From North Cascades Institute

Search Chattermarks

North Cascades on Instagram


Naturalist Note: February in the Mountains

February 25th, 2018 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

“No winter lasts forever, no spring skips its turn.” – Hal Borland

February is the beginning of my favorite stretch of year – the transition from winter into spring, and then spring into summer.

This winter I am finding myself drawn to the lowland forests and deciduous banks of the Skagit River. My time upriver has been the most wintery winter I’ve endured; I am now accustomed to the semi-regular process of scraping ice and snow off my windshield, and wearing microspikes as I walk down the icy road of the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center. However, a walk in the forest feels like a visit with an old friend. It reminds me of my island home at the other side of the watershed, Deception Pass. Everywhere in the forest, signs of familiar companions are appearing and talking and that makes my heart feel much warmer, though my toes and hands are just as cold.

These interactions have also filled my journal with many, flowery ramblings. In between classes, and now Mountain School trainings, I try to take a walk outside and note changes in my environment. February is especially a time of rapid change – one day it can be cool and damp out, and the next day there’s seven inches of snow on the ground and slush in my boots. Below, I’ve noted some of the changes witnessed within my little sphere of the world this past week. What have you noted, too?

Recent Naturalist Notes: 

On February 16 – I heard a Varied thrush (Ixoreus naevius) sing outside of my partner’s cabin in Marblemount, while branches cracked from the weight of freshly fallen snow.

February 17 – During a rainy walk in Rockport State Park, I found Indian plum (Oemleria cerasiformis), or osoberry, breaking leaf buds all along the Suak-Springs trail.

Also spotted were young buds on the Vine maple (Acer circinatum), leafy buds of the Salmonberry (Rubus spectabilis), and two of my favorite edibles popping up along the forest floor: Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) and Siberian miner’s lettuce (Claytona sibirica). It’s only a matter of time until I can make a batch of nettle pesto!

And there were signs of moss reproduction everywhere, with the stalk-like shoots of the sporophyte popping up. The spore capsules are about ready to release spores that will grow into new moss. Next time, I will take my hand lens with me to get an even closer look.

On the drive home, I stopped at mileposts 100 and 101 to stand by the Skagit River. I saw three Bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) at 101 and noticed the snow line on the mountains and grey clouds. It felt good to stand close to the talking river and listen to the eagles.

» Continue reading Naturalist Note: February in the Mountains

Weekly Photo Roundup: December 8 2017

December 8th, 2017 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

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

To start things off, here’s some life advice from the mushroom above:

Be down-to-earth
Know when to show up
Sprout new ideas
Keep a low profile
Stay well-rounded
Understand your connection to others

It felt relevant to me this week, as we transition into winter and see our three-week break in the near future. Graduate students and staff are the only people moving about the North Cascades Institute Environmental Learning Center right now, so things have been quiet. A lot of us are turning inward, as well as venturing outward. We are putting in the time for community-building work to cultivate deeper connections to the Earth, and each other. To me, and I am sure many others, winter signifies a time of reflection, although beauty still exists in the frosty corners of daily life.

To quote John Burroughs:

He who marvels at the beauty of the world in summer will find equal cause for wonder and admiration in winter.

Amos Almy, intrigued by a mossy rock off the Diobsud Creek Trail; photo by Montana Napier

Frosty kinnikinnick (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi); Photo by Zoe Wadkins

» Continue reading Weekly Photo Roundup: December 8 2017

Great Gray Owl (Strix nebulosa) hunting in winter snowfall. Ontario, Canada.

