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You’re Never Too Old to be a Junior Ranger

February 7th, 2018 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

Recently, graduate student Marissa Bluestein became a volunteer at Rockport State Park. She also earned her Junior Ranger badge and learned about old growth forest ecology. Below are her words on the experience:

I stood with my right hand raised in the converted maintenance shed serving as the Discovery Center at Rockport State Park and repeated after Ranger Amos:

“As a junior ranger, I promise to protect the environment, pick up trash, explore the outdoors and protect state parks for current and future generations.”

It was my first day volunteering at Rockport State Park, and I’d just went on my first guided hike. Within 45 minutes, I learned that Rockport has one of the last remaining old growth forests in the Skagit Valley, with some trees as old as 500 years. The Park’s camping is now forever closed due to diseases invading these old trees, causing them to die and fall.

The forest is made up of salmon. Salmon hatch in freshwater and make their way to the ocean where they eat food containing Nitrogen 15. Nitrogen 15 is only found in the ocean, and as salmon make their way back up their river of origin to spawn, they carry that chemical makeup with them. After salmon die, their bodies are taken from the river by eagles, which sometimes drop carcasses in the forest, or they are drug into the forest by bears and other wildlife. Salmon remains are left on the ground. The decaying fish enrich the soil with Nitrogen 15 which help trees grow taller faster and are more resilient to drought and parasites.

Photo of Rockport State Park by Marissa Bluestein

» Continue reading You’re Never Too Old to be a Junior Ranger

Kulshan Creek Field Trip: The Search for Salmon at Cumberland Creek

January 5th, 2018 | Posted by in Youth Adventures

Kulshan Creek Neighborhood Youth Program is a year-round educational program that engages young people ages 5 to 18 from two Skagit Valley neighborhoods in a series of monthly field trips to explore the outdoors and learn about our local watersheds.

This post is courtesy of Ellie Price, the Youth Ambassadors and College Access Coordinator. In it she describes a Kulshan Creek outing at Cumberland Creek. 

The weather was cold and rainy, but this didn’t stop the intrepid Kulshan Creek crew from having a blast at during their monthly field trip and outing. About eight students, three adults, and four high school volunteers decked themselves out in rain gear and rain boots to brave the weather and check out the salmonids spawning at Cumberland Creek.

We arrived at the Skagit Land Trust’s property to a gentle drizzle and immediately warmed up by playing the Salmon Game. The Salmon Game involves pretending you are a young salmonid that has to swim from the stream you were born in out to sea, circle one of the adult volunteers four times to signify the four years you spend in the ocean, and finally face the host of obstacles blocking you from returning to your original starting point in your home stream. These obstacles included Officer Serrano, who acted as a fisherman and tried to catch the students, and Orlando Garcia who pretended to be a bear chasing after fleeing salmonids. Two high school volunteers also stood arm-in-arm in the middle of the field as a dam, which inhibited the salmonids from reaching their goal.

» Continue reading Kulshan Creek Field Trip: The Search for Salmon at Cumberland Creek

2011 Instructor Exchange Eagle Watching

Time Along the Skagit: Eagle Watching With Kulshan Creek Neighborhood Youth Program and Latino Outdoors

March 24th, 2017 | Posted by in Adventures

January can be warm on the lower Skagit and this late January Saturday was no exception. As Becky Moore, Alexei Desmarais and I arrived at the Howard Miller Steelhead Park on the Skagit River in Rockport, WA, we looked to see if there were any Bald Eagles present around the river.

As graduate M.Ed. students at North Cascades Institute, we live and study near the headwaters of the Skagit River. We had come to the river this morning to meet a fellow graduate student and along with the US Forest Service, provide an interpretive and educational experience for two unique organizations – Kulshan Creek Neighborhood Youth Program and Latino Outdoors. Both organizations mean to bring families and kids to rural areas with open public lands, giving them opportunity to have fun and get outside.

That morning we met to learn about salmon and what they mean to the Skagit River and the animals, plants and humans that live here. We hoped to see Bald Eagles, which spend the winters here feeding on dead salmon which have spawned during the fall and winter. These salmon carcasses provide high energy food for many predators in this ecosystem.

Participants from the Kulshan Creek Neighborhood Youth Program and Latino Outdoors enjoying the afternoon learning about salmon ecology and the Skagit River watershed. Photo by Daniel Dubie

Having a large number of participants, we split up into four smaller groups, deciding to mix up their time with games and a chance to walk around and enjoy the river. In my group we decided to play a salmon game in which a group of folks are chosen to represent salmon fry which go out in the ocean, grab food, and make their way back to the stream where they were born without getting tagged by other folks who represent dangers such as whales, fisherman, eagles, and bears. We played the game a few times, increasing the numbers of dangers in order to show how hard it really is for a salmon population to sustain itself without a large robust population.

Students have fun while learning about salmon population! Photos by Daniel Dubie

As the day continued, we interpreted salmon and eagle ecology in relation to the Skagit River to our groups and visited the Skagit River Bald Eagle Interpretive Center. I feel that these peaceful and fun experiences here along the river and the land surrounding it, can be instrumental in forming relationships with the lan and our greater world.

Written by Daniel Dubie, avid naturalist and graduate M.Ed. student at North Cascades Institute. 

mapaly

Mapping a Sense of Place

August 15th, 2016 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

By Aly Gourd, graduate student in the Institute’s 15th cohort.

