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What Gives Life to the Wild Ginger Library?

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

This piece originated in the Library Guidelines of the Wild Ginger Library from March 27, 2006. The history and original vision of the library has been provided (and slightly modified) for your enjoyment.

The North Cascades Institute’s Wild Ginger Library is located at the Environmental Learning Center. The mission of the library is to help people of all ages learn more about the literary and oral stories of the North Cascades. The library 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.

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.

Photo courtesy of Marissa Bluestein

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.

Initial books were made possible by a generous donation from Mac and Linda MacGregor, owners of MacGregor Publishing. 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.

(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

Weekly Photo Roundup: January 29 2017

January 29th, 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.

Photo by Jihan Grettenberger

Jihan Grettenberger, a graduate M.Ed. student at the North Cascades Institute Environmental Learning Center, came across some cougar tracks while walking down the Diablo East Trail this weekend.

Photo by Angela Burlile

The temperature really warmed up this week! Giant icicles began to break off onto the road between Highway 20 and Diablo Dam but were cleared away quickly thanks to Seattle City Light.

» Continue reading Weekly Photo Roundup: January 29 2017

North Cascades Institute in The Guardian

January 27th, 2017 | Posted by in Institute News

Call of the wild: can America’s national parks survive?
America’s national parks are facing multiple threats, despite being central to the frontier nation’s sense of itself
by Lucy Rock
published January 14, 2017

Autumn in the North Cascades National Park and soggy clouds cling to the peaks of the mountains that inspired the musings of Beat poets such as Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg 60 years ago. Sitting on a carpet of pine needles in the forest below, protected from the rain by a canopy of vine maple leaves, is a group of 10-year-olds listening to a naturalist hoping to spark a similar love of the outdoors in a new generation.

This is one of 59 national parks which range across the United States, from the depths of the Grand Canyon in Arizona to the turrets of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. All – plus hundreds of monuments and historic sites – are run by the National Park Service (NPS), which celebrated its centenary last year. The parks were created so that America’s natural wonders would be accessible to everyone, rather than sold off to the highest bidder. Writer Wallace Stegner called them America’s best idea: “Absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.”

It’s easy to agree. Nicknamed America’s Alps, Washington State’s North Cascades is an area of soaring beauty, a wilderness of fire and ice thanks to hundreds of glaciers and dense forest where trees burn in summer blazes. The Pacific Crest Trail – made famous by Cheryl Strayed’s memoir, Wild, and the subsequent film starring Reese Witherspoon – runs through the park. Walking along Thunder Creek one midweek morning, the only sound is rushing water and birdsong. The view is a nature-layered cake of teal water, forested mountain slopes and snowy summits. But it is here that you can also observe the threats facing the parks in their next 100 years. They are fighting a war on three fronts: severe underfunding, climate change and a lack of diversity and youth among their visitors.

Jack Kerouac spent the summer of 1956 as a fire lookout atop Desolation Peak in the North Cascades surrounded by silence and rocky spires, far from the drink, drugs and distractions of his San Francisco life. He drew on his Cascades experiences in Dharma Bums, Lonesome Traveler and Desolation Angels, in which he wrote: “Those lazy afternoons, when I used to sit, or lie down, on Desolation Peak, sometimes on the alpine grass, hundreds of miles of snow-covered rock all around…” Those views look different today. Climate change is causing the glaciers to melt: their square footage shrank by 20% between 1959 and 2009.

Saul Weisberg, executive director of the North Cascades Institute, an environmental educational organization, said that the difference between photos from September – when the seasonal snow is gone – in the 1950s and today was, “Incredibly dramatic. Snow is melting back more and more and now you see a lot more rock when you look at the mountains.”

» Continue reading North Cascades Institute in The Guardian

Weekly Photo Roundup: January 22 2017

January 22nd, 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.

Photo by Angela Burlile

The sunshine from last weekend continued on early in the week. We were treated to this beautiful alpenglow on Sourdough mountain, driving across Diablo Dam on our way to the North Cascades Institute Environmental Learning Center.

Photos by Ash Kunz

Graduate M.Ed student, Ash Kunz, captured these icy photos of Thunder Arm on Diablo Lake. Portions of Thunder Arm have frozen over but still be cautious if you plan to venture out on the ice.

» Continue reading Weekly Photo Roundup: January 22 2017