From North Cascades Institute

Search Chattermarks

North Cascades on Instagram


Weekly Photo Roundup: March 12 2018

March 11th, 2018 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

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

This week marks the beginning of the spring Mountain School season! Graduate students and other naturalist instructors paired up to teach fifth graders with Clear Lake Elementary and the Bellingham Family Partnership Program. Lucky for us, there were some glorious days of sunshine up at the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center, along with the typical rainy moments.

Below is the final photo from our first session of the week. Don’t you just love the energy of Mountain School media?

Graduate student Liz Grewal led a short lesson on compost during the opening ceremony of Mountain School. After the kids ate lunch, they walked to the front of the amphitheater to sort their leftovers into the landfill, compost, or recycling bins – an action related to our Foodshed Initiative.

Later in the day, the trail group Amy Sanchez and I led named themselves the Wild Wolverines. Every time we shouted “Wolverines, wolverines!” the kids would reply “Rawr, rawr!” and hold their hands up like claws. It was a cute way to regain our group’s energetic attention, and an avenue of community pride for the kiddos.

This week Tanner Johnson and other instructors utilized the Wild Ginger Library to read stories to the trail groups. It is definitely a cozy space for learning, and we’re all excited to incorporate it into our routine with the kids.

Fifth graders Alexis and Rose painted and drew pictures of a forest during a break inside from the cold rain. I was surprised by how much the children enjoyed our “naturalist art time.” The energy was very calm.

Caitlyn drew her best impression of a young Douglas fir outside the window. We looked through field guides for trees to identify its various features.

And Mikita drew a picture of the North Cascades mountain range, featuring a wild wolverine! Isn’t this great?

On the last day of Mountain School, Zoe Wadkins guided our combined trail groups in a closing ceremony along the shores of Diablo Lake. I always enjoy hearing kids describe how they will bring their Mountain School experience to back home to their communities.

Photo of Diablo and buds by Gina Roberti

During our rare free time, graduate students explored the landscape surrounding the Learning Center campus. Everywhere around us plants are beginning to bud, and some are even breaking buds!

Photo of Nate Trachte in a canoe by Marissa Bluestein

After some canoe training, a few students took a trip out onto Diablo, too. It is exciting to think about all of the recreational opportunities warmer, sunnier days will bring to our place upriver, as well as Mountain School. Fingers crossed there will be brighter days ahead as we gain an hour of daylight and inch closer to springtime!

Panoramic photo of Diablo by Marissa Bluestein

Click here to see previous Photo Roundups!

(Top photo) Graduate student Amy Sanchez poses with the Wild Wolverines with teacher Mrs. Walker

You Are Here : A Weekend of Maps at the North Cascades Institute

March 6th, 2018 | Posted by in Life at the Learning Center

This post is a guest contribution by Anders Rodin, a cartographer and participant in The Art of Drawing Maps class at the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center. For the weekend of February 23 – 26th, he learned more about map drawing with the talented artist Jocelyn Curry. You can view a gallery of past artful maps produced in Jocelyn’s class here.

“I sense that humans have an urge to map–and that this mapping instinct, like our opposable thumbs, is part of what makes us human.” – Katherine Harmon

I was driving East on the North Cascades Highway Friday morning through the snow, when I suddenly realized I was further up the road than I had ever been. A sense of excitement came over me. I was exploring, I was on new terrain, seeing things I had only ever seen on maps with my very own eyes. Winding up the road past the rushing Skagit River I finally came to the turnoff for the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center a few miles from the end of the road, and made my way slowly across the Diablo Dam.

Crossing the frozen Diablo Dam; photo by Anders Rodin

Several months before, I had seen a postcard in the Skagit Land Trust office from the North Cascades Institute with a list of the classes and workshops they were offering in the upcoming year. A friend leaned over my shoulder and said, “Look! A map class! You have to take it.” And so I signed up.

The Art of Drawing Maps was a chance for me to spend a weekend in the mountains, focus on creative work, and crank out some maps I had been thinking about making. It turned out to be so much more than I was expecting. Not only did I have the chance to work in a studio with a dozen other incredibly inspiring people, I also had the chance to meet several staff, enthusiastic Base Camp program participants, and resident graduate students on campus. I was happily surprised at the dining hall and the incredible food prepared by the amazing kitchen staff. And I briefly met Elvis, the residential Raven, who laughed at us once we became stranded at the Institute due to an avalanche four miles down the road. I think some of us were a little too adamant about tempting the avalanche as the snow piled up and the avalanche became a real possibility…did we forget to knock on wood?