Imagine a world that makes sense. Mentally erase all of the tangled lines on the old, industrial-age maps — city, country, state, and provincial boundaries, highways and railroads, the international borders. Let the original face of the place shine through: rivers, mountains and valleys, coastlines and plateaus, sea and sky. −David Aberley

Maps are visual stories of place. They are rooted in observation and drawn by experience in landscape. Powers emanate from maps as they tell stories of direction, resources, and boundaries.

Consider the creators of maps. They are deciders of lines. Lines that often delineate who the land belongs to and who has the right to use what is there. Maps can splice, draw borders and represent the landscape in ways that can restore and destroy the environment.

Maps have the power to communicate and have served as a mechanism to support and discourage social and environmental justice.

As European settlers arrived in North America, explorers mapped the North American region as they learned of land and resources. Political borders were disputed and eventually drawn with little consideration for the topography and the responsibility to the region’s ecological systems. Many delineations of place drawn at this time continue to be represented on current maps.

» Continue reading Mapping a Sense of Place

Catching Alaskan salmon for the Learning Center

July 29th, 2016 | Posted by in Life at the Learning Center

As part of our Foodshed initiative, North Cascades Institute strives to deliver the highest quality meals for all participants at the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center because the food choices we make impact not only our bodies, but our planet too. The methods by which food is grown, processed, transported and prepared has consequences on the air and water that all of life depends on, as well as issues of social justice, local economics and community well-being. That’s why we seek out locally-grown and produced produce, meat, dairy products, grains, herbal tea and seafood, including the amazing Alaskan salmon caught, processed and delivered by Nerka Sea. Here’s a recent report sent to us by Tele Aadsen from the Nerka in southeast Alaska


Greetings from Sitka, Alaska, where Southeasterly winds currently have the good ship Nerka snug in her stall. It’s hard to believe the Nerka is already one-third of the way through her salmon season. We’ve successfully completed two trips, the July king opening and our first coho delivery. Both have been good, very good, with this year’s runs of both species appearing abundant and strong. 

Nerka 2

Joel and I did our best: rising at 3 AM for 19-hour days, hooks shimmying through the Gulf of Alaska’s legendary Fairweather Grounds. I wish you could see the furrows on Cap’n J’s brow through those days, the shadows beneath his eyes as he agonized over every decision, so anxious not to make a wrong call during our limited opportunity. And I wish, too, that you could see the humpbacks breaching alongside us, their breath hanging over the ocean, catching rainbows in the sun, and that you could hear the wolves howling in Lituya Bay, the glacial-walled sanctuary where we rested up before the opening. We didn’t plug the Nerka in those five days, but came back to Sitka with a respectable share of black-mouthed beauties, a good variety of fat-bellied torpedos and long-bodied racers.

Nerka 4

Joel and I have always prided ourselves on the care we devote to our catch. All conscientious fishermen do. What differentiates us from others is that it’s just the two of us on board, a pair of boat kids who grew up doing this work, knowing salmon as something far greater than mere product or paycheck. We’ve cleaned salmon side-by-side in the Nerka’s cockpit for ten years now; we have a synchronicity and routine that vessels with fluctuating crew simply can’t achieve. That difference was never more evident to me than at the end of this trip, when I glazed those kings.

Nerka 1

Bundled to withstand three hours in the Nerka’s -40 degree fish hold, individually dipping every fish into the sea water bath that preserves the just-landed quality unique to frozen-at-sea salmon, I personally inspected every king we’d caught. I checked for bloodless veins and spotless collars. I was so proud of those fish, the obvious care they’d received, I couldn’t help choking up a bit. This wasn’t the biggest load of kings we’ve ever delivered, but it was the most beautiful. That was because of you. Forty-five miles offshore, you were with us. It shows. I’m so glad you’ll get to know these fish as we did, as glorious in your hands as they were in life.

Nerka 5

Words and images © Tele Aadsen.

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Western Red Cedar (Thuja plicata): A story…

July 18th, 2016 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

By Ginna Malley Campos, graduate student in the Institute’s 15th cohort.

Long, long ago, when ice and snow covered the land as far as the eye could see, we speckled the landscape. Only a few of us grew here and there.  But soon came a time when the ice  and snow began to retreat. And as it did, ever so slowly, so we followed. Growing along the rich wet soils left behind, we became more and more abundant along the Pacific Northwest.  In some places, we made up to half of all the vegetation in the forest. We grew and we continue to grow, but of course never without giving back!

We gift our sapwood to Black Bear when they roam the forest hungry, waiting for Salmon to arrive. Our saplings we gladly offer to Deer and Elk, whom depend on this for survival.  Our foliage has been home to numerous mosses and lichen. Our shade provides habitat for fern, salal, and devil’s club. We give Earth carbon from Sky by befriending special fungi through our roots.  Forest creatures gift us in return in many, sometimes invisible ways. Salmon travels unimaginable distances bringing the gifts of Ocean deep into the forest.  Bear and Eagle bring their decaying bodies to our feet, and with them we grow stronger and we continue the cycling of all.

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Deep Forest by Ray Troll

» Continue reading Western Red Cedar (Thuja plicata): A story…

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)