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Hooked!: Saying Farewell to Our New Friend Tele Aadsen

March 3rd, 2014 | Posted by in Life at the Learning Center

Crewing on a commercial fishing boat during prime salmon season isn’t exactly conducive to writing a memoir.

“No writing happens on the boat except on my arm,” said Tele Aadsen, a fisherman, writer, Alaskan and most recent Writer-In-Residence at the North Cascades Institute.

But to write a complete log from the Gulf of Alaska, and then some, sentences via forearm and rare moments of rest would not suffice. With a manuscript due by the end of May 2014, Aadsen needed space, time and distance if she were to finish writing her memoir, Hooked: A Season of Love, Sex, and Salmon.

Fortunately, Aadsen was friends with Betsy Delph, a returning sous-chef at the Institute and the daughter of the Institute’s Administrative Assistant, Anne Hubka. Through them, she heard about the residency opportunity and was accepted in June 2013, spending the rest of the summer watching the long Alaskan days tick by until she could trade a salmon knife for a pen come mid-November.

Aadsen’s next three months living at the Environmental Learning Center were productive, but not always blissfully easy, as most artists under deadline to get into “the flow” likely understand. On a recent night in February, Aadsen gave a farewell presentation to the Learning Center community detailing the opportunities, highlights and challenges of her residency. She described it, in part, as an exercise in “forced accountability,” saying, “I have backed myself into this corner that I’ve spent the past 17, 18 years strenuously avoiding.

Even at the young age of 18, fellow fisherfolk had been asking Aadsen when she was going to write a book, to which she’d respond, a little sheepishly, that she would like to……someday. Though she’d been told by teachers and friends since elementary school that writing was a craft at which she excelled, this encouragement did not necessarily translate into a talent that was automatic or without struggle. At age 21, she left the fishing life, and Alaska, at a point when she was, as she recalled, “very angry and bitter.” She spent the next six years as a social worker in Seattle, helping homeless youth. “I bounced from crisis to crisis to crisis,” she remembered. She didn’t write for the entire six years.

Tele and Besty Photo Joel Brady-Power
Aadsen and Betsy Delph, a sous-chef at the Environmental Learning Center, spent a summer catching salmon together, which included hanging out in the fish hold. Photo by Joel Brady-Power.

But living in a city, passing days punctuated by stress and misery, was hardly sustainable. Aadsen was called back to fishing, a lifestyle she’d known since she was seven when her parents built a 45-foot sailboat, the Askari. At the same time, she was called back to writing: Her story, which she’d spent years trying to ignore, grew louder and more insistent while back on the water.

And then one of those perfect, serendipitous events occurred, the kind that practically force one to believe in fate. In 2010, Aadsen was visiting Bellingham, where she stopped by the independent bookstore and community hub, Village Books. The author giving the reading that evening was Cami Ostman, a former social work colleague of Aadsen’s from a decade previous. “’Someone I know wrote a book!’” Aadsen thought, surprised and delighted. After the reading, her old friend told her that non-fiction books can be sold on proposal, unlike fictional novels, which have to be fully completed. Within three years, under Ostman’s tutelage and encouragement, Aadsen had finished a 100-page proposal for Hooked. Her agent sent it out.

Four of the ten publishers to whom the proposal was pitched wanted to talk about turning it in to a book. All of them were in New York. “None had ever been near a fishing boat, XtraTuf boots or Alaska,” Aadsen laughed. Each publisher singled out a different piece of the story that spoke to them, yet only one, Riverhead Books, identified that there was a feminist component in Aadsen’s life as a female in a male-dominated industry. This was important to Aadsen, and she went with Riverhead, ready to join the ranks of writers such as Anne Lamott and Khaled Hosseini, author of The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns.

Tele presentation photo K. RenzAt Aadsen’s presentation to the community, she posted a beautifully-crafted timeline of the progression of Hooked around the Dining Hall. How could any creatively-driven person not find solace and empathy in the top quote: “As a kid, I’m always writing. Teachers say I’m a good writer, which I internalize to mean that writing should come easily to me.” Photo by Katherine Renz.

Now came the hard part – getting her whole story on paper – a task accompanied by even trickier questions: How does one tell their own stories – ones that are funny, sordid, emotional and everything in between — when they involve other people? At what point is the line drawn between characters in a book and friends in real life? With memoirs, does such a line even exist?

The residency offered Aadsen a freedom impossible to access while in proximity to her loved ones, whether working at sea or landed at her permanent home in Bellingham where her partner, Joel Brady-Power, and cat, Bear, held down the proverbial fort until the season began again. Up at the Learning Center, if she wanted to tell a story that could potentially offend a friend or family member, well, so be it. Aadsen could shrug off the concern. “It doesn’t matter, they’re down river,” she’d remind herself, and start writing.

Aadsen also wrestled with issues of shame. Not only was this a theme in her memoir – What does it mean to be faithful? To love? To delve deeply into one’s own secrets? – but it was also an issue with the luxury of a residency itself. With the constant reflection so characteristic of writers, Aadsen wondered, “Who gets to run away for three months to write a book?”

