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

December 30th, 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. Other pieces from this year can be found in parts one and two.

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

A Fire

By Mimi Gorman, dedicated for those who witnessed fires along the North Cascades during the summer of 2015

Wind carried sorrow
through flame illuminated skies.
Devoted hearts ache.

Waterfall Haiku

By Kurt Hoelting

Sound of mountain stream
Cuts all the way to the bone
I am water too

High ledge waterfall
Barely any flow today
Too long since it rained

Clouds swallow mountains
Big leaf maples luminous
Fresh air fills the lungs

Fancy Fall

By Holly Hughes

Vine maple leaves hang
bright yellow against green firs
becoming the sun

The sun leaves each day.
Days shorter, nights lengthening.
Look: leaves still hold the light.

SWW 2015 Looking Up

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

IMG_8001

Hey Bud

May 23rd, 2014 | Posted by in Life at the Learning Center

You know when you’re waiting and waiting for your meal to be served at a restaurant so you finally get up to go to the restroom, knowing your hot plate of deliciousness will likely have been brought to the table when you come back three minutes later?

I recently pulled that trick, only with my ecosystem.

Having persevered through a winter of twigs and more twigs, the promise enclosed in leaf and flower buds has been an exciting tease for the past month or so, little green gifts wrapped up tight, tender morsels for herbivorous deer and my appreciative eyes alike. But, save for Ribes, most were taking forever to crack, much less unfurl wantonly in their photosynthetic glory. So I left for ten days of spring break at the end of April, confident that the forest from which I drove away would look nothing like the lush kingdom to which I’d return.

It worked! At this point, I can’t even hope to keep up with the explosive profusion of photosynthetic beauty, and this is just fine. Here’s a sampling of new growth in full force all over the Environmental Learning Center campus:

IMG_8040Vine maple (Acer circinatum) buds. Note the bright, licorice-red branches. These will turn green over time, an adaptation allowing the understory tree species to photosynthesize to its maximum potential even in low-light conditions or in the winter after it’s lost its leaves. Young green branches are flexible, and are used in making items such as snowshoe frames and drum hoops.
vine maple buds k. renzStill crumpled like damp, newly-born birds’ wings, fresh vine maple leaves frame dangling flower buds, all covered in fine, shimmering hairs.
vine maple flowers k. renzVine maple leaves, seven-to-nine-pointed peridot stars catching sunlight in the mid-canopy. The half-inch wide flowers will, if successfully fertilized, develop into winged fruits called samaras, commonly know as “helicopter seeds.”
IMG_8149There are a few black swamp gooseberry (Ribes lacustre) scattered around the wetter parts of campus. These small shrubs were propagated by the National Park Service from seeds gathered just yards away near Deer Creek and were planted as part of a successful restoration effort after the Environmental Learning Center was built in 2005. The detailed flowers are only about one-quarter inch big, and you can see the bulge at the base of the petals where the hairy fruit, purportedly very juicy and tart, will eventually form.
fresh mahonia k. renzOregon grape (Mahonia aquifolium): This year’s recently emerged, pliable, scarlet-tinged new growth on the left contrasts with the tough, leathery leaves from last year on the right.
alder buds k. renzRed alder (Alnus rubra) buds form on the young saplings that are growing at the edge of almost every road or significant path at the Environmental Learning Center. Why the profusion? Alder trees love disturbed sites, and are some of the first “pioneer” species that come into an ecosystem after land has been cleared. Since the buildings are less than a year old, this species is thriving.
4 beetles k. renz Beetle-mania! Iridescent cyan insects congregate on an alder leaf, munching away on the new growth. Several of the leaves in this grove between the parking lot and the office were the site of such six-legged shenanigans.
devil's club budRecognize these spines? New growth of devil’s club (Oplopanax horridus), an exceptionally important plant to indigenous tribes along the Pacific Northwest coast. This species can be used for everything from perfume and deodorant (pulverized bark) to treating lice (berries) and rheumatism (roots and stems). A Mountain School student from the Swinomish tribe in La Conner said his mom makes paint from this versatile plant.
devil's club leaves k. renzPhyto-palms stretched upward toward the light, the devil’s club buds have burst into leaves that will eventually grow up to over a foot across. Mention of another local use for this plant was gleaned from John Suiter’s book, Poets on the Peaks (Counterpoint, 2002): To flog accused communists in the Skagit Valley during the Red Scare of the 1930s.
salal bud k. renzThe  tough, oval leaves of the ubiquitous salal (Gautheria shallon) frame the soft, blushy red buds that will later develop into smaller stems.
fiddlehead k. renz
 
Leading photo: Only three inches above the mossy floor, two gracefully coiled fiddleheads of lady ferns appear to confer: To grow or not to grow? (Apologies for the pterido-pomorphizing….)

 

All photos by author.

Katherine Renz is a graduate student in North Cascades Institute and Western Washington University’s M.Ed. program. She readily admits she has a problem, an addiction to snapping photos of all things botanical, a pathological attraction to leafy supermodels.

 

 

 

Fall Vignettes from the Institute

October 23rd, 2011 | Posted by in Institute News

People experience the seasonal transformations of the natural world in a myriad of ways. Each of us may recognize subtleties taking hold of a landscape in times of change that others will miss completely because they have learned to pay attention to different details. Amidst downpours of rain in the lowlands and dustings of snow in the mountains, it can be easy to settle in to quieter and more thoughtful routines. It can be easy to put our noses in books and our feet in slippers, forgetful that these changes bring new forms of burgeoning and often unnoticed life back into the world.

For some, these changes affect most the olfactory realm, delighting that sense with smells of duff and rich, turning soils. For others, it is the sight of a golden larch contrasted against crystalline snow and mountain peaks, and still others notice most the mosses of the forest floor amplified to new shades of green by the quickening rains. Perhaps for some it is the elongated light and the shadows that persist which give new meaning to the color and character of the trees. Or some may simply feel it as an urgent knowing from deep within, a connection to the undercurrents of a timeless, cyclical change.

By combining our individual morsels of detail and thought about the essential elements of fall, we are able to paint a richer understanding of this place in which we live. We are able collectively to tell a story that captures the beauty of the changing seasons in the North Cascades ecosystem. In the process, we learn to draw on other’s knowledge in order to widen our own, ultimately coming to appreciate a more communal understanding of place. Below, staff and graduate students share their own unique vignettes of fall, offering perspectives of this region that span many seasons to just a few months.

Tigerlily pods ready to sow their seeds on the fecund soils of the Methow Valley. Photo by Jess Newley.

» Continue reading Fall Vignettes from the Institute

Vine maple leaves

Fall colors

November 1st, 2008 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

Last week I asked my fifth grade Mountain School students how they would describe the color of a Vine maple leaf. This is not a question I would have asked before moving here, to the North Cascades Institute. I used to think that leaves turned brown, orange, yellow or red. There were no variations to these colors. Now I see the leaves differently. I feel this sense of connection, intimacy that comes with knowing and learning a place. I watch the leaves change each day, lamenting and celebrating the change of colors, wondering how long they will persist, and theorizing how they will change in the days to come.

I now describe the leaves as mottled brown and yellow, red with streaks of yellow, pale yellow brushed with a hint of brown, deep burgundy ringed with green, sunshine yellow, and sometimes transparent pale gold leaves with flecks of brown.

It is not as easy to describe the color of a Vine maple leaf as I once thought, it is a change of perspective that I relish.

Photo by Jenny Frederick