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Reflections of Diobsud Creek

September 6th, 2017 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

Story and art by Alexei Desmarais, graduate student in the Institute’s 16th cohort.

What is natural history? Why do we engage in this practice? And what can it teach us about the world in which we live? And about our relationship with this world?

These questions prompted the line of inquiry that became my natural history project, sending me deep into the verdant forests of the Diobsud Creek drainage, digging through the literature, and searching the inner reaches of my personal landscape for resonance with this marvelous external landscape. A landscape which shapes and grounds my being.

What follows are a number of small excerpts from my project, the full booklet of which can be found in the Wild Ginger library at the North Cascades Institute Environmental Learning Center.

What is trustworthy in our lives?

Soil, Air, Light, Water.

The world is full. Each individual being exudes its own light. Face to face with rock, strewn with countless varieties of lichen and moss—feathery boa-like strands, cups, lettuce-like leaves—I feel diffuse heavenly light round the globe and spill through void and cloud and tree to reflect back into my retina. To spill over into my visual field. I reflect back out into the world…


Wren by Alexei Desmarais

The song of the white-crowned sparrow is not merely repetition. Not the unconscious manifestation of something encoded deep within the bird’s DNA. Not merely its heritage. Each song is unique. Each is a thing of inexplicable beauty—the spontaneous burgeoning forth of a lyrical expression wholly individual. A moment of immanence, in which sparrow, vibrating air, listeners (vibrating eardrums), and earth are wrapped into one common experience. Curled tightly into a song. This song is each time a unique expression of being in the world—a moment of creation inseparable (though also wholly distinct) from the artist’s grasp of stylus, brush, or bow. Each time an enactment of that mysterious event long ago, from which burst forth this miraculous world we inhabit.

» Continue reading Reflections of Diobsud Creek

A Natural and Cultural History Guide to the Blue House

August 3rd, 2017 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

By Angela Burlile, graduate student in the Institute’s 16th cohort. 

During our Place-Based Learning in the North Cascades course this past summer, I discovered the power of place and the role that place has on our sense of self and the development of our ecological identity. A sense of place can be developed when one purposefully considers their relationship to the landscape and builds meaningful and personal connections.

Throughout much of the summer, we examined a pedagogy of place, reinforced through experiential practice and supportive reading material. In David Gruenewald’s, “Foundations of Place: A Multidisciplinary Framework for Place-Conscious Education”, he states:

“A multidisciplinary analysis of place reveals the many ways that places are profoundly pedagogical. That is, as centers of experience, places teach us about how the world works and how our lives fit into the spaces we occupy. Further, places make us: as occupants of particular places with particular attributes, our identity and our possibilities are shaped.”

I carried Gruenewald’s words and the idea of purposeful examination and connection to land with me as I moved into my new graduate residence at the Blue House in August 2016. Purchased in 2015 by the North Cascades Institute, the Blue House provides residential housing space for graduate students and staff. It was built in 1912 and currently sits on 7.7 acres of land, along the confluence of Diobsud Creek and the Skagit River.

» Continue reading A Natural and Cultural History Guide to the Blue House

Ash Kulshan Creek 7

S’more Knowledge, S’more Fun: Kulshan Creek at Lyman Slough

December 5th, 2016 | Posted by in 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. 

The weather is ominous. Big, gray rain clouds, wind and chilly temps definitely impacted the number of students that turned out, but the smaller number does not diminish the palpable excitement.

A big yellow school bus sitting in the parking lot is the backdrop for our greeting. As we approach the kids standing around it, they come running, big grins plastered on their faces and brimming with excitement and energy. Their enthusiasm is contagious and Kay and myself find ourselves just as giddy! After initial introductions we all eat lunch together, but instead of sitting down, we have to dance around the shelter in order to stay warm. There is nothing better than bonding through dance!

Before we head down to Lyman Slough, Ben led a rousing round of the Starfish warm-up! Shake it out!

Ash Kulshan Creek 2

We walk a short distance from the park down to the slough where we get to learn a little bit about what a slough is and what the Skagit Land Trust does in this area with restoration and land management.