Part of the answer was found in one of the dozens of letters friends and fans sent her during her three months, some of which she shared during her presentation. As one woman wrote, “You valuing your work gives me permission to value mine.” The humanity of Aadsen’s task became apparent, as a model for others wanting to embrace their creative goals but also in considering how to take Hooked to a deeper, more universal level. “How can I make this no longer my story only?” she asked herself, chapter by chapter. With the popularity of memoirs over the past decade or so, with authors like Cheryl Strayed agonizing over love and loss on the Pacific Crest Trail or Elizabeth Gilbert traipsing all over the world to find herself, this format has often been criticized for its narcissistic tendencies. Aadsen’s intention was to escape this inherent pitfall as much as possible, to craft a story in which readers can better understand their own experience through her experience.

As a graduate student and year long resident at the Environmental Learning Center, welcoming Aadsen into our lean wintertime community was a sweet opportunity. I remember the autumn afternoon when Anne Hubka mentioned we would have a writer-in-residence, the same woman who provides all the salmon we serve in our kitchen. An author? I thought. A real live writer? Who is also a feminist? YES! My initial assumption to jump for joy proved correct as we got to know Aadsen over the next few months. Though she was, most of the time, diligently locked in her apartment organizing words, Aadsen always made time for her new family, including leading an all day writing workshop for the graduate students, one of the highlights of our educational experience. I can’t count the number of times I heard her say, “There’s a book in you….,” extending the encouragement she’d received along her own journey to the writers among the graduate cohort and staff.

Tele Aadsen became and remains part of our community and part of our story as, we hope, we are a part of hers. We’re hooked.

Tele writing on arm/joel brady powersMemoirs are an internal story, but sometimes they’re external, too: Aadsen doing her daily ritual on the boat, pre-residency, transcribing her inspired notes-on-forearm into a more permanent journal. Photo by Joel Brady-Power.
Leading photo: Aadsen and the graduate students (collectively known as “Cohort 13”) pose for a farewell photo. Obviously, we wish she could be our constant writer-in-residence. From L to R: Sarah Stephens, Annabel Connelly, Katie Komorowski, Samantha Hale, Katherine Renz, Tele Aadsen, Elissa Kobrin, Kaci Darsow, Tyler Chisholm. Photo by Liz Blackman.

Katherine Renz is a graduate student in North Cascades Institute and Western Washington University’s M.Ed. program and co-editor of Chattermarks. When not doing homework or blogging, she is dreaming of being a writer-in-residence. 





KatieK. w/flasher tree

Late Morning, Rainy, Wabi-Sabi Writing

January 17th, 2014 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

How often are you given the task to slowly, silently develop your awareness of beauty? Even more rare, perhaps, to be mindful of this tempting trait as it resides the incomplete, imperfect, and impermanent nature of, well, everything? And to think about how you fit in, just maybe, to this struggle, this destruction, this temporality? The eight members of the North Cascades Institute’s Graduate M.Ed. Program (a.k.a. “Cohort 13”) were recently privileged to be assigned such a “wabi-sabi” meditation — an appropriate request considering we live in a national park full of obvious beauty, are in a contractual agreement with the gods of the Masters degree to be writing all the time and are trained professionals in landscape observation. Additionally, we were graced by a day of instruction from Tele Aadsen, our writer-in-residence, neighbor and occasional Chattermarks contributor. She handed us our wabi-sabi writing prompt on yellow slips of paper, and unleashed us upon the rainy trails. Varied and place-based, we thought you might enjoy this sampling of what we came up with. —Katherine Renz


By Katie Komorowski

The trees, they are not perfect. They don’t all stand up straight in rows. Their branches aren’t all equidistant or hold the same number of leaves. They bear scars just like us. Take the one who’s tattooed, carved into with the initials, “MT ‘hearts’ ST”. I wonder if they are still together? Their mark is. Dug into this alder and scarred over, proof that trees are not pure but tough.

Or how about that tree that looks like a flasher whipping open their trench coat to expose their goods? Bark folded out like the cover of a book, nearly square and so unnatural. It screams of wildness and reeks of desperation.

And what of that mottled, old Doug Fir? Thick bark that used to be almost chocolate colored, now flecked in white lichen, with moss growing on it like a shaggy beard. Chinese Teapots Wholesale Chinese Teapots Amber Spiral Bracelets
So aged, so dignified in its mossy, lichen mess; this tree wears it like a disguise, camouflage to blend in with the lighter trees around it.

These imperfections breathe character into the woods. Each one so different than the last, though to a passerby they’d appear the same. Only when I stop to look and really see each one do I get a glimpse at the story. How is this tree’s life different than that one’s? Neighbors though they may be, each one carries a strong identity.


By Sarah Stephens

sarah listening rainGraduate student and musician, Sarah Stephens, listens to an unlikely orchestra.

I sit between the compost shelter and the maintenance shed, orchestra seating. The sky is a gray curtain. Members of the ensemble race toward the main stage. By the time I arrive the concert has already started. A steady pat pat pat pat of drips fall softly onto decayed leaves, fixing the rhythm. Just below the edge of the roof lay a pile of six long pipes; the stage is set.

