Connections in the North Cascades


by Rachel Gugich, M.Ed. Graduate Student

The point at which two or more things are connected, A feeling of understanding and ease of communication between two or more people.”

These are definitions I found when looking up the word connection. This feeling of connection was on full display on the weekend of January 17th at the Environmental Learning Center when the graduate students of Cohort 14 hosted students from IslandWood of Bainbridge Island, WA and Wilderness Awareness School of Duvall, WA. This conference was the first of three events in the 9th Annual Instructor Exchange, with each school getting the chance to host and show other instructors what makes their program experience unique. 

IEPyramidPyramid Peak presiding over the Environmental Learning Center

North Cascade Institute’s Instructor Exchange was titled Cascade Connections, alluding to the mountains that define our landscape, and the connections across mountains and water that we hope to form with other like-minded, passionate instructors.

IEHikingGroupA group poses with Diablo Lake in the background

Everyone arrived a little before lunchtime on Saturday. Introductions were made and we were off! Workshops, led by members of Cohort 14, were offered in the afternoon. These workshops included Glacier and Geology; Cedars in the North Cascades; Literature and Poetry on the Peaks and A Snapshot of the North Cascades. Within these sessions students from IslandWood and Wilderness Awareness School chose the workshops they would like to attend, or were able to explore the campus and landscape on their own. I led the class A Snapshot of the North Cascades. This was an amazing opportunity. I had the chance to interact with other instructors, to show them some of my favorite spots on campus, including the Buster Brown and Sourdough Creek Overlooks. There were opportunities to chat, take photos, and throw snow balls.

IEOregonGrapeA photo of Oregon grape taken during Snapshot of the North Cascades
 IESourdoughCreekExploring Sourdough Creek

The workshops later in the afternoon included Wolverine Studies; A Cultural History of the Upper Skagit; Wolf, Grizzly, Fisher Reintroduction to the North Cascades and A Conversation on Wilderness. These workshops offered a space for dialogue and exchange of knowledge and stories.

IESessionWolf, Grizzly, and Fisher Reintroduction session

After dinner on Saturday evening, we transitioned into our story circle. We know that each person who comes to the field of environmental education comes with a unique perspective. An integral part of the bonding experience between Cohort 14 members was learning the wildly different paths that led us to our tiny retreat in the North Cascades. We wanted to honor everyone’s path and the wealth of experience we bring to this field. To do this, we made a list of story prompts for the group:

  • Your Tipping Point for Pursuing a Path in Environmental Education
  • Dramatic Shifts in Perspective
  • A Time When You Triggered Someone’s Aha! Moment
  • More than the Human World: Wildlife Encounters
  • High Adventure Adversity: Survival Stories
  • La Querencia: Stories about Where You are Strong From
  • Mentors that Inspired You

Personal, insightful, funny, and moving perspectives were shared. This was a safe space to open up and listen to everyone’s personal stories. A powerful moment indeed.

IEStoryCircleSaturday evening’s story circle

To end the evening: ice cream and a barefoot dance party! A perfect way to end our first day.

Sunday found everyone in the dining hall for freshly made sourdough pancakes and a chance to continue Saturday’s discussions, form new friendships and share stories of our daily lives as students and educators. After breakfast, the morning was spent up at the waterfall, soaking in the scenic views and the flora and fauna.


IEWaterfallA group explores the waterfall

The Cascade Connections Instructor Exchange wrapped up in the afternoon with a time for reflection on our experience, and our excitement going forward. We loved being able to host such a wonderful group of instructors and are excited for everything to come!

*Photos provided by Rachel Gugich, Lauren Ridder, and Joe Camacho.

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