March 2019 Photo Round Up!

We are all connected by our common understanding of the calls filling the night at the start of Spring. It is the wordless voice of longing that resonates within us, the longing to continue, to participate in the sacred life of the world.”

– Robin Wall Kimmerer

March is often a month of great transition in the North Cascades, and this year was no exception. The frosty temperatures and snow storms that dominated February lingered into the early days of the new month, making for a cold and wintery start to the Mountain School season. Yet, just as it seemed the snow might last all Spring, an unprecedented warm front moved in setting local records. Mid-March temperatures soared into the 60s at the Environmental Learning Center melting the snow quickly and bringing new life and abundant Signs of Spring to the Upper Skagit.

With Spring also comes the start of our busy season at the North Cascades Institute. Mountain School kicked off the 2019 season, Mt. Baker Snow School wrapped up another successful Winter, and the Environmental Learning Center hosted graduation for the 2019 Class of M.Ed Graduate Students. In addition, Winter Watercolor and Lichen Exploration classes brought adult learners into the field as part of our Classes and Field Excursions series, and our annual Spring Dinner marked a celebration of warmer weather. Its hard to express all of the activity taking place in the North Cascades this month in words, but our staff and graduate students always seem to do a phenomenal job of documenting the highlights with photographs:

Most exciting from last month was this amazing video of a Canadian Lynx (Lynx canadensis) — a rare sighting anywhere in the world — shot by our staff on their commute to the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center. We were concerned about the animal and its ambivalence to proximity to humans and the car, so we asked a federal wildlife biologist to weigh in: “I have seen similar behavior where lynx sometimes seem to be fairly oblivious to what’s around them, unless they feel really threatened. The gait in one of the videos I saw looked perfectly normal. My guess is there was a kill site nearby and she was just waiting her turn to feed, after a likely cougar vacated the site.”

Whatever the reason, its presence on SR 20 created quite a stir for a few lucky folks who were able to get a glimpse of this rare and majestic animal.

Besides the Lynx, the most exciting event on campus this month was the beginning of the 2019 Mountain School Spring season. Graduate students from Cohort 18 were given an opportunity to put all their learning to practice as they joined new and returning instructors to welcome 5th graders from throughout Skagit and Whatcom counties to a memorable and rewarding 3 days of outdoor learning!

The first Mountain School session of 2019 begins in the snow! Photo by Carson Yach
Students teaching students at the Big Map. Photo by Emily Bedker.
Students getting a lesson on the Diablo Dam. Photo by Emily Bedker.
Mountain School students enjoying some beach time. Photo by Carson Yach
Students skipping rocks in the setting sunlight. Photo by Emily Bedker

Sometimes as a graduate student, in the midst of classes and projects, it is hard to imagine what all of your work is going towards. We got some answers to those questions this month as graduate students from the 17th Cohort presented their capstone projects, a culmination of nearly 2 years of hard work and study by these students. The week concluded with an emotional graduation ceremony on March 22.

Students, family and staff gather to hear Graduate Montana Napier deliver her capstone.
Graduate Zoe Watkins delivers her Capsone at the Environmental Learning Center.
Graduate Charlee Cora presenting.
Graduate Liz Grewall performing a play she wrote for Capstones.

Congratulations to C17 for their hard work and inspiring presentations. We will miss you, and look forward to the good work you will do on your next adventures!

C17 Class Graduation Photo.

While Mountain School and graduation celebrations kept us busy at the Environmental Learning Center, high above the snow line at Mt. Baker Ski Area, the work continued as students engaged with the final few weeks of Snow School.

Students trudge up the snowy slope. Photo by Kiley Barbero
Snow School Instructors greet students. Photo by Kiley Barbero
Photo by Kiley Barbero
Students in the snow. Photo by Kiley Barbero

This year, Snow School provided Over 50o local students with the opportunity to experience a winter day in the mountains, many for their first time. Thanks to our instructors and coordinators for another fantastic Winter season!

Not all of the learning that happened this month was done by school children and graduate students. Many life-long learners took the opportunity this month to hone their naturalist and artistic talents as well with our Lichen Exploration and Winter Watercolor courses.

Students explore lichen on a tree.
Lichen and yarn.
A pot of lichen…
Students painting on the shore of Diablo Lake in Nikki Frumkin’s Painting the Peaks class
Students painting on the shore of Diablo Lake in Nikki Frumkin’s Painting the Peaks class
Nikki Frumkin’s watercolor students show off their work.

Occasionally, even educators need to take a little time to learn themselves. North Cascades Institute was able to send representatives to an OSPI Climate Change Teacher Training offered with five other local organizations on March 9, the first in a series.

Our hard working chefs are always busy preparing meals for our many programs throughout the year. However, our annual Spring Dinner gives them an opportunity to really strut their stuff. As usual, they did not disappoint!

Staff members Calvin Laatsch and Cara Stoddard and recent Graduate Zoe Watkins showing off some appetizers.


Locally-sourced seafood in Chef Justin’s paella masterpiece for the annual Spring Dinner. Photo by Kiley Barbero
Our kitchen staff showing off their masterpiece. Photo by Kiley Barbero

Special thanks to our kitchen staff — Justin, Amy and Miles — for making the magic happen!


Even in middle of all the hard work, it is imperative as educators and students that we also get out to play. To experience the land and feel the natural rhythms and seasonal shifts first-hand is what inspires the work we do. With pleasant temperatures in the low valleys Winter snowpack persisting the high country, Spring is a perfect season for adventure!

Graduate Student Nicola Follis paddling on Diablo Lake. Photo by Carson Yach
Graduate Students and Mountain School instructors taking some free time to paddle the Skagit. Photo by Carson Yach.
Graduate Student Matt Ferrell Skiing on Ruby Mountain. Photo by Carson Yach.
Snow Camping at Artist Point. Photo by Adam Brayton.
Grads and Staff returning the Salish Dancer to Diablo. Photo by Alexa Brandt.
(left to right) Mountain School instructors Bernt Goodson and Addie Urban, Graduate Student Dianna Green and Graduate Program Coordinator Cara Stoddard after a long run at the Blue House. Photo by Cara Stoddard.
Staff and Grads celebrating at the Marblemount Fireman’s Ball.

The transition for Winter to Spring brings with it many changes in the landscape. Nearly every day this time of year, the world offers us something new to pay attention to. Melting snow and ice, the greening of the forest, budding plants and the sounds of birds, frogs and insects create a daily symphony for the senses played for anyone lucky enough to take the time to notice.

Ice breaking on Diablo Lake. Photo by Darcie Lloyd
Colonial Mountain with ice on Thunder Arm. Photo by Patia Wiebe-Wright
Colonial Creek thawing out. Photo by Patia Wiebe-Wright.
Mt. Shuksan on the way to Artist Point. Photo by Adam Brayton
Sunset at Birch Bay. Photo by Dianna Green.
Diablo Dock Sunset. Photo by Deven Vilar
Newhalem Creek. Photo by Patia Wiebe Wright
Sourdough Mountain. Photo by Patia Wiebe-Wright
Camping at Artist Point. Photo by Adam Brayton.
Wisdom Hovering. Photo by Jason Ruvelson

Thanks to everyone who contributed to this month’s round-up. I look forward to seeing more from everyone as Spring marches on! For more pictures and updates from North Cascades Institute, follow us on Instagram and check out our Flickr page.

Thanks for viewing, and stay tuned for our April round-up coming next month! If you have any great pictures you’d like to see in an upcoming photo round-up, please email them to me! 

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