Art supplies in Sundew; photo by Marissa Bluestein

» Continue reading You Are Here : A Weekend of Maps at the North Cascades Institute

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

What Gives Life to the Wild Ginger Library?

December 13th, 2017 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

Libraries have long served as places of refuge from the world, where enlightenment and knowledge surround one in the form of books. They are a place to exercise our minds as thinking beings, and to contemplate the words of great authors within the comfort of a cozy, hushed building. Here, within the walls of brightly-colored book spines, is endless inspiration for those who take a moment to flip open the pages of a book (remember books?).

No, reading is not a dying art, but a way to let the imagination run free during the cold, winter months, or to acquire information for a graduate school project. Reading is a conversation with a much wiser friend, who knows all the right things to say, or the best hikes to try, interesting histories of a place, how-tos, and so forth. When was the last time you visited a library?

At the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center we have the Wild Ginger Library, nestled by the turquoise waters of Diablo Lake. In fact, Wild Ginger is arguably one of the most peaceful and beloved places on campus. Its mission is to help people of all ages learn about the literary and oral stories of the North Cascades. Wild Ginger brings people together around the power of the written and spoken word and supports the mission of the North Cascades Institute: to inspire and empower environmental stewardship for all through transformative experiences in nature.

Photo courtesy of Rick Allen

In essence, the history of the Wild Ginger Library began more than 10,000 years ago as Ice Age glaciers receded and the North Cascades’ first people ventured into local mountains and river valleys. After all, it’s the stories of this place – from Native legends and explorer journals to Beat poetry in fire lookouts – that give Wild Ginger its life.

More recently, the library took shape with design of the Learning Center in the late 1990s. Architects from The Henry Klein Partnership led staff members from the Institute, North Cascades National Park and Seattle City Light in detailing the needs of each building on campus. When the Learning Center opened in July 2005, the Wild Ginger Library – named, like other buildings on campus, for a local native plant – remained empty of books and materials.

Photo of empty shelves courtesy of Lara Swimmer

Initial books were made possible by a generous donation from Mac and Linda MacGregor. Dr. Fred Darvill, a Northwest writer, outdoorsman and lover of books, pledged significant support, and gifts from other individual donors soon followed. In addition, early in-kind donors of natural history books included University of Washington Press, Lone Pine Publishing, Sasquatch Books and the Mountaineer Books.

Photo courtesy of Marissa Bluestein

Oversight of the library is provided by Institute Staff and Graduate Students at the Learning Center. Today, Kira Taylor-Hoar serves as the Library and Office Graduate Assistant for her Work Study position. It is an opportunity for her to understand and improve a library that is used for graduate studies, as well as for environmental education; learn about research methods and cataloging systems; work with staff to develop book collections.

Photo courtesy of Marissa Bluestein

To understand more about the library and her job as the assistant, I’ve included an interview with Kira that reveals both the whimsical nature of her mind and the beauty of Wild Ginger.

Who uses the library?

Visitors, staff and graduate students all come by Wild Ginger for a place to study, for meetings, and to check out books or simply to relax. The big windows and high ceilings make the tiny room feel a lot bigger, and let in plenty of natural light. Chairs are placed under the awning outside, so on nice days you can read under the majestic tops of the surrounding mountains while lounging in an Adirondack chair.

Photo courtesy of Marissa Bluestein

What are three things you like about the librarian work study position?

Coming into the library on a cold December morning, I’m surprised to see light filtering in through the high windows. The sun doesn’t make it into too many buildings at the NCI campus in the winter, but as I write this I have a sunbeam shining right onto my desk. The building was built beautifully, with fabulous views. Peering out a window to my right I see the mountains rising into the clouds, a sprinkling of snow dotting these subalpine forests.

One thing that I wanted from my work study was to be able to spend time outside, and I never expected to be a librarian. But once I started working here I realized that I felt just as connected to the natural world in the library as I would outside. Plus, I get to make plenty of trips to the printer in the main office building, which means I get to breath fresh air frequently. The in-floor radiant heating doesn’t hurt for cold feets, either.

On days like this I have the library to myself, a quiet sanctuary of solitude. I am doing inventory, which takes a while pulling books off the shelves, entering them into the system, and then going back and doing it all over again, until I get through nearly 3,000 titles. You would think this boring, no? Ahh, but you see I have a trick up my sleeve. I have been listening to books on tape to make the time pass more easily. Lately I’ve been following some Hobbits across Middle Earth, delivering one particular ring to the fires of Mount Doom…while taking inventory. Other common tasks are cleaning, entering new books into the system, taking old books out, and checking in and re-shelving books people borrow.

