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Weekly Photo Roundup: March 5 2017

March 5th, 2017 | Posted by in Life at the Learning Center

Every Sunday I will be posting photos collected from various NCI graduate students and staff. Please enjoy this glimpse into our everyday lives here in the North Cascades.

Naturalists and graduate students prepare for a new season of Mountain School. Photo by Angela Burlile

Smokey Brine, the phenology graduate assistant, explains how she tracks the seasonal changes at various plots around the North Cascades Institute Environmental Learning Center. Photo by Angela Burlile

Mountain School instructors review the wolf debate, getting into character with the help of some fun costumes. Photo by Angela Burlile

Spring training wrapped up this week as naturalists and M.Ed. graduate students prepare for a new season of Mountain School. Together they reviewed curriculum, risk management protocol, new teamwork building activities, and more. On Monday, they will welcome Madison Elementary 5th graders, who will be attending Mountain School for their very first time!

Willow flower buds spotted on the road to Diablo. Photos by Dan Dubie

Beaked Hazelnut flowers blooming in Marblemount. Photos by Dan Dubie

Despite all the new snow this weekend, flowers are beginning to bloom down valley near Marblemount. While snow is projected for the rest of the week, we’re still hopeful for continuing signs of a new season.

Graduate students enjoying the fresh snow at Mt. Baker Ski Area. Photos by Kay Gallagher

Check out previous Photo Roundups here!

Title Photo by Angela Burlile

Winter Insects in the North Cascades

February 17th, 2017 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

For weeks here in the North Cascades, the ground has been blanketed in a thick layer of snow and ice, two or three feet deep in places. It is not the kind of weather in which you’d expect to see many insects out and about—and indeed, most insects go into a dormant phase in the winter, surviving the season in a state of suspended torpor as eggs, larvae, or adults. Yet it turns out that some insects will brave the snow and venture out in near-freezing temperatures.

After some of our recent snowfalls, I’ve gone snowshoeing and found winter insects alive and well, crawling about on the recently fallen snow crystals. Below are a few of the insect species you might encounter in the North Cascades even in the depths of winter:

Illustration of a midge or ‘no-see-ums’ courtesy of Wikipedia

Midges – In late January, fellow graduate M.Ed student Dan Dubie and myself went out hunting for midges after we noticed several of the tiny insects flying outside the window of the North Cascades Institute Environmental Learning Center dining hall. Midges are a type of true fly, meaning they belong to the same family as house flies, bluebottles, mosquitoes, and hundreds of other insects with a single pair of wings. Midges are among the smallest and most delicate members of the fly order, making it all the more impressive that they can survive in winter.

First we set out to find where the midges were coming from. Most midges spend the first part of their life cycle underwater, so I went down to the shore of Lake Diablo to look for signs of them. There, I found what appeared to be the shed pupal casings of a small insect floating in the water. I hypothesized that the midges we’d seen were recently-emerged adults that came out of these cases, just as a butterfly emerges from a chrysalis.

We next caught several in small jars, and I later examined them under a microscope to try to identify them. While I can’t be 100% positive (tiny insects are extremely difficult to identify, and in many cases only experts can make the call with certainty), I’m fairly confident the midges we found belong to the family Ceratopogonidae, the “no-see-ums.” They are also known as biting midges—but they never bit me, leading me to think this particular species must feed on animals other than humans.

In fact most midges, even those belonging to Ceratopogonidae, are completely harmless to people. Midges and other flies are among the most under-appreciated of insects, but they are an important part of the ecosystem and their ability to be active in winter testifies to their tenacity.

» Continue reading Winter Insects in the North Cascades

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Naturally Wonderful Naturalists: New staff of 2016

March 7th, 2016 | Posted by in Institute News

As the snow is melting and the trees are budding, our Naturalist Team is getting ready for teaching in the mountains. At the North Cascades Institute‘s Environmental Learning Center the Senior Naturalist and Lead Program Assist will help guide the five new Naturalist Field Instructors over nine months of teaching in the mountains.

