“Teaching in the Rain: The Story of North Cascades Institute” by John Miles

In the early 1980s, five young men who loved teaching, the natural world, and the North Cascades dreamed of creating a field school to teach about the place and its many histories-natural and cultural. The North Cascades Institute emerged from that dream in 1986 with the help of North Cascades National Park. Teaching in the Rain: The Story of North Cascades Institute is the new book by John Miles that tells the story of how the Institute grew from humble beginnings to become a model nonprofit environmental education organization admired throughout the United States. Over the 35 years chronicled in this book the Institute served over 150,000 students in its Mountain School and youth programs, and many adults in a range of offerings. The author was part of this remarkable story and provides unique insights into how the dream was realized through imagination, hard work, collaborative partners, a measure of luck, and persistence in the face of various crises.

John Miles is many things: professor emeritus at WWU’s College of the Environment, an environmental historian and author, co-founder of the Institute’s Graduate M.Ed. program and our very first Board of Directors Chair! To have John research, consider and then write the history of our first 35 years is a great honor and a time capsule for the future.

We enjoyed Mary Vermillion‘s book review of Teaching in the Rain in the latest issue of Cascadia Daily News:

“The North Cascades inspire dreamers. Count among them a group of five friends who, beginning in the early 1980s, turned a shared vision into the North Cascades Institute. The nationally respected environmental education nonprofit organization marked its 35th anniversary in 2021. The milestone spurred author and institute insider John C. Miles to chronicle the organization’s remarkable history in Teaching in the Rain: The Story of North Cascades Institute.

… The 254-page book honors (Saul) Weisberg’s leadership, but it also records the contributions of National Park Service staff and others who built the dream of transformative learning experiences at the “convergence of natural and cultural history, science, humanities and the arts.

… Because of his own long connection to the organization, Miles’ careful recounting of North Cascades Institute’s development is enlivened by a behind-the-scenes perspective. His book reads as local history, a business lesson and a love letter.

Teaching in the Rain will stir happy memories for alumni of North Cascades Institute programs, while also providing a peek behind the curtain, revealing the sometimes-uncertain trajectory of the scrappy nonprofit that—at least to this participant—always presented itself as an assured professional. Readers unfamiliar with the institute can enjoy the book as a history of environmental education, as a nonprofit handbook or simply as encouragement to go outside.”

Read the rest of the review here >>

About the Author

John C. Miles is Professor Emeritus of Environmental Studies at the College of the Environment, Western Washington University. He taught at Western for four decades where he focused his work on environmental education and environmental humanities, especially history of the US national park system. He served as dean of the college from 1985-1992. He and his wife Susan Morgan live at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains near Taos, New Mexico. His books include Koma Kulshan; Guardians of the Parks; Wilderness in National Parks; and Impressions of the North Cascades.

John also helped to create the Graduate M.Ed. Residency that was a partnership between North Cascades Institute and Western Washington University. Over the course of many years, he mentored dozens of graduate students, often in field trips outdoors throughout the North Cascades….

Accolades for Teaching in the Rain

Teaching in the Rain tells a most unlikely story, one that is far from over but has a happy outcome just the same. John Miles, as the genius loci of the North Cascades and the Institute that took their name, is the perfect person to tell it. In prose both elegant and engaging, sleek yet omitting nothing important, he takes his lucky readers through the life so far of a most wonderful flowering, from outset through evolution to its present place as an essential Northwest institution. If every eco-region had something like the North Cascades Institute, and someone like John to tell us all about it, we might actually scrape through our ecological crisis in good shape. As it is, this book gives me hope.

— Robert Michael Pyle, author of The Butterflies of Cascadia,
Wintergreen, and The Thunder Tree

Washington State has a long history of teaching outdoor environmental education with various facilities providing for teacher and student instruction. Teaching in the Rain is a singular summary of the North Cascades Institute, one of Washington State’s most unique, successful, and sustained programs. John Miles has written an important and intriguing history of how the Institute was created and has been sustained for over 35 years. This important book is an essential guide to what it takes to direct education meaningfully in this age of environmental stress and to marshal the common ground of community to develop skills and shape attitudes necessary to address the environmental challenges we all face.

— Tony Angell, Artist and Educator

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