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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

30 Year Anniversary: A Look Back at 2016

December 31st, 2016 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

As today marks the last day of 2016, what better place than Chattermarks to look back at the memories and highlights of the year here at the North Cascades Institute. I have only recently joined as a contributor to the blog and many of the posts this past year were submitted by guests, naturalists, C15 graduate students and Ben Kusserow – our previous blog editor who left intimidatingly large shoes to fill! Before I started the graduate residency program, I frequently came to Chattermarks to get a better idea as to what my life would be like in the upper Skagit and the work being done by the Institute. The first hand narratives, naturalist tidbits, and expertise of all these contributors painted a rich picture, helping to prepare me for this year of living in the North Cascades. I hope you’ve found their contributions as helpful and informative as I did. Enjoy this look back at 2016!

Mountain School

One last group photo before these 5th graders head back to Bellingham after three days of Mountain School.

In my mind there isn’t a program at NCI that can compete with the energy and enthusiasm of Mountain School. Hundreds of students from all over the state participate in the program during fall and spring, spending three to five days exploring the trails and learning about mountain ecosystems through interdisciplinary activities.

  • We always hope that when the students leave, they are taking with them positive and lasting memories. This year, instructors shared some of the letters they received from students in the post, “Dear Mountain School,” affirming our hopes.
  • In October, we were all excited to see Mountain School in the cover story of National Geographic. The article highlighted the importance of getting young people and people of color into our National Parks.

 

Naturalist Notes

Photo courtesy of Ben Kusserow, from his natural history project on bats in the North Cascades National Park.

2016 was full of educational opportunities here on Chattermarks. If you feel like your naturalist skills could use a brush up or you just want to learn something new, look no further. This year seemed to have a little bit of everything, from fungi to fire lookouts.

» Continue reading 30 Year Anniversary: A Look Back at 2016

Outline of a Hollow Bird: Poems by Evan Holmstrom

December 20th, 2016 | Posted by in Odds & Ends

As is evidenced by the rich cadre of writers who have found inspiration in the North Cascades, this region is almost eerily conducive to writing. Maybe it’s the short, bright blinks of summer or the fog and rain always promising mystery. And not only writing, but simply reflection on life in its splendor, difficulty, and variety is greatly facilitated by the natural character of this area.

This year as a Naturalist Educator turned Creative Resident I’ve been fortunate to develop a familiarity with the North Cascades. Through teaching we deepen our own relationship to the subject and the particular spirit of learning that we teach 5th grade students here is one of wonder and curiosity. What a convenient way to remind ourselves of that essential inclination. In my instruction I encourage not just creative expression, but creative im-pression as well. That is, I always remind students to be aware of just how much they’re taking in as they go about Mountain School. As a creative person, that causes me to accumulate mountains of inspiration alongside the students.

For my residency I’m finishing a book of poems called Outline of a Hollow Bird. It’s essentially my poetry journal for this year refined into a chapbook. My hunch is that it documents some personal growth and transformation. There is a great trove of wonder just beyond the grasp of our words. As a poet, that provides me with a zesty challenge. My book is intended to begin in the trope of the solitary wilderness poet, flap its wings through transformative moments, and then to bring the reader to something unfamiliar, just beyond logic.

Many thanks to NCI for employing me this year, and granting me a residency. It’s been quite a year. What I’ve accomplished here adds a rich line to the poem of my life.

The following is a piece taken from ‘Outline of a Hollow Bird’.

Unfelt Wind

ash later paradise is drier

so we      brought fruit

              to burn

 

reclaimed bellyaches while standing against    air

flying air carrying bits of new desert

 

   slash the tether       moist promise

   calling us or maybe just you up

   to mix juice with the dust

 

paradise darkening our faces    we sliced

thinly the vitality to keep

pack the hymnals in alongside

 then in that moment

               where             you’re tottering

 

        rocks purple with seawater

    skyline fractures      it runs into you filled

  with a sudden vacancy     your shards falling

     
tide takes them in



out of the gap in the sound

rhythmic blanks

somebody’s eyes crackle    force light

into themselves    battered ribs   battered recollections

               

the beach aches

    aligns itself

       under the whiteness remembering its mandate

 remade this time of sand

 eroding with the hush       hush

 piled on each other visit our old

                    realm in the reeds

   no longer easier on our bodies

   than kelp and foam

  walking as they do

  from old gates in the trees of legged things

  will they see in the sound

robbed of dimension in that way

we carried out rites

to draw their skin to our currents

 

Written by Evan Holmstrom. Title photograph courtesy of Angela Burlile.

About Evan Holmstrom

No stranger to stunning landscapes, Evan Holmstrom has spent time in Alaska (where he is originally from) and Montana before making his way to the North Cascades. His initial arrival placed him in the upper Skagit, where he spent several months at a meditation center. He then joined the North Cascades Institute to work as a Naturalist Educator last spring. A man of innumerable talents, his skill and knowledge greatly contributed to programs like Mountain School, Conferences and Retreats, Base Camp and Family Getaways. You can find a copy of his work, ‘Outline of a Hollow Bird’, in the Wild Ginger Library at the Environmental Learning Center.  

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The Cold

December 7th, 2016 | Posted by in Life at the Learning Center

Snow finally arrived to Environmental Learning Center (December 4th to be exact) and the days since have been crisp and cold, transforming the landscape around us. The sunny, clear skies this week have revealed snow-capped mountains, whose presence can be forgotten behind the usual rain-laden clouds. Cascades running down the sheer rock cliffs in the gorge have turned to walls of jagged ice; the peaceful flow of water replaced by a new kind of terrifying beauty.