Photo courtesy of Marissa Bluestein

When I’m not listening to books about little people, I’m reading some of the wonderful knowledge and tales this library has to offer. The periodicals, fiction, nonfiction, kids section, poetry…so much to read and so little time! I recently turned in Water: A Natural History, Yurts: Living in the Round, and Spell of the Sensuous. A natural history of water is a fascinating tale of hydrology in North America, told in narrative form to make it an easy read. Yurts are beautiful natural buildings and this book has some good tips on how to build and decorate your own. And Spell of the Sensuous is an excellent foray into the world of philosophy, science, and how we as human beings relate with the natural world through our senses.

Photo courtesy of Marissa Bluestein

I recently checked out a book of fiction, anticipating having time over winter break. It’s called The Cookbook Collector and it’s about two sisters who are total opposites but are bonded by blood and cooking. I haven’t gotten into it yet, but once I’ve finished all my readings for graduate classes, I’ll be sure to crack it open by the fire one of these blustery winter evenings.

History of Wild Ginger was obtained from the Library Guidelines of the Wild Ginger Library from March 27, 2006. The original vision of the library has been slightly modified to reflect the North Cascades Institute’s current mission. 

(Top Photo) graduate student Kira Taylor-Hoar re-shelving a book borrowed; photo by Marissa Bluestein

Photo Roundup: April 23 2017

April 23rd, 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.

Photos by Kay Gallagher

The appearance of the sun at the North Cascades Institute Environmental Learning Center, has been a rare treat this spring. Last weekend, we had a few beautiful days of sunshine and everyone went out to soak up that vitamin D! Our on-campus graduate students kicked off their Easter with a gorgeous paddle around Diablo Lake.

A rufous hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus). Photos by Kay Gallagher

This little one and some friends have been hanging around the lilac bush in front of graduate housing in Diablo, anxiously waiting for it to bloom. Fun fact: a group of hummingbirds can be called a shimmer, a charm, a bouquet or a hover!

Beaver signs near Cascade River. Photos by Calvin Laatsch

Conference and Retreats Coordinator, Calvin Laatsch, saw some pretty distinct beaver markings on this tree along the Cascade River in Marblemount. Beavers, (Castor canadensis) cut down trees, shrubs and other available vegetation for food and building material. Beavers are considered ecosystem engineers – their dams slow the flow of water in a stream, creating wetlands which many native North American fauna species rely on. Dams also slow the movement of nutrient-rich sediment in a stream, causing it to build up in a pond. These sediments not only provide food for creatures who live at the bottom of the pond but also enriches the soil once the water drains away!

This week, Seattle City Light opened a flood gate on Diablo dam to let out excess water from the spring melt. Students walked onto the dam to learn the history of the Skagit River Hydroelectric Project and see the water cycle in action. Photo by Angela Burlile

A highlight for many students in the Wolverine trail group was our Sit Spot activity. Done each day, students are asked to find a peaceful place somewhere along the trail and to sit silently, making observations about the natural world around them. Photo by Angela Burlile

It was a gorgeous, sunny day on Friday and Lincoln Elementary School took full advantage of the clear skies and sweeping views of Pyramid and Colonial Peak for this group photo. Photo by Angela Burlile

Mt. Vernon’s Lincoln Elementary School arrived on Wednesday to participate in our Mountain School Program. Students explore how all parts of the ecosystem are interconnected through lessons and activities on the trails surrounding our Environmental Learning Center.

» Continue reading Photo Roundup: April 23 2017

A Snowy Start to Spring Mountain School

March 20th, 2017 | Posted by in Life at the Learning Center

There really wasn’t anything ‘spring-like’ about our first spring Mountain School session of the year. With almost a foot of snow falling the night before and continuing snowfall throughout the day, 5th grade students from Mt. Vernon’s Madison Elementary School arrived on March 6th to a winter wonderland at the North Cascades Institute Environmental Learning Center.

With a few lesson modifications, extra layers from our gear closet and frequent hot chocolate breaks, students and instructors took advantage of this seasonally atypical weather.

A Madison Elementary student enjoying some snowy exploration along the shore of Diablo Lake. Photo by Angela Burlile

At Mountain School, 5th grade students spend three days examining the interconnectedness between abiotic (non living) and biotic (living) elements of an ecosystem through interdisciplinary and experiential learning activities. The late snowfall allowed instructors an opportunity to incorporate pieces such as the effects of snowpack on the local watershed, life in the subnivean zone (the area between the surface of the ground and the bottom of the snowpack) and winter adaptations of animals found within the park into their lessons.

Graduate student, Becky Moore, leads her trail group through the motions of the water cycle dance. Photo by Angela Burlile

For more on our first day of Mountain School, check out the video below. 

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