During the spring and fall of 2016 these naturalists will educate elementary through high school students in our Mountain School program about the numerous interactions in the surrounding ecosystem. During the summer they will be leading high school students on back country trips through our Youth Leadership Adventure program. Throughout their time here they will also have opportunities to lead Skagit Tours; a tour of Seattle City Light’s Skagit River Hydroelectric Project.

We look forward to their energy and enthusiasm in the variety of ways they will teach about the North Cascades!

IMG_0194

Max Thomas

Max isn’t new to North Cascades Institute, but is taking on a new role with us. After 2 previous years as a seasonal naturalist, Max has moved into the Senior Naturalist position. This position supervises the naturalists and provides leadership and mentorship in our education programs, with a focus on Mountain School, Family Getaways and Basecamp. Max was raised in Minneapolis and went to college at the University of Minnesota Duluth where he received a degree in Outdoor Education. Chinese Teapots Wholesale Chinese Teapots Amber Spiral Bracelets
During college he found a variety of passions in the forms of canoeing, hiking, backpacking, snowboarding and cross-country skiing.  After college Max worked as an interpretation ranger in Glacier National Park.  The beauty rocked his socks off.  After 4 years in Montana, the Cascade Mountains called his name and has found a new home in the Evergreen State.  The beauty is still rocking his socks off.  When he isn’t playing nature games with fifth graders or camping in the mountains, Max can be found fiercely rooting on Minnesota sports teams.

» Continue reading Naturally Wonderful Naturalists: New staff of 2016

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Natural Notes on the Pacific Wren and Saw Whet Owl

February 29th, 2016 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

By Hannah Newell, a M.Ed. Graduate student of the Institute’s 15th Cohort

Pacific Wren

This avian is a year round resident in our coniferous forests but to me has gone unnoticed until fall when all the other commanding voices of spring and summer have slowly disappeared. The first one I noticed was on a typical rainy fall day with leaf litter covering any empty space on the forest floor. This unfortunate wren had gotten stuck under a leaf just as big as it’s tiny body and was trying desperately to fly away from my forthcoming presence. After a few flitters and hops around, it was able to free itself from the leaf and left me laughing to myself in a quiet forest.

PacificWren10

Pacific Wren. Photo courtesy of seeingbirds.com

As we’ve come into the colder months of winter their call has morphed into a short and quiet chirp that they use as they hop around the forest floor looking for food. More often than not, I hear their hopping before I see their bodies emerge from the leafy debris under my feet.Chinese Teapots Wholesale Chinese Teapots Amber Spiral Bracelets
To my amazement they seem at home in the cold, snowy forest. One has to wonder how their tiny bodies cope with the extreme cold.

Journal Wren 1

Hannah’s notes on the Pacific Wren (bottom right) in her journal.

I’ve heard that in summer and spring they make intricately woven nests of moss that are attached to root balls or thickly branched trees. Their call becomes strengthened and elongated to rival those of the big shots (pileated woodpecker, american robin). I’m looking forward to my continued observation of this small yet powerful bird.

» Continue reading Natural Notes on the Pacific Wren and Saw Whet Owl

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Two Burning Houses: A Natural History of Stinging Nettle

October 20th, 2015 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

I clearly remember my introduction to the mystery and power of stinging nettle. On a late summer day, I found myself, alongside my graduate cohort, at the Northwest Indian College. Located on the Lummi Indian Reservation in Bellingham, Washington, the college caters exclusively to tribal members across the country and includes a number of programs focused on traditional skills and knowledge. Through their Traditional Plants and Foods program, instructors educate students on native medicine and healing foods. Vanessa Cooper, the program coordinator, spoke to us at length about the healing power of several native plants. I will never forget the transformation of Vanessa’s face when her talk turned to nettle. She became deeply serene and her eyes half-closed as she murmured, “Oh, I just love nettle. She reminds us to pay attention.”

What was it about this much-maligned plant that inspired such reverence in her? What power did this plant hold? I needed to find out.

» Continue reading Two Burning Houses: A Natural History of Stinging Nettle

Owen Painter, MS, by Cam Painter

“When we say…….

June 18th, 2014 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

….’Mountain’, you say, ‘School!'”

Mountain!!

School!!

Mountain!

School!