Favorite Nature Art & Photo Books of 2015

December 18th, 2015 | Posted by in Odds & Ends

I’m fortunate to get to review books for various regional publications, most often in the Cascadia Weekly. I get the privilege and pleasure of being sent many books throughout the year, usually on “nature topics,” both fiction and nonfiction, as well as poetry, art, photography and conservation issues. Here at the end of 2015, I’ve selected some of my favorite coffee table-style books that present the natural world in all of its glory!  — CM


The Living Bird: 100 Years of Listening to Nature
Photography by Gerrit Vyn (Mountaineers Books)

This handsome volume brings to life the work of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, a venerable institute that has been researching – and communicating to the public – the complex lives of birds since 1915. Leading chroniclers of the natural world contribute essays, including Barbara Kingsolver, Jared Diamond, Lyanda Lynn Haupt and Scott Weidensaul, but the real star of these pages is photographer Gerrit Vyn. His crisp images of nesting Snow Owls, dancing Greater Prairie-Chickens, migrating Sandhill Cranes, flocking Trumpeter Swans and beachcombing Sanderlings share as intimate a portrait of bird life as has ever been produced. (Top photo of Great Grey Owl by Vyn)


Mangelsen_Grizzly- - 6

Grizzly: The Bears of Greater Yellowstone
Thomas D. Mangelsen (Rizzoli)

Photographer Thomas Mangelson is renowned for his stunning photographs of the world’s wildlife and exotic locales, but for Grizzly, he focuses his lens in on a family of bears in his own backyard: Jackson Hole, Wyoming. This veritable Eden is rich with elk, moose, antelope, bison and other creatures, but the return of brown bears (and gray wolves too) is a recent phenomenon. Beginning in 2006, Mangelsen began creating a “visual journal” of the life and times of Grizzly #399, a matriarch of the Ursus arctos horribilis clans of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Because she inhabits the frontcountry around Grand Teton National Park, she was relatively visible and attracted a legion of admirers. Grizzly intimately chronicles her life and times raising three cubs, hunting elk, playing in wildflower meadows, swimming the Snake River and doing a delicate dance amongst her humans fan club. This large-format book is empathetic and moving tribute to the more-than-human world.


Pacific Valley

California’s Wild Edge: The Coast in Poetry, Prints and History
Tom Killian with Gary Snyder (Heyday Press)

Writer and woodcut artist Tom Killian conducts a multi-level exploration of California’s Pacific Coast through art, poetry, Native American stories, records of early explorers and varied contributions from writer, bioregional philosopher and Zen Buddhist Gary Snyder. Killian’s 80 stunning, colorful woodblock prints, influenced by the 19th-century Japanese technique of ukiyo-ë, say the most about these places with the fewest words. San Francisco Bay, Pt. Reyes, Bolinas Ridge, Monterey Bay, Pt. Sur, Tomales Bay and other scenic waypoints along the ragged California coast are exquisitely rendered. His carvings blend the accuracy of natural history with the impressionistic imagination of an artist. Striking a fine balance between romantic and representational, his artwork shares what a   landscape viewed through the lens of respect and love looks like.


Soul of Wilderness: Mountain Journeys in Western BC and Alaska
John Baldwin & Linda Bily (Harbour Publishing)

» Continue reading Favorite Nature Art & Photo Books of 2015

joye drops joye barnes

Every Day

April 22nd, 2014 | Posted by in Odds & Ends

An American female, on average, has a life span of 81 years. This equates to 29,565 days. And for the males? They live an average of 76 years, or 27,740 days. Minus childhood (ages 0-18), these numbers still compute to a hefty 22,995 and 21,170 days, respectively.

A ridiculous amount of opportunities to do something, anything, helpful for the planet, no? That orb supporting our every breath, our every dollar exchange, our every swig of beer, our every kiss, our every mouthful of fried calamari, our every status update and win at Call of Duty: Black Ops. Or, if we’re tired or bummed or stuck in a Groundhog’s Day rut and not feeling especially fired up and go-get-em, at least there is a constant chance to do less harm, trod a little softer and have an effect simply by not impacting so forcefully.

EarthDay calendar K. RenzThe daily to-do list, as dictated by the forest and fern fronds. Photo by author.

Earth-Day-the-official-holiday began on April 22, 1970 in the wake of catalyzing events, notably the publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring in 1962 and Cleveland’s Cuyahoga River catching on fire in 1969 because the water was filled with industrial chemicals. This first celebration was largely credited with launching a new movement to protect the natural world. Environmental legislation that is easily taken for granted now, such as the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act, became policy soon afterward.

» Continue reading Every Day