Our visit to Wilderness Awareness School and Islandwood

The celebration of my 28th year happened over the second half of the Instructor Exchange last weekend. For those unfamiliar, Instructor Exchange is a fun-filled, long weekend with our fellow environmental education instructors from Wilderness Awareness School (WAS) and Islandwood. We hosted the first half of the Exchange in January and now it was our turn to visit them.
The Exchange stated with a sunny and beautiful early morning drive. When we arrived at WAS we were greeted by a gang of smiling instructors who seemed happy for the company. Wilderness Awareness School is a woodland community of environmental instructors who focus on community building, survival skills, awareness, education, appreciation of nature and are, by far, the most skilled naturalists of us all.
To start things off, we commenced in Malalo Yu Chui – The Lair of the Leopard – for a ceremonial fire and story telling. After hearing the yarn of the school’s founders, we were given our nature names.  I am now known as Destroying Angel in some circles of friends. We departed Malalo to a trickster transformer series of lessons demonstrating diverse teaching styles on fire making, bird talk, tracking, and animal signs.  The highlight of the first evening was a wild and locally-inspired pasta dinner, which included salmon and a pasta sauce made of dandelions and stinging nettles.

(Title) All instructors participate in a bow drill exercise, Photo by Martine Mariott  (Above) Introductions were held at Malalo Yu Chui at Wilderness Awareness School, Photo by Erin Fowler
A beautiful shadow of cedar fronds at Malalo Yu Chui, Photo by Martine Mariott

The next morning I awoke to song and frost on my shiny, new sleeping bag. I was now one year older and it was the day I was hoping for – the day we learned to make a fire with our very own bow drill kits. WAS had gracefully made us a fire during their stay at the North Cascades Institute and I had desperately wanted to learn the method ever since. We collected our materials and spent the next couple of hours peacefully sitting by the fire, whittling. Getting a coal proved to be more difficult than I would have expected. Paul was the first and only C9-er to get a coal on that day but the others will persevere.

Mike Parelskin accomplishes his first coal, Photo by Martine Mariott

Hockey is serious business to some of my cohort members so, in honor of my birthday and the US-Canada Olympic Hockey teams, we stopped at the Pike Place Brewery for some spirits and Brandi-ribbing. The US team creamed the Canadians and their leader, Sidney Crosby, with a score of 5 to 3 – a victory celebrated between good sports and close friends.
Our first day at Islandwood kicked off with a two hour awe inspiring tour, including sights of the local canopy tower, suspension bridge, tree houses, bird blinds and floating classroom. Islandwood is the Disneyland of environmental education. The whimsical facilities are a result of the forethought to ask 5th graders what they would want and then incorporating those ideas into the structures and landscape.

An Islandwood educational structure – the Treehouse, Photo by Martine Mariott
The suspension bridge at Islandwood over Mac’s Creek, Photo by Martine Mariott

The tour was followed with an optional jaunt to Blakely Harbor, once home of the biggest lumber mills in the world. Better known than Seattle, the mill was so busy at one time that it could be heard from as far away as Vashon Island around the clock.  The mill went out of business due to the economy and over production. Now all that stands on the ivy-covered site is the old powerhouse building and a beach perfect for a seashore art lesson.

Blakely Harbor looking east, Photo by Kelsi Franzen

As we wrapped up and departed the next day, my thoughts drifted home. The comradery and festivities of the Exchange were top notch, but I had missed home.  Each organization has qualities that make them special – the North Cascades Institute includes dropping snow levels, local ravens, mountain views, starry night canoes, cozy rooms with hot cocoa, sunny walks to the dam, birthday dips in Lake Diablo and close companions.
Thank you to all who participated in the celebration of my birthday. It was a great weekend that I hope to repeat again soon. Cheers and a standing invitation from C9 to our new friends at Wilderness Awareness School and Islandwood.
Bonus points to all those who know what a Destroying Angel is and what the word yarn means! Post your answers here on Chattermarks!

Photos courtesy of Erin Fowler, Kelsi Franzen & Martine Mariott.


  1. Kelsi

    Wonderful account of a fabulous time, Martine! Congratulations on your first Chattermarks blog!

  2. Aneka

    So glad the tradition is continued!! And inspiring to know we are not alone in the world of Environmental Education. thanks Martine

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