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Growing Roots In The Mountain

November 22nd, 2016 | Posted by in Life at the Learning Center


Guest post by Lauren Danner, historian and writer.

Lauren Danner

The North Cascades have been the focus of Lauren Danner’s research and writing for more than 15 years. While she knows the park intimately on paper and through the memories of those involved in its creation, the Environmental Learning Center creative residency allowed her an opportunity for in-depth exploration of the American Alps, creating a greater physical and emotional connection with the mountains that will resonate authentically in her forthcoming book, Crown Jewel Wilderness: Creating North Cascades National Parks, soon to be published by WSU Press. Lauren is a former college instructor, museum director, and field coordinator of the Lewis & Clark Bicentennial in Washington. The following post has been taken from her website, wildernesswithinher.com, where she writes about the North Cascades, national parks, and wilderness. 

Today is my last full day in the North Cascades, where I’ve spent three weeks as a creative resident at the North Cascade Institute’s Environmental Learning Center (ELC). As I’ve written before, my plan was to hike, write, and soak in the North Cascades, which have been the focus of my research and writing for more than 15 years.

I am simultaneously content that I’ve accomplished my mission and a bit sad to be leaving this remarkable place.

Here’s what a typical day looked like.

I wake up in Diablo, a company town owned by Seattle City Light, which runs the Skagit Hydroelectric Project that provides 20 percent of Seattle’s electricity. The house I’m in is scheduled to be “deconstructed” (a more polite term than “demolished,” I guess) so it’s pretty bare bones.

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Company house in Diablo. Mine is the one on the far right, next to the water tower. Photo by Lauren Danner

In fact, if it weren’t for my housemates, there wouldn’t be much there but beds and a dining room table. But I’ve won the roommate lottery. I’m sharing with staff members Travis, a smiling 30-something uber-athlete and poetic free spirit who works as a naturalist, and Mike, a cerebral student of Marxist economic theory and Magic (the game, not the hobby) who applies his interest in food justice to his work in the ELC’s kitchen as a baker. He uses his sourdough starter to tasty effect, and we’ve enjoyed his bread — and his TV. My first night (and let’s face it, I wasn’t sure how these two would respond to a middle-aged historian being plunked into their midst) we watched Dead Poets Society, squished together on the ancient couch, and I figured everything would be all right.

Each morning, I either drive a few miles or walk to the ELC over the Diablo Dam trail, a short (1.5 miles) path that wakes me up better than coffee.

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Part of the incline railway visible from the Diablo Dam trail. The picture doesn’t do justice to the steep 34.2 degree grade. Photo by Lauren Danner

The first half is long, rocky switchbacks up the side of a low ridge on Sourdough Mountain, where Beat poet Gary Snyder worked as a fire lookout in the 1950s. (The trail to the top of the mountain is known as one of the hardest in in the park, gaining 5,000′ of elevation in five steep miles. Travis makes a point of hiking it once a week.)

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