Then we get to play!

When learning about a watershed, one of the most important concepts to understand is the water cycle.

PRECIPATAION-SATURATION-EVAPORATION-CONDENSATION

Kay brought GIANT dice for us to make the water cycle happen, plus we also got to make a super cool bracelet.  Each student starts at a location where water is stored in nature – clouds, ocean, rivers, lakes, groundwater, plants, animals, soil. There is a dice at each of these locations with at least one side representing that location, and all the other sides representing all the different places the water could travel to, based on the process of the water cycle. At each of these locations there is also a colored bead. The kids collect a bead at each location and roll the dice to see where they get to go next and collect the next bead. At the end they had a unique bracelet as well as a visual representation of all the places that they, as a water molecule, had traveled.

Ash Kulshan Creek 5

It was incredible to watch these kids experience the water cycle and have a tangible take-away from the lesson, rather than simply lecturing and giving them the facts and basics of the process.

» Continue reading S’more Knowledge, S’more Fun: Kulshan Creek at Lyman Slough

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Eating Snow: Climate Change, Snowpack and Agriculture Water-Use Policy in the Methow Valley

August 1st, 2016 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

By Annah Young, graduate student in the Institute’s 15th cohort.

I wedged myself between two boulders on the summit of Silver Star Mountain in Okanagan County, Washington and peered out over the North Cascades range. It was May 1, 2016. Mount Baker was crystal clear some 100 miles to the west across the snow cover peaks. The mountains were shimmering, almost blindingly so, in all directions with miles and miles of snowfields. The day was hot, almost 60 degrees in the sun at an elevation of 8,875 feet. Our ski boots were standing on a snowpack of over 8 feet deep I was trying to fathom the amount of frozen water surrounding me. Looking to the east I saw the Methow Valley and Okanagan County expanding into the horizon and tried to imagine the journey that the water molecules beneath my feet will make, providing habitat for migrating steelhead trout, nourishing Cottonwoods, and irrigating crops that become food to nourish the people. I chugged the last bit of water that was in my Nalgene, filled it to the brim with snow, stuffed the bottle in my pack and skied down 5,000 feet of glorious spring corn snow.

Snowpack in the North Cascades has declined between 20% and 40% since 1950 (Stoelinda, Albright, Mass, 2009, p. 1). Snowpack in the mountains is stored water that provides life to all organisms including humans by irrigating and growing the food we eat. Snowpack is declining due to natural climate fluctuations and anthropogenic global warming.

» Continue reading Eating Snow: Climate Change, Snowpack and Agriculture Water-Use Policy in the Methow Valley

Jon Reidel

Jon Riedel: Glacier Geologist

October 11th, 2015 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

What do you do if you are a young midwestern college graduate with a degree in geology and a yearning for adventure, wilderness and outdoor work in the West? “You go to where the action is,” says Jon Riedel, and for him, that meant the North Cascades.

The North Cascades’ superlative features would excite any geologist: it’s the most glaciated region in the Lower 48, with the most vertical relief; the bedrock floor of Lake Chelan sits more than two thousand feet below sea level; dozens of ice ages and glaciations have contorted the landscape into an infinite number of “problems” waiting to be solved. And better yet, the region had largely been ignored by geologists due to its remoteness and difficult access. Riedel found his calling and soon landed a job with North Cascades National Park as a geologist.

“The deductive approaches used in geomorphology—the study of the earth’s surface—caught on with me,” he explains.“The ability to read the landscape and see into the past was intoxicating.”

Coming from the Midwest, Riedel found that everything in the North Cascades was different: the brush was thick and the slopes steep, making exposed rock difficult to find and study sites challenging to get to. So Riedel focused on more easily visible surficial geology features such as alluvial fans, floodplains, terraces, moraines, valleys, and of course, glaciers. With persistence and many miles underfoot, Riedel began to understand what makes the North Cascades unique.

» Continue reading Jon Riedel: Glacier Geologist