It has been another successful season here at Mountain School, the North Cascades Institute’s flagship program through which naturalist-educators have welcomed 4th-12th graders to the North Cascades since 1990. It was an extra long spring season, stretching from February 18 to June 12 due, in large part, to having to reschedule three schools from the government shut-down last October.

Program Outreach Coordinator Codi Hamblin, who is also a former graduate student from Cohort 10 and former editor of Chattermarks, supplied the numbers:

  • Total number of Mt School participants (students, teachers chaperones): 2,588
  • Total number of Mt School students only: 1,445
  • Schools (both public, private, and home) attended from western and eastern Washington: 34

 

Some of the schools attending Mountain School this spring received scholarship assistance from North Cascades Institute. The scholarship is dependent upon an individual school’s demonstrated need as provided by the state’s Office of Superintendent Public Instruction. This helps to ensure a variety of schools can attend Mountain School regardless of a community’s need.

But enough words. Buff Black, a photographer and parent-chaperone from Bellingham’s Silver Beach Elementary, generously offered to share his images with Chattermarks. A select few are shown below, organized loosely following the A, B, and C‘s of our most popular three-day curriculum, “Ecosystem Explorations.”

 

Day 1: Abiotic (“not living, never will live, and never has lived”)

 

kevinbigmapSenior naturalist Kevin Biggs facilitates a lesson on the Big Map about the orographic effect.
tylersourdoughsignGraduate student and Mountain School instructor Tyler Chisholm helps orient her trail group to where they are in the forest and where they’re going.
kevinecosystemboardAn ecosystem is made up of both biotic (“living, will live, or has lived”) and abiotic components. This is the foundational concept of “Ecosystem Explorations.”
40 - Kaci and Dancer Solstice © Buff BlackGraduate student and Mountain School instructor Kaci Darsow helps entertain approximately 65 hungry 5th graders before they slowly descend on the dining hall.
pillowfightInstructors go home after either a diurnal or nocturnal shift (which only lasts till about 9:15pm, at the latest). But apparently pillow fights are a popular ritual in the lodges. Who knew?

 

Day 2: Biotic (“living, will live, or has lived”)

 

22 - Yasmin and Blindfolded Juliette Find the Right Tree © Buff BlackSilver Beach students work on team-building skills while learning to use senses other than sight to get to know some of the plants in the forest community through the popular “Meet-a-Tree” activity.
30 - Head Dunking in Sourdough Creek © Buff BlackSeveral trail groups tend to visit “The Waterfall” on Sourdough Creek on Day 2, doing trail lessons and games throughout the 3.5 mile round-trip hike. Head-dunking in the snowmelt-fed creek is often requisite.
37 - Food Waste Warriors and Chef Hard at Work © Buff BlackThe Food Waste Warriors and Chef Kent defeat Valuta Wastoid once again with their fresh, local food and penchant for composting in Mountain School’s nightly rendition of dinner theater. Waste not!
43 - Guide Kaci and Cougar Clan Get In Touch with a Wolf Skull © Buff BlackThe evening Ranger Program uses “Mystery Skulls” to hone students’ observation skills while teaching them about carnivore adaptations and wildlife of the North Cascades.
42 - Ranger Dylan and Cougar Clan Talk about Carnivores © Buff BlackRanger Dylan, kindly borrowed from the National Park Service (a primary partner of the North Cascades Institute), chats with a student during the small group discussion portion of his program.

 

Day 3: Community (the plants, the animals, and their interactions)

 

50 - Guide Tyler Leading an Eyes-Closed Trust Hike © Buff BlackTyler’s all smiles leading a trust line for her trail group.
32 - Cougar Clan and Sourdough Creek Waterfall © Buff BlackWe made it!

Chris Kiser, Mountain School Program Coordinator, reflects on the season:

This spring, nearly 35 schools and 1.500 students from all over the Puget Sound and East and West sides of the Cascades came to the mountains to experience and explore the magic of this place, leaving as more cohesive groups with expanded understandings of the local ecosystem and their role in it. Closing campfire ceremonies at the end of the Mountain School program always bring this home for me, as students share out loud an unselfish wish for their community. Often, these wishes focus around Mountain School being available to every 5th grader, or continuing to care for wild places so that National Parks like the North Cascades will be protected now into the future. I can’t think of a better example of the Institute’s mission to conserve and restore Northwest environments through education in practice than the words of these young people.

