2013 Instructor Exchange

Each winter, students at North Cascades Institute, Islandwood, and Wilderness Awareness School get together over three weekends, one gathering at each of our campuses, to share the similarities and differences of our programs, meet new people, and learn from each other. This year, the graduate students of North Cascades Institute hosted the first weekend over three cold and snowy days in the middle of January.
We started off with group games  and a team-building scavenger hunt so we could all meet each other and our guests could learn their way around our campus.

Scavenger hunt task: “Make a paper bonnet.” Photo by Jenni Hensley
“Ice skating” the length of a frozen-over ditch on our way to a snowball fight. Photo by Ryan Weisberg

The first night, after a rousing and semi-competitive game of pub-style trivia, as well as a dance party, about a dozen of us walked through snow and 22 degree temperatures to look at the stars from an open field. It was one of the clearest nights we’ve had out here in a long time and the stars were amazing. We shared poetry and songs while we stood in the cold, dark night, enjoying each others company and inspired by the beauty around us.

Leaping into the sunset, graduate students enjoy their first evening on the Learning Center campus. Photo by Carey French

Day two brought sunshine and smiling faces to a morning of workshops and an adventure to Thunder Creek, all led by North Cascades Institute graduate students and staff. Originally planning on spending my morning catching up on homework, I received a singing invitation to participate in an Andy Goldsworthy inspired outdoor art project. Well, who can resist a singing invite? So I ended up helping create a giant snow dragon, and my morning probably couldn’t have been more perfect.

An icy star down by Diablo Lake. Photo by Carey French
Diablo Lake on a beautiful winter day. Photo by Lindsay Walker
The frightful snow dragon. Photo by Ryan Weisberg
Even Snow Dragons have to eat sometime… Photo by Carey French
 North Cascades Institute graduate student, Liza Dadiomov, fearlessly fighting off the dreaded Snow Dragon. Photo by Carey French

Above two photos: Students from Wilderness Awareness School and Islandwood, taking a stroll on Diablo Dam. (top photo by Carey French, lower photo by Grey)

Since we all have different backgrounds and tremendous stores of knowledge, we spent a couple hours in the afternoon sharing how we practice place-based education, our thoughts on what the future holds for natural history, our favorite games and songs, and what it means to work for a non-profit. We ended the second night by sharing our talents, skits, and songs. I don’t think anyone really wanted to leave, but eventually we all knew it was time for bed.
After breakfast on the last day of the exchange, we shared poetry and wishes for the world. Then we piled into vans and headed about 30 miles down-valley to look at the eagles that congregate along the Skagit River this time of year because of the multitude of salmon spawning in the area. Sadly, the time has come to say Goodbye to all of our new friends. But not for long—we still have two more exchanges! We’ll be headed to Wilderness Awareness School in February and Islandwood in March. Until then, here is one of my favorite poems by Mary Oliver:
In winter
all the singing is in
the tops of the trees
where the wind-bird
with its white eyes
shoves and pushes
among the branches.
Like any of us
he wants to go to sleep,
but he’s restless—
he has an idea,
and slowly it unfolds
from under his beating wings
as long as he stays awake
But his big, round music, after all,
is too breathy to last.
So, it’s over.
In the pine-crown
he makes his nest,
he’s done all he can.
I don’t know the name of this bird,
I only imagine his glittering beak
while the clouds—
which he has summoned
from the north—
which he has taught
to be mild, and silent—
thicken, and begin to fall
into the world below
like stars, or the feathers
of some unimaginable bird
that loves us,
that is asleep now, and silent—
that has turned itself
into snow.

Leading photo: Islandwood graduate student Liz, looking through a glassy piece of lake ice. Photo by Carey French



  1. Elise Ehrheart

    Great post Ryan! Looks like it was a lovely experience. I missed the Instructor Ex. last year, so I’m a bit jealous.

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