation associated with shifts of seasons.

» Continue reading A Phenology Fix

SWW 2015 Looking

The Practice of Presence: Responding to Inner & Outer Landscapes Field Notes and Poems (Part One)

December 23rd, 2015 | Posted by in Life at the Learning Center

North Cascades Institute hosted a class called Sit, Walk, Write: Nature and the Practice of Presence. Participants began their days with a sitting meditation, followed by writing and sharing poetry and short nature essays, walking meditation, and exploring the woods around the Learning Center. Here are some participant poems that came out of this unique weekend in the North Cascades.

Falls Musings

By Barbara Retelle

Look up
up
Kaleidoscope of colored leaves
Of a tree
tree

Look down
down
Multi layered years of leaves
Sink into the sponge beneath
Musky mass
mass

Look all around
around
Mossy covered branches
Crisp tickling chill in the air
Dew drops fall to tongue from leaves
Sparkling fresh
fresh

Look again
again
Titter of Wren
Chatter of Douglas Squirrel
Ripple of Deer Creek
Whispering breeze fluttering Maple leaves
It is Fall
Fall

Windfall

By Sara Battin

Remnant of past windstorms
High wire acrobat held by spidery pallbearers
Adorned in their golden goodness.
Yours a mystery to hold my passing by ­‐
Wondering how you came to be so strung.

» Continue reading The Practice of Presence: Responding to Inner & Outer Landscapes Field Notes and Poems (Part One)

backpacking Hillary S.

The Preservation of the World

June 13th, 2014 | Posted by in Adventures

Ed. note: The days are getting longer, at least for another week or so. Here is a piece from a former graduate student to inspire you to get out there, both to the big-W wilderness as well as the wilds just outside your door.

By Hillary Schwirtlich

Glacier Peak Wilderness

We huddle from the driving wind under the protection of a band of stunted subalpine firs on the ridgeline near White Pass. My rain jacket is soaked through, again. The clammy synthetic material clings heavy to my arms and I can feel the cold rain seeping through my shoulders and wrists. My bare legs are numb. We ducked under these trees for a moment because we haven’t stopped walking for hours, but we know we can’t stop long or we’ll start to shiver. We’re attempting Glacier Peak for the second time tomorrow. Our first attempt, almost exactly a year earlier, was thwarted by a combination of lack of fitness and a spectacular storm of the kind that creeps like a blanket over the peaks of the Cascades in late summer. We hope our training will help us this time. We walked here from Mexico, we tell ourselves incredulously. The longest approach on a mountaineering trip ever. We can do this.

We stand up and start toward the pass, where the Pacific Crest Trail turns left toward the newly built bridge over the Suiattle River and our detour takes us left through a marmot colony toward Foam Creek.Chinese Teapots Wholesale Chinese Teapots Amber Spiral Bracelets
After so long away from cities, our eyes are tuned to pick out anything that doesn’t fit in this landscape, and we spot an orange lump on our route, then two strange figures, brown and white. “What is that?” I ask, and Chris replies, “Llama?”

view of White Pass Hillary S.A green view of White Pass: What the author imagines when she thinks of Glacier Peak Wilderness. Photo by author.

We’ve become a little wild ourselves by this point, and we approach warily. When we get close, the orange dome tent spits out a beanie-topped man, older than us, with a steaming cup in his hand. “Hi!” he beams, and since the rain has let up for a moment, we stop to chat. He’s a hunter, up for the high hunt. He hasn’t seen a single deer or elk, but he says he’s just happy to be where he is. “I’ve been coming to this country for a long time, and these hunts are just an excuse for me to be here, really.” We nod, we know what he means, we’re here for the same reasons. The Glacier Peak Wilderness was — and still is — the landscape my heart escapes to in its daydreams.

Movement has been our default for the last five months and the sun is setting earlier these days, so our restless legs tug us onwards. We wish each other good luck and Chris and I push on, our eyes trained upwards for our path over the ridge, a familiar notch. We leave the cupped, underused trail, climb up and over, then back down, up and down, our steps tracing ancient lava flows from the white giant over the ridge. Finally, we see it: our campsite, a windy plain of moonrock. Then farther, when the clouds clear for an instant, past a patchwork field of rock and snow: a lake of milky greenish water, beside the dirty remains of the White Chuck Glacier. We have been expecting this view, having been temporarily turned around on our previous trip, our climbing party arguing briefly over whether we were in the right basin. The USGS-made map dated from the 1970s showed a blue field of ice where a lake and rubble now was. This was the first place climate change, which I’ve now come to see as the grief, challenge and opportunity of my generation, hit me as something more than just a contested abstract concept.

panorama glacier Hillary S.Panorama of White Chuck Glacier (left) and the lake where it used to span (right). Photo by author.

