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A Trip to the Olympic Peninsula

June 30th, 2014 | Posted by in Adventures

Come every fall, winter and spring quarter, the graduate students in residency at the Environmental Learning Center leave for a long weekend dubbed the “Natural History Retreat.” It is a chance to explore a novel, neighboring ecosystem beyond the North Cascades we teach about and love on a daily basis. Last autumn, in the midst of a government shutdown, we quickly cavorted to the Methow Valley; in winter, we slept, to the extent we were able, in hard-earned snow shelters on Mt. Rainier’s Paradise. This mid-June, we headed for the one Washington national park we had yet to discover: Olympic.

But backup for a sec. Before it seems grad school is all fun ‘n’ games, it’s essential to clarify that the term “retreat” is a bit of a misnomer. Try “concentrated, highly efficient learning experience” instead. There were no hot tubs nor Swedish massages. Rather, like wolverines — those elusive weasels capable of covering six miles per hour whether traversing rivers, flatlands, or the steepest vertical relief — we were on a mission to cover as much territory in as little an amount of time as possible. In three days, we traveled from the Environmental Learning Center to Port Townsend, and eventually to the Hoh Rainforest, pit-stopping along the way to engage in multiple natural and cultural activities.

wooden boats pt townsend K. RenzInside Port Townsend’s Northwest Maritime Center. Smells so good, like wood and varnish and salt. Photo by author.

After a four-hour long end-of-season Mountain School debrief, we zoomed to sea level to catch the ferry out of Coupeville on Whidbey Island. Before we knew it, we were attired in orange dry suits and talking like pirates on a long boat in Port Townsend. We sailed and rowed around Port Townsend Bay, captained by Kelley Watson, former commercial salmon fisherman and organizer of the Girls Boat Project, and assisted by Chandlery Associate Alicia Dominguez. The quick trip was a success, and our tiny craft failed to collide with the giant ferries or picturesque sailboats in the midst of their weekly Friday night race. A graduate student in education herself, Watson told us Port Townsend had recently passed the “Maritime Discovery School Initiative.” As part of the community’s commitment to place-based education, all students would get a first-hand exposure to the maritime trades. Our collective graduate cohort eyebrows raised in unison as we heave-hoed through the salty sea: Jobs?

wooden boats III pt townsend K. RenzDown from the mountains, on the sea: From L to R: Katie Komorowski, Sarah Stephens, Elissa Kobrin, Samantha Hale, Joshua Porter, and Alicia Dominguez. Photo by author.

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Finding Community in the North Cascades

October 19th, 2011 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

“Making your way in the world today takes everything you’ve got. Taking a break from all your worries sure would help a lot. Wouldn’t you like to get away? Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name! And they’re always glad you came! You want to go where you can see people are all the same. You want to go where everybody knows your name.” – Cheers’ Theme

The lyrics from that familiar childhood song ring true and clear to me these days, perhaps more so than they used to. Having recently moved to the North Cascades Institute’s Environmental Learning Center, I feel not only transported to a different place, but to a different time as well. Similar to the friends from Cheers who, at the end of each day, gathered on bar stools to clink mugs together and exchange stories, I look forward to seeing familiar, friendly faces around the kitchenette table, sipping tea or coffee and swapping light-hearted tales of the day. And yes, up here, everybody knows my name. And I, theirs.

It might be hard to imagine within the context of today’s constantly connected and communicating world, but picture a small, remote community consisting of twenty-five people. Tucked up in a beautiful corner of the world, this community is surrounded with towering snow-capped mountain peaks, glacial fed lakes and rivers, and trails greener than any you have ever seen. This community lives together: at least one hour from any fully equipped grocery store and two hours away from other “basic amenities” (a hospital, for example). This community works together: some days from seven o’clock in the morning until nine or ten at night – full days that usually require a special kind of energy and attentiveness for engaging with youth. This community plays together: at the end of a long week, down time affords opportunities to climb mountains, canoe across icy turquoise waters, and find hidden sit spots just off trail that allow for peaceful reflection on the brilliant, changing colors of our vine maples. Chinese Teapots Wholesale Chinese Teapots Amber Spiral Bracelets
This community doesn’t have cell phones (at least not ones that get reception). And most importantly, this community comes together as a group of individuals, often separated from families and partners by great distance. This community is home away from home. This community is a family – my family. This community is the North Cascades Institute.

Part of the ELC family enjoys dinner together. Photo by Katie Tozier.

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