As we welcome this new season, I look to the words of Wendell Berry in a poem entitled, “The Cold”.

How exactly good it is
to know myself
in the solitude of winter,

my body containing its own
warmth, divided from all
by the cold; and to go

separate and sure
among the trees cleanly
divided, thinking of you

perfect too in your solitude,
your life withdrawn into
your own keeping

–to be clear, poised
in perfect self-suspension
toward you, as though frozen.

And having known fully the
goodness of that, it will be
good also to melt.

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ELC Winter 11

ELC Winter 12

ELC Winter 1

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All photos courtesy of Angela Burlile

Angela Burlile is a graduate student of North Cascades Institute and Western Washington University’s M.Ed. program and the current web resource editor graduate assistant. Growing up in Alaska, Angela feels most at home surrounded by mountains, glaciers, and turquoise rivers, making the North Cascades Institute a perfect fit. In her free time, Angela enjoys exploring the world, meeting its many inhabitants, sharing cups of coffee, climbing mountains and catching the sunrise.

Pyramid Peak Sunrise

NCI Weekly Photo Roundup: December 4 2016

December 4th, 2016 | Posted by in Life at the Learning Center

Sunrise on Pyramid Peak, taken from the Environmental Learning Center parking lot. Photo by Angela Burlile

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.

Kay Baker 4 Kay Baker 3 Kay Baker 1

Photos by Kay Gallagher

Last Monday, Kay Gallagher, Becky Moore, and Melissa Biggs of C16, drove up to the Mt. Baker Ski Area for some winter recreating. Only an hour and a half away for those of us living in the Upper Skagit, I expect plenty more trips in the future.

 

Confluence Garden 1 Confluence Garden 2 Confluence Garden 3

Photos by Alexei Desmarais

On Tuesday, C16ners came together to help Alexei Desmarais build bamboo structures for the Confluence Garden on the Blue House property in Marblemount. Not only does Blue Heron Farm in Rockport consistently supply NCI with organic produce, they also supplied Alexei with the bamboo for the garden project.

» Continue reading NCI Weekly Photo Roundup: December 4 2016

Ivory-billed-Woodpecker

The Poetry of Extinction : Holly Hughes’ “Passings”

May 18th, 2016 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

Come down to Village Books in Bellingham on May 22  at 4 pm for a free reading by Holly J Hughes from her new collection of poetry Passings.

Passenger pigeon. Carolina parakeet. Eskimo curlew. Heath hen. In a timely, moving collection of elegies, Holly Hughes gives voice to these and other bird species that no longer fill our skies. If their names sound as a litany of the hundreds of species we’ve lost, these fifteen poems ring as a reminder that their stories are still with us. In clear, well-crafted poems, Hughes serves as witness to these birds’ stories, offering each a poignant account that acts as a cautionary tale for the many species whose habitats now face threats from climate change. In her preface, Hughes introduces us to the birds she first knew and loved, and her impassioned afterword reminds us that it’s not too late to learn from these birds’ extinction and take action to protect the species that remain. “Take note,” she writes. “These birds are singing to us. We must listen.”

Carolina Parakeet
Conuropsis carolinensis

Incas, the last Carolina parakeet, died in his cage at the
Cincinnati Zoo on Feb. 21,1918, only six months after the
death of Lady Jane, his companion of thirty-two years.

From Mexico to New York they flew, tail feathers streaming,
startling in the monochrome of winter’s eastern shore.

When their forests were cut, they swooped to the farmlands
in waves of color — yellow, green, orange — lit in fruit trees,

found the soft squish of peaches, cherries, figs. Descending
three hundred at a time, in crayon-box flocks, they were shot

by farmers defending their crops — who could fault them?
Shot for their tail feathers, all the rage on ladies’ hats,

shot because they would not desert each other, each staying
by its wounded mate until hunters picked them off,

one by each last, bright, exotic, faithful one.

“Holly Hughes’s elegiac meditations on birds that have vanished from earth give us a glimpse of the avian beauty that once filled our skies, and they echo with a sobering reminder of what we still stand to lose. From flocks of passenger pigeons to Australia’s paradise parrot, more than 150 species have fallen silent over the past few centuries. Hughes gives eloquent voice to the voiceless in these poems, and strikes a heartfelt call to awareness.” — Tim McNulty, author of Ascendance

Ivory-billed Woodpecker
Campephilus principalis

I wish I’d been at the sighting that inspired its nickname,
the Lord God bird. I’d love to see this woodpecker,

» Continue reading The Poetry of Extinction : Holly Hughes’ “Passings”

SWW 2015 Mike

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

December 30th, 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. Other pieces from this year can be found in parts one and two.

Poems in Response to “Voices from the Salmon Nations” by Frances Ambrose

A Fire

By Mimi Gorman, dedicated for those who witnessed fires along the North Cascades during the summer of 2015

Wind carried sorrow
through flame illuminated skies.
Devoted hearts ache.

Waterfall Haiku

By Kurt Hoelting

Sound of mountain stream
Cuts all the way to the bone
I am water too

High ledge waterfall
Barely any flow today
Too long since it rained

Clouds swallow mountains
Big leaf maples luminous
Fresh air fills the lungs

Fancy Fall

By Holly Hughes

Vine maple leaves hang
bright yellow against green firs
becoming the sun

The sun leaves each day.
Days shorter, nights lengthening.
Look: leaves still hold the light.

SWW 2015 Looking Up

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