A Few Days in the North Cascades

“Here are bits of eternity, which have a preciousness beyond all accounting.”
Harvey Broome
Co-founder, The Wilderness Society

June in the North Cascades, Washington. Why not? Teresa, my friend in adventures, was the main attraction, but the impetus for the trip was to take a watercolor class at the North Cascades Institute with Michele Cooper. One other thing: Teresa had found a used kayak for me to buy. Picking it up was on the agenda as well. (Used sea kayaks seem to be more plentiful in Washington than in Montana.)

Hemlock. Juniper. Cedar. Pine. Fir. Big trees. Huge in circumference and reaching high, shading the overgrown trail. Ferns. Dogbane. Biscuitroot. Twinflower. Salal. Mosses. Lichens. The trails we walked were green green green. Light greens. Dark greens, intermediate greens. Blue green, yellow green, grey green, olive green. So much green. Life overflowed, covering even the rocks with mosses and lichens. To see rocks one would need to peel away that thick layer of green life.

Hiking in the Cascades seems to be either all up or all down. The peaks are jagged, the mountains look younger than the Rockies. A quick look at the North Cascades National Park website reveals that the geology of these mountains are complicated and poorly understood, though they are still rising. My hiking experience on this visit was much like the hiking in 2010 during my time on the Washington section of the PCT. Up up up then down down down then back up only to go back down again. These are not easy mountains to wander. But they offer huge rewards in inspiration and rugged beauty.

We were inspired to paint Pyramid Peak. Rocks, flowers and a host of other natural items added pages of color to our journals. Michele Cooper is an excellent instructor, showing multiple examples and giving specific brush and color mixing techniques. It will take time to integrate all that I learned. Drawing and painting in a new environment can be challenging: different color mixes and different tones mean re-thinking previous palettes. The weather was cool and somewhat rainy and misty. How to get that mysterious feeling into a quick vignette?

The most fascinating thing I learned, however, had nothing much to do with art (unless one wants to draw them), but with lichens. I had heard about a new discovery regarding lichens: rather than being a symbiotic relationship between only a fungus and an algae or cyanobacteria, (Freddie Fungus took a ‘lichen’ to Alice Algae…) there is a third partner, a yeast involved. Evan, North Cascades Institute Senior Naturalist, shared more information about the yeast: Basidiomycetis. This discovery is a huge game-changer in our knowledge of lichens. Lichens have been around for millions of years, since the age of dinosaurs, sharing this three-way living arrangement. We’ve known about two of the partners (fungus and algae) since the 1800’s, but to find this totally new third entity is amazing. Our world has so much to learn about—I want to know it all, or at least parts of everything. The same species of Basidiomycetis has been found in the same species of lichen that grow thousands of miles apart in Germany and in Montana. Does this mean that the yeast is specific to the species of lichen? What role does the yeast perform in the threesome? So many questions, so many opportunities to learn.

But for me, all of the course participants were Washingtonians. Spending time in the Cascades and with a group of people who love these mountains has me thinking of the concept of home, and how some of us choose our home ground because it speaks to our soul. Some of us move to where we need to live in order to feel whole. Green canopy and wide-girthed trees call to some. Wide open spaces call to others. The sea calls to yet others. Where we call home may be different, yet we are all the same in our love for our land.

For more lichen information: Evan provided a link to a few articles:


“Land, then, is not merely soil; it is a fountain of energy flowing through a circuit of soils, plants and animals.”
– Aldo Leopold
Co-founder, The Wilderness Society


8 thoughts on “A Few Days in the North Cascades

  1. J

    As a longtime resident of western Oregon, I think you have done a lovely job here of capturing the feel of the Cascades in words and images. I was drawn here decades ago by “green canopy and wide-girthed trees” but have since found myself more at peace and more joyful under a big sky with an expansive view. Thankfully, as long as I am mobile I will be able to visit the sea, the open valleys, and the deep forests as needed to treat whatever psychic ailment I happen to have at the time 🙂 I really appreciated this message this morning. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Teresa

    Lovely, you’ve captured the area and our time together beautifully. I like what the writer above said, about visiting many places, absorbing all, and from my point of view, being mindfully present wherever you are. Love ya’!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Neysa

    Ditto J and Teresa – lovely pictures, in paint and words. I will most definitely visit the lichen links as I’ve loved Usnea spp., Peltigera canina, Rhizocarpon geographicum, et al, since my college lichenology class so many years ago. Even before that, I marveled at them, since my self-made naturalist father told me of the symbiotic relationship, alga and fungus. Oh, dear…can an old dog like myself learn new science? Hope so. It’s exciting news, for sure. Thanks for sharing your time in the northwest! P.S. I just finished my first “week” at the Museum, have four days off, then will head back some time on the 3rd, working through the 7th, then cleaning and heading out on the 8th. Crowds and construction make it more challenging than in the past, as do the 8 hours of standing in a day. Uff da! Still, it’s Yellowstone. That just made me smile…yesterday, a young girl came in with her family. She clutched a stuffed, fuzzy/furry bison calf. “Does your bison calf have a name?” Too-quiet answer. “What was that?” Pause…”Stone.” “Why ‘Stone?'” “Because this is Yellowstone.” That last response helped by Mom. Who knows? Maybe that youngster will be called to this special ecosystem as her idea of “home” some day.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. OF COURSE an ‘old dog’ like you can learn new tricks and information! Learning about the three-some in lichen was a most earth-shattering event for me. Glad you are enjoying the Museum. Love your note about the young girl. I hope she will return and add to our community.


    1. Thanks, Claudia! Good to hear from you! I hope your European summer is going well. And yes, I loved that lichen info. How very cool to learn something brand new.


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