Creative Residency with Sharon Birzer, natural history illustrator

ThunderCrkSmlBy Sharon Birzer, artist and natural history illustrator

My Creative Residency journal  @ North Cascades Learning Center, Diablo Lake, July 11-18, 2014

July 11-13
The first three days I interacted with a class held at North Cascades Institute’s Learning Center on lichens: “Frog’s Pelt, Pixie Cup and Old Man’s Beard: Lichens of the North Cascades.” Taught by Daphne Stone, the weekend was rich with lectures, hikes and lichen identification. The class hiked to Rainy Lake and Washington Pass. We also took a hike up a service road to Buster Brown, a rocky outcropping covered in lichens.
This is a group that I brought back to look at under the dissecting scope and draw. This group has two lichens- Cladonia cervicornus with the double cup and Cladonia bellidiflora, and 2 mosses–Racomitrium elongatum and Polytrichum piliferum.
July 14 Thunder Creek
Today is hot, in the 90’s. I hiked up Thunder Creek and spent time in the cool shade of an old cedar and Douglas fir forest. A cool breeze wafts down from the mountains and everywhere are ferns, lichens, fungus, and life.
July 15 Sauk Mountain
Hiked up Sauk Mountain today, 4.2 miles, 5537 elevation. Annabelle told me it would be beautiful. Wow. Alpine meadows. Wildflowers abound. Ice fields at the top and glacier lilies and avalanche lilies (finishing) and many others species of wildflowers in full bloom everywhere. Afterwards I was dusty and hot so I dipped into Diablo Lake before working on lichen illustrations.
July 16 Thunder Knob
Hiked up Thunder Knob today, got above Diablo Lake. I spent time looking at Colonial Peak with its large alpine glacier that feeds into Colonial Creek. I walked amongst crunchy brittle lichens, lichens everywhere. A breeze breathes down the valley and the trees sway and bob. The reindeer lichen is prodigious. I can see why this spot is perfect for lichens. It’s in a dry spot due to being in a rain shadow, and like Buster Brown, at the top it is essentially a rocky bald area.
July 17 Maple Loop Pass
Hiked up Maple Pass today, and I ran into Samantha and two women from the Forest Service on the trail. Samantha (and Katie) recommended this hike to me. Samantha is a graduate student in the North Cascades Institutes Graduate M.Ed. program. They are working on restoring the trails and figuring out signage to help clarify where to walk, so that the fragile meadows won’t get overrun. They’re propagating some of the plants to replant areas that have been trampled because the trail was not clear. As I moved on and up towards Heather Pass I observed the mountain views shifting and took in the wildflowers, waterfalls, ice fields, and stunning quality of being in these crystalline mountains. Up at Maple Pass, 7000 feet, you are on the shoulder of Frisco Mountain. The view includes Whistler, Glacier, the Tower-ring. Rainy Lake comes into view and is still covered in ice. I walk the knife edge with Lake Ann on one side and Rainy Lake on the other, and here I pause a good long while before beginning the descent.
July 18 Last day
It was hard breaking camp so to speak, and saying goodbye but I hope I’ll be back again in some capacity. All the people I have had the good fortune to meet here have been super supportive to the point that I rediscovered some lost part of myself here. If that is not a measure of the exquisite quality of a group of people and what they have created in a place, I don’t know what is.

Sharon Birzer is an artist and natural history illustrator based in Seattle. North Cascades Institute believe that creativity and the arts improve education and we invite working artists, writers and naturalists from a broad spectrum disciplines to apply for our Creative Residency program at the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center. The goal of the Learning Center’s Creative Residency program is to bring creative people working in a wide variety of genres  —  poets, naturalists, painters, essayist, dancers, novelists, photographers, sculptors, teachers, printmakers, memoirists, researchers and others using the creative process to explore and interpret the natural world — to the Environmental Learning Center to pursue their art and demonstrate the many forms that creativity takes. Learn more at

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