34 - Crouched Cougar Clan Portrait Looking Up © Buff Black
Leading photo: Representing Omak Middle School from Washington’s east side, Owen Painter gets creative with the spillway on Diablo Dam. The “Dam Walk” is one of the evening activities during springtime Mountain School, a privilege granted by our partner, Seattle City Light. It is often a unique experience for the students to get to walk across a 389-foot-tall dam and learn about hydroelectric power generation in a national park. Photo by Cam Painter.
 
All photos by Buff Black (except the lead).
 

Katherine Renz is a graduate student in North Cascades Institute and Western Washington University’s M.Ed. program. She wishes to extend a huge thank you to all the Mountain School students, teachers, and chaperones; to Buff Black for his beautiful photography; to Chris Kiser for her extraordinary organizational capacity; and to her fellow Mountain School instructors. Schooooool’s out, for, summer!

 

 

praying mantis k. renz

Nature Namaste: Retreats with Maya Whole Health Studio

June 9th, 2014 | Posted by in Institute News

Snowy mountains, old growth forests, wholesome food, s’mores and yoga.

How could you go wrong with a combo like that?

Maya Whole Health Studio is hosting their series “Yoga, Nature & More: Refresh Your Perspective” retreats at the Environmental Learning Center this summer and fall through North Cascades Institute’s Group Rentals Program. They are a fantastic group of instructors and health practitioners from Renton, WA who are devoted to the well-being and enjoyment of their participants.

Not only are the retreats located in one of the most beautiful places in the Pacific Northwest, but guests are well taken care of while staying at the Environmental Learning Center. Maya Whole Health’s owner, Shannon Aldrich-Payne, and instructor, Kristen Swanzy-O’Conner, created the three-day, two-night retreat around meditation, yoga, reflection and experiencing the surrounding nature. Spending a weekend with them is relaxing and rejuvenating.

Exploring and learning about the immediate environment is the mission of North Cascades Institute. While staying at the Environmental Learning Center, our expert naturalists lead guests on a guided hike in North Cascades National Park. Participants experience the wilderness by learning about the local flora and fauna, observing the natural beauty of the mountainous North Cascades and visiting a breath-taking waterfall.

Food is another passion for North Cascades Institute. Our chefs make sure no one leaves our historic lakeside dining hall hungry by preparing flavorful, delicious, local, organic meals that can accommodate any dietary need (and there’s plenty of dessert too!).

cake betsy AndrianaDid someone say, “dessert”? Enjoy scrumptious meals at the Learning Center like this creation by our very own Chef Betsy. It’s a dairy-free, gluten-free delicious chocolate cake. Photo by author.

In addition to our naturalists and chefs, there is always an on-site host for Group Rentals to help guests and the program. Just like Maya Whole Health Studio, the North Cascades Institute staff is dedicated to making sure everyone thrives during their time here.

Ready to sign up for a retreat weekend with Maya Whole Health Studio? Below are the summer retreat dates and click here to register online or contact their studio:

June 13-15

July 2-4

Mark your calendars for their fall retreats too:

October 3-5

November 28-30

There are other Group Rental Programs that you can sign up for as well! From hiking adventures to wilderness medical trainings, visit www.ncascades.org/rentals.

Or learn how you can host your own event at the beautiful Environmental Learning Center by contacting Andriana Fletcher, Group Program Coordinator, andriana_fletcher@ncascades.org or 206-526-2565.

See you in the North Cascades!

IMG_5472Is there anything more epic than a glaciated valley in the North Cascades to inspire you to become more flexible and grounded? Likely not. Photo by Samantha Hale.
Leading photo: This praying mantis is a natural yogini. Photo by Katherine Renz.
 
 
Andriana Fletcher keeps the Environmental Learning Center bustling with diverse groups of people in her position as the Group Program Coordinator. When not in the North Cascades, she can probably be found in Croatia.