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Springing into Learning: Graduate Spring Natural History Retreat

June 9th, 2016 | Posted by in Adventures

At the Institute, the graduate students of the 15th cohort (C15) have been hard at work this past year teaching Mountain School, assisting in adult programs and visiting non-profits, all while finishing assignments and trying to find some sleep! Every season though, the graduate students leave all that behind to learn from experts in the field and be fully immersed into the wilderness of the North Cascades. Last fall we worked with beavers and hawks. In the winter we dived into snow ecology and wolverines. Just last week, we ventured out on our last natural history retreat where we tracked our natural neighbors, captured native bees and kept up with all of the birds!


Our first stop was with author, photographer and educator David Moskowitz. Since the fall we as a cohort had been using his book Wildlife of the Pacific Northwest as our go-to guide on all things tracking. Having a class with the man himself was an experience all its own.


Using some of our newly acquired tracking skills.

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The Trifecta: C14’s Last Natural History Retreat

June 21st, 2015 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

For the members of Cohort 14, everything is starting to come full circle. The Learning Center looks as it looked when we arrived last July: Pyramid’s faces are bare, Sourdough Creek has slowed to a trickle, the air is warm, and the winds are strong. Many things have changed in the intervening seasons. We taught two seasons of Mountain School, the latter of which ended just one week ago, completed final projects, and attended our last natural history retreat. As I have remarked in previous blog posts (and to anyone I talk to), these retreats have been one of the highlights of this graduate residency. They are a break from our hectic teaching schedule, a chance to reconnect as a cohort, and an opportunity to learn from passionate naturalists and scientists.

While our fall and winter retreats took us to the Methow Valley, we expanded our reach on our spring trip, traveling up to the Sinlahekin Valley. En route, we camped in Winthrop to hike up Tiffany Mountain. On Monday May 25th we hiked up about a mile before meeting large hail and stormy skies.
Foreboding skies over Tiffany.

Tiffany Hail
A sample of the hail

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Learning to Love the Rain

June 4th, 2012 | Posted by in Adventures

It only takes a few days in Forks, Washington, to be dead sure that the town is the rainiest place in the lower forty-eight. And that is exactly where we were headed for our Spring Graduate Retreat. To quell any suspicions that we were visiting for the purposes of Twilight histeria, let me say that while the prospect of vampires and warewolves may have been an exciting addition to our adventure for some, their anticipated sighting was far removed from our journey’s intent.

One of my fellow cohort 11 members aptly described the rejuvenating effects of our recent spring retreat as: “How I stopped worrying and learned to love the rain.” An elementary recollection perhaps, but one ripe with meaning for the 14 graduate students at North Cascades Institute who spent four days camped near the rainy coastline of the Olympic Peninsula. The purpose of our retreat was three-fold: to offer us a respite from a busy spring of teaching Mountain School, planning curriculum, and working on Natural History topics, to provide an opportunity for continued exploration of the natural world and, perhaps most importantly, to deepen our connections with each other and have fun together.

After nearly a year of crowding  under trees as we drip water from our noses and our fingertips, we have all learned to stretch our definitions of fun. On this particular retreat, fun was found in many forms. How fun, to sketch the ocean’s horizon line as droplets of water hit our journal pages; how fun, to play touch football on the beach as wet granules of sand stick to our feet; how fun, to cook dinner under the jankity cover of a tarp as the rain whittles away at the woven plastic overhead; how fun, to huddle around a campfire and laugh together as water drips down our backs; how fun, to fall asleep to the sound of rain on tent surfaces; how fun, to wake up surrounded by a puddle built of last night’s downpour; how fun, to watch a sucker hole widen just long enough to warrant the happy shedding of rain gear; how fun, to recognize the urgency of rainfall as the requisite of life found in the wild diversity of the Olympics.

Beads of rain caught poetically in the intricate web left by a spider. Photo by Colby Mitchell.

Our adventure began with a ferry ride to Port Townsend. It wasn’t but a few minutes blithely spent on the windy deck of the boat before we were shouting out the names of shorebirds spotted through binoculars – rhinoceros auklets, pelagic cormorants, and the famed marbled murrelet! Our naturalizing was already off to a great start. After disembarking from the ferry and heading along the north coast of the Olympics for a time, we stopped at Tongue Point to do some tide pooling. Being a naturalist of the mountain variety, I, for one, was giddy to be spending the afternoon exploring life below the water with others of my cohort who were far more knowledgeable about marine wildlife than I: California mussels, chiten, sea anenomes, hermit crabs, periwingle mollusks, gooseneck barnacles, kelps, and sea weeds – to name just a few of the myraid of species we discovered. It was deep breathing interjected with wild explanations of excitement as we examined the intricacies of tidal life while looking out across a great expanse of blue.

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