Storytime with Saul at the Learning Center

In late September, we hosted an intimate gathering at the Environmental Learning Center to celebrate Saul Weisberg and his retirement after 35 years of serving as the executive director of North Cascades Institute. Following the ELC’s new vaccine protocols, it was attended by current and former staff, board members, instructors, partners, supporters, and friends, and it served as a bookend to the online tribute we hosted for Saul in June. (If you haven’t watched it yet, you should check it out here).

The gathering started Friday evening with a special feast featuring salmon caught and traditionally prepared by Scott Schuyler of the Upper Skagit Indian Tribe—a generous and meaningful gift—along with wild-harvested chanterelle risotto!

The weather on Saturday was a perfect September day of sunshine, colors and golden light in the mountains, and people were free to explore the campus and surrounding areas on their own.

Mixing and mingling started around 4 pm on the sun-drenched deck of the Dining Hall.

As part of the celebration, Saul was given a traditional Coast Salish “raven” canoe paddle created by Kevin Paul, Swinomish Master Carver, as a gift from the Institute.

In preparation for the event, Saul shared a few new poems he’d written in his first months of retirement, which were printed on a commemorative program, including this beautiful paean to rain:

Spring rain brings flowers,
summer rain feeds the people,
fall rain quenches fires,
winter rain calls the salmon home.

And this one, from his canoe trip up Ross Lake with his wife Shelley and friends Gerry Cook and Hannah Sullivan:

I wake to the music of small waves behind the tent.
Clouds pour from creek-filled valleys,
high above Lightning Creek,
hundreds of violet-green swallows
circle into a clearing sky.

In the program, Saul expressed his gratitude: “I am honored that we’re able to spend time together in this special place … North Cascades Institute is more than the wood, steel and concrete of the Learning Center. It is a combination of the dreams we shared, the relationships we forged, the money we raised, and the partners who supported our collective vision. Most of all, it is about the kids and adults we served, and their future….I’m confident that the Institute is in good hands with an exceptional Executive Director, a growing Board of Directors, and incredible staff.”

In addition to honoring Saul’s leadership and vision, the weekend was also an opportunity for people to meet our new Executive Director, Rebecca “Bec” Detrich. She remarked, “I am thrilled and humbled to be joining a strong, dedicated, and creative crew of educators, innovators, naturalists, artists and outdoor adventurers!” (Learn more about Bec in this blog post )

After a delicious dinner of smoked brisket, cornbread, succotash, salad, and collared greens, the party moved to the Lilly Shelter, where Associate Director Jeff Giesen served as the emcee for an open mic for sharing people’s favorite Saul stories.

Toward the end of the evening’s circle, Saul shared some of his own stories, including the genesis of the North Cascades Institute:

“​​When Tom Fleischner and I were making our decision to proceed with North Cascades Institute in 1985-1986, we hiked into Lost Lake in the Chuckanut Mountains and consulted the I Ching. The Hexagram we received was #32:

Hsien / Influence / Duration
(Above, The joyous, Lake; Below, Keeping still, Mountain).

The Image: A lake on the mountain.
The Judgement: Influence, Success. Perseverance Furthers.

‘Perseverance Furthers’ is what stuck with me. You have to show up, and keep showing up, every day. It still makes sense. Of course ‘a lake on the mountain’ is also appropriate. Things change.”

He also shared two poems that were important in the early  days of the Institute — verses that helped guide the vision from the beginning through to today:

Step out onto the Planet

Step out onto the Planet.
Draw a circle a hundred feet round.
Inside the circle there are 300 things
nobody understands,
and, maybe nobody’s ever seen.
How many can you find?
—Lew Welch, Ring of Bone, 1973

The Spirit of the Practice

Relaxing with the others after zazen one evening, Owl asked,
“What is the spirit of the practice?”
Raven said, “Inquiry.”
Owl cocked his head and asked.
“What do I inquire about?”
Raven said, “Good start.”
—Robert Aitken, Zen Master Raven


Thank you to everyone who celebrated Saul with us! Here are some other scenes from our time together during the “Storytime with Saul” weekend:

Saul Weisberg Catalyst Fund

To honor Saul, we have created the Saul Weisberg Catalyst Fund to spur innovative new ideas and lead the Institute into the future. Through the Catalyst Fund, the Institute will allocate $35,000 of seed funding annually to:

  • Pilot and test new initiatives
  • Create new programs or expand existing programs in innovative ways
  • Increase access for new audiences by removing economic barriers to nature.

Our Board of Directors has allocated up to $400,000 as a 2-to-1 match to the Fund, with the remaining $200,000 coming from supporters like you. We are only $19,500 away from reaching our goal of $200,000. Please join us in celebrating Saul’s vision and leadership by making a gift at



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