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Joshua Winter 2016

Graduate Winter Natural History Retreat: Class in the snow!

March 28th, 2016 | Posted by in Field Excursions

As the snow is melting and Spring is is coming in full force, winter’s grasp is quickly fleeting from our minds. It’s hard to imagine that just a month ago the 15th Graduate Cohort of the North Cascades Institute was on their Winter Natural History retreat in the Methow Valley, then a winter wilderness! The retreat was the second retreat we had taken this year, in which we delve deep into the natural landscape to get first hand experience with our local wilderness. In this particular trip we learned about astronomy, wolverines, avalanche science and even tracking. Our whole trip had us centered at the Skalitude Retreat Center located in the Methow Valley.

Skalitude Retreat Center

Skalitude

Skalitude Retreat Center located in the heart of the mountains.

After traveling for seven hours into the Methow Valley, for Washington Pass is closed in the winter, the road into Skalitude was the definition of a remote mountain road: covered with animal tracks, steep, and windy. The whole road was encased in a thick forest. As soon as we reached the retreat the trees opened up to showcase the excellent valley and the pristine snow! Living in Western Washington this winter made me forget how much I had missed feet of clean, beautiful snow.

Good meals

Good friends and good food! Photo courtesy of Aly Gourd.

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WintHxGroup

Chasing Winter: A Natural History Retreat

February 28th, 2015 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

One of the highlights of this my time in this graduate program so far (seven months!) has been our seasonal natural history retreats. In the fall, Cohort 14 went over to the Methow Valley, which is quickly becoming our favorite place, and spent a week camping outside of Winthrop. We hiked, explored, skinned deer at the start of hunting season with Katie Russell, learned about the Methow Beaver Project, and counted migratory raptors with Kent Woodruff of the Chelan Ridge Raptor Migration Project, part of Hawkwatch International.

From February 2nd through the 6th (or 8th, for some of us), we tucked ourselves away in the woods near Early Winters Campground in Mazama, WA, and ventured into the snow each day to learn new skills and enjoy one of the few places in the state where winter seemed to be in full swing.

Monday

Most of us don’t arrive until the evening. How cruel of a joke it seems to be that we drive for eight hours from Diablo… only to end up just 50 miles away from the Environmental Learning Center. We rejoiced, however, when we crossed Stevens Pass and saw snow for the first time in weeks. It gave us a taste of the winter wonderland that awaited us in the Methow Valley. But our restless legs were soothed by the sight of fat, fluffy snowflakes falling on a silent stretch of Highway 20 once we traveled west out of Twisp. The whole van fell silent: mesmerized by the calm.

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White Peaks, Bluebird Skies, Flapping Wingbeats

February 27th, 2012 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

As graduate students spending a year at the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center, winter is a contemplative and focused time – a time of respite from teaching Mountain School programs to work on group projects for our nonprofit and curriculum classes. This work, along with an in-depth research project on a Natural History topic of our choosing, comprises the bulk of our academic studies.

This kind of project-based learning allows for us to structure our studies around time spend outside naturalizing and exploring the winter world of the Cascades. A canoe paddle on Diablo Lake breaks up hours of writing and research while giving us a chance to feel inspired by icicles clinging to rocky cliff ledges near Thunder Knob. A hike up to Buster Brown Field allows us to the breath in the deep, crisp air while listening for golden-crowned kinglets that have just returned from their winter migrations. Feeling reenergized, we are able to focus again on the work at hand.

As much as we cherish these opportunities to explore the natural world just outside our doorsteps, sometimes we need time away in different places altogether where new adventures, learning, and inspiration can occur. Cohort 11 recently returned from just such an adventure: A three-day Winter Graduate Retreat at Mount Rainier National Park and the Skagit Flats.

A red fox curled up in the snow. Above, the moon rising in an alpine glow sky at Mount Rainier. Photo by Jess Newley.

We began the retreat with bluebird skies and a four-hour car ride that landed us at the base of Mount Rainier. Many of us were so eager to begin our adventure at the Park that we drove straight up to Paradise Meadows on the southwest face of the mountain at 5,400 ft. After orienting ourselves to the winter ecology, glaciology, and geologic history of the Park at the Visitor’s Center, graduate students dispersed to explore this singular volcano in the Cascades Range. In just a few short minutes of hiking around, a number of us turned to see a red fox sauntering along the trail beside us. We gasped, looking around in wonder as a second fox, this one a silver morph of the first, came quietly behind it. Both had their noses to the ground, and neither seemed to be paying us, or their proximity to the parking lot of Paradise, any mind. These habituated foxes were simply out for a dusk perusal of their territory and feeding grounds. Having never seen a fox at such close distance myself, I was delighted. We watched them for a time, following their trails into the trees. Looking up, we spotted a porcupine in a subalpine fir above our heads munching on needle buds and dropping pellets onto the snow. An hour at the Park and already the wildlife count was up! Our first day ended with a stunning sunset and alpine glow across the wintery beauty of Mount Rainier.

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