The musicians take turns cascading off the roof to play their single note before rolling along the pipe to begin rehearsal for their next performance. Dozens sound at a time — plip plip tt tt plip plip tt tt, ding, din din ding, din din, ta, ting ting ting ting ta, ting ting ting ting: a metallic medley. It’s a light and celebratory piece played for the majority of this venue’s season. I’ve come right in the middle. Thought it would be a good way to start the new year.


I went looking for humble

By Kaci Darsow

I went looking for humble.

“Don’t write about the fancy things,”

She had said.

I walked and walked

Listening to the raindrops tick against fallen leaves.

Everything felt humble in this weather.

I could look closely, write mindfully

On any of these things.

The drooping sword ferns

The moss covered, dripping branches of Maple

The frozen slush on the log, battered by rain

The shadow of a snag,

Its rotten bole fallen away, laying before it

An empty sheath of bark still standing.

There was a quiet, resilient beauty to it all.

But the closer I looked, the more I understood,

All these things were incredibly grand.

An obvious, striking, remarkable beauty

Filling important roles in the community,

Their existence supporting the survival of it all.

These were not the impermanent, imperfect or incomplete.

They were the essential beings.

Not simple, overlooked or rejected,

The sought out, the celebrated, the infinitely complex.

I walked on.

The steep trail, my many layers

The cold air

Making my breathing heavily labored.

Drops of moisture ran down my face

Into the corners of my eyes.

I couldn’t tell if they were sweat or rain.

They tasted like both.

Finally, I found a dry patch of trail

Under a Hemlock and Doug Fir.

I sat down to scribble away

But was stopped

By the large drops landing on my page.

I looked up,

But none fell on my face.

I looked down,

Three more large drops splattered my ink.

My hair was dripping with sweat

And probably rain too, as I forgot my hood.

As I returned to write

A thought flashed through my mind.

Is this what I need to be writing?

These are words on a page,

Written by my pen.


Most certainly yes.

A simple start


An Hour in the Rain

By Tyler Chisholm

I came here to write about mountains. But today you can’t see the mountains.

There are hints of them, giant boulders amid a river of clouds. I watch as fluid clouds flow between rock mounds, briefly forming patterns before destroying them as they move gracefully down valley. The weather is indecisive today, fluctuating between misty rain, heavy rain, and even a wintery mixture of slushy bombs pelting the ground with something not quite snow-like. As I walk down the trail on a “wabi-sabi walk’, as the writing folks call it, searching for inspiration (since the mountains are too elusive to cooperate), my mind embodies the indecisiveness of the weather. I see inspiration in every leaf, stump, stream, and moss-covered tree. My mind becomes a running dialogue, flowing like the river of clouds, then switching abruptly to a new topic, just as the rain. The wabi-sabi continues like this, with every turn of the path discovering new subjects until I finally turn back, slightly discouraged.

It is only then that I truly accomplish the goal of the wabi-sabi: I observe for the sake of observing. Heading back down to my cozy apartment, splashing through slushy puddles in my bright pink rain boots, I realize my indecisiveness is not due to a lack of inspiration, but due to an over-stimulation of motivation.

tyler in puddlePink rain boots ready, Tyler Chisholm demonstrates her inspiration AND motivation at the first available puddle.


Lakeside Landing

By Elissa Kobrin

I picked a bad spot, oh man, this is the worst possible spot. But I landed here and I liked the look of the lake. It was so hard to take root: many rocks, not much duff, but there was plenty of water, and we Western redcedars love water.  Every moment was a struggle – too much sun! I had to stretch and bend to get cool in the sparse shade on very hot days.

At ten years old, I’m not looking very good. I see my reflection taunting me from the surface of the water. I look skinny and spindly. My bark looks more like an alder than a cedar, bare and pale. . .so very naked in spots beaten by wind and sun. My needles are so sparse, clustered in goofy bunches at my feet with a sickly yellowing crown at my head. Not enough nutrients here, not enough shade.

The lodgepole pines have done their best to help with encouragement. One leaned over to grow between me and the most open angle of the relentless summer sun. Not one other of my kind is here, having found deep shade and soft soil up the trail toward the mountain. The Douglas firs and the lodgepoles love it here. So many babies growing robust and green! But I am sick, yellow and thin. I will not live 500 years like my mother or grow tall and deep green like my father. I will survive here as long as I can, because I do love the look of the lake.

elissa with cedarElissa Kobrin examines the yellowing needles of her new friend, a Western redcedar, still hangin’ in there on the shore of Lake Diablo.
Leading photo: Katie Komorowski imitates the “flasher” paper birch she found to be so wild and desperate along the Deer Creek Trail.

All photos by Katherine Renz.


Cohort 13 is currently experiencing a rather mild North Cascades winter while in residency at the Environmental Learning Center. When not in class, they’re out exploring, creating non-profit organizations, and wabi-sabi-ing their way toward changing the world.