We set up camp, giddy to be here, apprehensive about the morning’s weather. We fall asleep to the sound of wind howling across newly exposed glacial deposits. In the morning, the wind is stronger, and though fitness is no longer a factor and the sky clears, we reach a point a thousand feet below the summit when the wind severs my connection with the ground. I find myself flat on my belly, heart pounding, hugging the narrow ridge to keep from being blown away. Only slightly disappointed, we turn around. We still have Canada to look forward to, and this place will always be here.

On our way back down, a deafening roar rumbles from behind and we glance back in time to watch a fighter-jet contour up the white edge of glacier and barrel roll, only feet from the summit. Our legs go wobbly and we feel lightheaded with vertigo. “What if we were up there?” we ask.

coming down Hillary S.Coming down the mountain. Glacier Peak looms bright in the background. Photo by author.

Home

I used to have a moss garden. On the cement in front of the door of our north-facing, basement apartment, where only recently the weak spring sunlight has begun to stream through the branches of the rhododendron outside the window, the constant Washington wet would drip off the roof and land muffled and splashless on a bed of bright green moss the size of a dinner plate. When we moved in in September I made up my mind to sculpt it into some aesthetically pleasing shape, but that goal was quickly buried in a sea of grad-student to-dos. So there it stayed, ragged and shapeless and lush.

Until the end of February when a snowstorm left the ground white and left the newly arrived robins with no grass to pick at. The snow on our cement path melted faster than the snow on the grass, and the robins went for the only thing green they could find. I didn’t watch them do it — I only knew because the same thing had happened at my professor John’s house when we arrived at class that day. Bits of moss that had grown on his steps were strewn about his front walkway, strewn about by robins looking for insects and grubs and worms to tug out of the grass.

maple buds Hillary S.The little things: Maple tree flowers outside the author’s front door. Photo by author.

Now the snow has melted and the buds are breaking on the maple trees in the front yard. Snowdrops — those small white flowers that always know its spring before I do — have pushed themselves up from the cold soil and spread their frost-colored petals to the sky. The other morning, when the snooze on my alarm clock failed to get me out of bed, curiosity about the source of the trilling, musical song outside my window did. A crow calls twice and ruffles its glossy black feathers from the streetlight across the street, and chickadees scold and buzz from the birdfeeder, their eyes bright and black-crowned heads cocked. Nuthatches perch on the lip of the feeder, wary, then choose the largest seed and flit away to ignore gravity on the trunk of a nearby tree.

house Hillary S.The rhododendron bush and the “moss garden” (see left) helping provide a landscape to love, even in town. Photo by author.

For the last six months we’ve lived on this busy street corner and I’ve walked guiltily past the trash that lays in my yard, left by college students walking downtown and blown in from the streets and parking lots around where I live. But while sitting outside the front door on sunny days and behind my window on the much more common rainy ones, I began to notice. I started picking up that trash, respecting this tiny piece of land, surrounded by asphalt and concrete and filled with non-native plants. Because even though it’s a small thing, I know that this is the way I should treat a place that I love. It’s how I treat wilderness, after all.

-4Maple tree in the fall, setting the author’s front yard on foliage fire. Photo by author.
Leading photo: Not a llama, but a beanie-topped man the author and her partner, Chris, met on their trek through Glacier Peak Wilderness toward the end of their Pacific Crest Trail adventure.
 

Hillary Schwirtlich graduated in March from North Cascades Institute and Western Washington University’s M.Ed. program. She is the Southwest and Sierra Program Coordinator for American Alpine Institute, and lives and gardens in Bellingham, Washington. She loves to read, write, climb, hike, paint and cook, and you will usually find her in the Chuckanuts, at Vital Climbing Gym, bike commuting through Boulevard Park or volunteering. 

 

 

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

Road Trip: The Olympic Peninsula

July 15th, 2010 | Posted by in Adventures

As much as we love North Cascadian landscapes — and with over 7,000,000 acres of protected public lands in Washington and British Columbia, there will never be an end to options for explorations — we here at the Institute are still called to visit and experience other amazing places on our planet. We’ll publish accounts of some of the places NCI staff and graduate students visit in our Road Trip series

My first 2010 trip away from the Salish Sea occured in May when I caught the Keystone Ferry for Port Townsend and spent a solo week in Olympic National Park, hiking, paddling and observing the emerging lushness of spring.

My first destination was Lake Ozette in the far northwestern corner of the state. I posted up at a nearly-empty campground on the northshore, dropped my sea kayak on to the lake and paddled a couple of hours south to a remote backcountry campsite at Erickson’s Bay. I was lucky to have decent, stable weather, no wind and Ozette — the third largest lake in the state — all to myself. Trails from the bay, as well as from the northshore campground, wind 3 miles through coastal forests, prairies and the remains of homesteads to the wild Pacific coast, where one can explore tidepools, view sea stacks, observe seabirds and seals and search for migrating grey whales and the famous Wedding Rocks pictographs.

» Continue reading Road Trip: The Olympic Peninsula