Photo by Christi Krug

North Cascades Institute – A Nature and Learning Paradise

The following is a reflection by Writer and Educator Christi Krug. Christi spent two weeks as Creative Resident at the North Cascades Institute Environmental Learning Center. Enjoy her experience of the transformative powers of nature.

I’m feeling an inward thrum, a tingling aliveness, from my time beneath the majestic peaks of the North Cascades mountains. Last month, I served as creative resident at the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center. I dove into learning, teaching, and writing, in a glorious nature-and-learning paradise.

Before I hit the road north, I returned six overdue library books I’d never had the chance to read. I left traffic, texts, appointments, errands.

I tumbled into a spacious house overlooking majestic Douglas firs, where I spread out a crateful of journals and books and typed or read, or stretched, or researched. I curled up in a cozy chair in the library, while silver light angled over snow-capped mountains and skimmed Diablo Lake. I was fed delicious, nourishing, organic meals and charged to create what I had designed. I disappeared from social media and stopped answering email. I wrote seven chapters of my new book. I hiked to waterfalls, along lakes, and in high snow-laced forests.

Photo by Christi Krug

And when I walked through the campus or sat beneath the warm wood beams of the dining hall, I was met with magical smiles and stimulating conversation.

The community impressed me beyond words with kindness, mindfulness, intelligence, creativity, curiosity, playfulness, and a passion for teaching and learning. I’ve never encountered more interesting, caring people, from the staff members to the graduate students to the visitors. From grounds-worker to cook to instructor to executive director, every person I met was a human interacting with nature, passing on gifts and knowledge to others.

Photo by Christi Krug

Two weeks here changed me. Or perhaps they turned me inside out. I’d been operating in get-it-done mode, filling the calendar, striving to succeed as a coach and writer, scratching my head over what I couldn’t accomplish, but plugging along nevertheless.

Instead of wearing my busy on the outside, I slipped the sleeves of my day-to-day work uniform, and let my artist walk tall in her role. One afternoon, I gathered bits of green from the trail, made lichen earrings, and pinned a newly-found bird’s nest into my hair.

My name tag read “Madame Lungwort,” as I explored words and wordplay with Mountain School students. I discovered that inside me is an artist graced with the ability to do much more than just survive. When I take my gifts seriously, and others do, too, I am fueled by passion that surmounts the everyday urgent nothings. I can thrive. Meanwhile, I can allow all the little stuff to be little.

As a creator, I need personal, sacred, undisturbed time. This is just as I’ve been telling students for twenty years. But ever so slowly, that habit has waned. My residency renewed my commitment to this creative, personal time, even at home where the clingy fingers of old habits reach for me.

The aliveness is appearing for me now in tiny ways, from watermelon radishes in my salad (just like in the incredible Environment Learning Center salad bar), to lifting my foot ever so slightly on the accelerator pedal. I find myself borrowing a tall stack of library books and actually reading them.

I also find myself listening more deeply, setting fewer appointments, and paying closer attention to my energy level. My attention span has lengthened. I’ve dropped a hundred exciting and not-paramount things, from Instagram to grocery shopping.

Photo by Christi Krug

Nature reminds us what’s really important. It gives us a sense of scale. In time and space, we breathe in majesty and stop trying to be oh-so-productive.

Instead of asking, “How can I do more?” I’m asking, “How can I be who I already am? How can I align myself with my true nature?”

I’ve never felt it more profoundly: when I’m honoring my inward drive, and doing what I love best, and being the person who comes naturally, I’m enlivening others just by my presence.  Even more deeply and fervently, I can remind others to make space and time to go after their dreams.

I don’t have to stay off grid to continue in this energy. Since returning, I’ve treasured my photos, but haven’t posted them on social media. I’ve taken longer to respond to email. I’ve asked myself every day: How can I stay in my best, most creative, most enjoyable energy? This is where I will ultimately have the best life and offer the finest of my gifts to the world.

These elements of a joyous creative life are paramount. Solitude. A block of interrupted time. Saying no to distraction. Safety and beauty. Community.

Only I can give yourself permission to enjoy and create – when I trust it’s right to do. I realize, though, how incredibly beautiful and generous it is when other beings and community support this process. Thank you, North Cascades Environmental Learning Center.


Christi Krug as “Madame Lungwort”

Christi Krug is a writing coach and the force behind Wildfire Writing, helping people of all ages and walks of life to find visibility and voice. She is a poet, presenter, artist, and yoga instructor.

For the past twenty years, she has taught community writing at Clark College in Vancouver, Washington. She is an avid hiker, a spiritual facilitator, and the author of Burn Wild: A Writer’s Guide to Creative Breakthrough.

Follow her nature photos on Instagram @christikrug.

Special thanks to Christi for her inspiring words about her experience at the North Cascades Institute. We hope it inspires you to visit us soon!


  1. Eric Burr

    Beautiful glimpse of the NCI-NOCA experience. It reminded me of Richard Louv’s books, and the appeal of expanding this influence to the entire upper Skagit watershed and the missing pieces of NOCA proposed as additions by the Shuksan Conservancy on their map showing the latest ideas. Here in Mazama we look forward to the possibility of being more included in the NCI-NOCANP culture, enhanced funding, and long NPS experience with helping people reconnect with nature. Thank you Seattle City Light for being such a great partner in this ! The summer 2020 VC in Newhalem looks better than ever !

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