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The Big One

July 2nd, 2016 | Posted by in Adventures

By Calvin Laatsch, the Institute’s Conference and Retreat Coordinator. Calvin originally posted this to his personal blog, Live Close. We publish accounts of the places Institute staff and graduate students visit in our Road Trip series.

I notice that my knuckles are raw and chaffed from stuffing my fists into the wide crack leading up into an endless wall of granite. I pause to note how vibrant my blood looks against the rock. I’m hyper aware of this moment, but am quickly snapped back to my precarious position on the side of El Capitan. Glancing at my last piece of protection, a stuck cam 20 feet below me, and I feel completely overwhelmed…

“Jonathan!” I yell into the wind. “I’m scared!”

There is a pregnant pause, before he hollers back, “Me too!”

That was 5 years ago. Jonathan and I decided to retreat after another night halfway up the Nose. With that experience seared in my memory, I have spent countless hours dreaming of a return, trying to identify and improve on my weaknesses, wrestling with the feeling that I was not ready. Fear can be incredibly motivating. Whether in climbing, in work, or in love, facing fear is an experience that all people can relate to.

» Continue reading The Big One

SWW 2015 Beach sitting

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

December 26th, 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. The first group of pieces from this year can be found here.

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

Boulders

Those great, smooth boulders
were they polished by glaciers?
or by the years of glacial melt
relentlessly flowing over and around?
or by countless salmon bodies brushing their sides
on the struggle upstream?

Death for a rock comes
when it is ground to powder by wind, waves, other rocks
and then dissolved in water
to become food for plankton and algae
in turn, food for feeder fish
who become dinner for salmon.

The next time I eat salmon patties
will I remember and praise those ancient rocks?

When I die
I too will return to molecules
that will feed the smallest to largest creatures,
eventually.

Great boulders: you and I are kin.

Late Fall

The river stinks.
Dead salmon litter the banks.
Rotting fins float in the eddies.
Eyes pecked out by crows.
Whole carcasses carried into the forest by eagles,
remnants scattered on duff below tall perches.
Fat bears waddle away, fish blood on their muzzles.
Stink and happiness everywhere.

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

SWW 2015 Looking

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

December 23rd, 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.

Falls Musings

By Barbara Retelle

Look up
up
Kaleidoscope of colored leaves
Of a tree
tree

Look down
down
Multi layered years of leaves
Sink into the sponge beneath
Musky mass
mass

Look all around
around
Mossy covered branches
Crisp tickling chill in the air
Dew drops fall to tongue from leaves
Sparkling fresh
fresh

Look again
again
Titter of Wren
Chatter of Douglas Squirrel
Ripple of Deer Creek
Whispering breeze fluttering Maple leaves
It is Fall
Fall

Windfall

By Sara Battin

Remnant of past windstorms
High wire acrobat held by spidery pallbearers
Adorned in their golden goodness.
Yours a mystery to hold my passing by ­‐
Wondering how you came to be so strung.

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

5.18 GOG Big Rocks

Red rocks in the mountainous west

July 7th, 2014 | Posted by in Adventures

In May, toward the end of a road trip, my mom and I found ourselves in Colorado Springs for a couple days. While looking for things to do while we were there, I stumbled across the website for a park with some amazing rock formations.

Garden of the Gods park was set aside as public land in 1909. At that time, it was designated as a city park that would “forever be known as Garden of the Gods,” would not allow any “intoxicating liquors to be manufactured or sold in the park, no buildings except those necessary for the park to function,” and would “forever be open and free to the public.” Pretty cool. In 1972, it was recognized as a National Landmark.

Now, it’s filled with tourists, locals, climbers, and boulderers (you know, people bouldering…I may have just made up a word…). Since we were staying with some of my mom’s friends who live literally right behind the park, we were able to take the less crowded back trails for most of our walk.

#1 - Kissing Camels   This formation is called “Kissing Camels”.
#2 - Nesting AreasBirds have made homes in some of the holes in the sandstone. This is evidenced by their white droppings that stain the rock below.

» Continue reading Red rocks in the mountainous west

rock splash in lake

Rockity Rock Rock

April 26th, 2011 | Posted by in Life at the Learning Center

Why is it that kids, and adults, truth be told, love throwing rocks? Nearly every Mountain School student spends some time learning and exploring along the shores of Diablo Lake. And without fail (for my trail groups at least) the first question we hear as soon as we get to the shore is, “Can we throw rocks?”  Although our packed schedule usually only allows for 5-10 minutes of rock throwing, I’m fairly certain my students would happily spend the entire afternoon engaged in this timeless pursuit. Thrown, plopped or skipped, every student becomes engrossed in this activity.

One lovely, sunny afternoon, as I sat below Sourdough Creek Falls and watched my students gradually start tossing rocks across the creek after lunch, I couldn’t help but wonder, what is it about throwing rocks that is so captivating? Is it the sound? The splash? The hunt of finding the perfect skipping rock? Or the challenge of successfully hitting a target?

kids throwing rocks

Mountain School students see how far they can skip rocks across the lake. Photo courtesy of Glenda Runge

» Continue reading Rockity Rock Rock