Latitudinal and Longitudinal Explorations of Natural History

January 25th, 2012 | Posted by in Field Excursions

As much as we love North Cascadian landscapes, we here at the Institute are still called to visit and experience other amazing places on our planet. We publish accounts of the places Institute staff and graduate students visit in our Road Trip series.

As graduate students immersed in developing a sense of place within the rich, rugged landscapes of the North Cascades, we spend a lot of time attending to, and exploring, the natural world outside our doorsteps. At the Environmental Learning Center, our academic studies of the history, culture, ecology, art, and conservation of this place are integrated with actual feet-on-the-ground learning. This type of naturalizing is a practice that takes patience, and a willingness to move through our surroundings with careful observation as we slowly make sense of its many patterns and intricacies. The deeper we go in this process, the more the meaning and being of the North Cascades opens up to us. We begin to understand the stories written on and of this landscape, and our place in it.

For many of us, this practice of Natural History in all its interdisciplinary forms roots us intimately and specifically to the high mountains and steep river canyons of this region. The nature of this type of learning means that, for many graduate students, we will leave this program knowing the North Cascades better than we know our own, native homelands. How then, do we translate the tools we are learning here to other river drainages, mountains, high deserts, or valley bottoms?

In an effort to explore this question during our month-long respites from the North Cascades, Kiira and I reflected on how the practice of natural history can be used to cultivate awareness and develop a deeper sense of connection to any landscape that we move through. While Kiira’s travels took her home to the rolling hills of southern Vermont, mine took me south into the austral summer of the Patagonian Andes.

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