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Rick Ingrasci and “Creative Community”

The fourth annual Winter Gathering took place at the Whidbey Institute at the beginning of this month, providing an opportunity for play, learning, and growth. The theme was The Power of Creative Community in Decisive Times.

Rick Ingrasci, Hollyhock Retreat Centre (Cortes Island, B.C.) co-founder, started this series at Whidbey Institute in an effort to bring dynamic, creative arts-based convening to this part of the bioregion. The arts-based facilitation at the conferences has roots, he said, in the work of his wife Peggy Taylor and associate Charlie Murphy, co-founders of PYE Global. Peggy and Charlie started Power of Hope teen camps at Chinook in 1996.

Rick and Peggy have been central figures at Chinook for decades: they met founders Fritz and Vivienne in the 1970s, moved to South Whidbey shortly after our 1990 Earth and Spirit conference, and ran the Whidbey Cybercafe & Bookstore under the auspices of the Whidbey Institute for five years in the mid-nineties. The back room speaker series that ran at the Cybercafe eventually wound down, but not before engaging a number of notable authors and creating some dear memories.

Rick’s body of work now includes the StoryDome, an immersive storytelling project run through the nonprofit NewStories. The StoryDome was created for the Seattle World’s Fair 50th Anniversary Festival and has since been used as teaching tool at many gatherings and workshops. “What we’ve really wanted to do all along is not just have the StoryDome be an exhibit or an add-on, but to have it be [a central part of] a process of helping people transform their world view toward a more holistic perspective.” At this time, the StoryDome is used once a month by South Whidbey Middle School sixth graders, who experience an immersive science lesson in the dome and follow it with writing, art, and creative exercises in math, geometry, and astronomy.

For those interested in experiencing the StoryDome Project’s powerful visual storytelling, Rick Ingrasci and Maggie Chumbley are facilitating an inaugural workshop, Living Your Life in a Larger Story, on Saturday March 1 at the Bayview School. The workshop is designed to “cultivate personal creativity, compassion, and community by deepening our relationships with ourselves, each other, and the natural world.”

Rick’s efforts with the StoryDome, Hollyhock, and the Institute follow parallel tracks.  “I’ve been beating the same drum all my life,” he said, “and the world ultimately is moving into this perspective.” He said that a part of the Chinook founders’ vision—”the idea that we were facing an ecological crisis that was fundamentally a spiritual crisis”—still drives his work today. “There’s been continuity in the philosophy and purpose of the Institute, which is to shift the consciousness of the culture toward a more ecological or ecospiritual worldview.” In Rick’s opinion, the Institute is stronger than ever as we shift toward more active engagement among younger leaders and a greater focus on working with our regional community. “Having that kind of strong community in the bioregion is part of how you create [practical] models of change.”

To learn more about Winter Gatherings or the March 1 StoryDome Project workshop, email Rick.


Photo from the Winter Gathering closing ceremony: Blessing Mother Earth


February 19, 2014

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People & Partners

2013 Gratitude Report:
Our Year of Heritage and Home

This online report is part of our commitment to steward our resources with care. Plus, we get to share more, in more ways. Thank you for joining us here on the web, and for all you do to make these stories come alive. We hope you enjoy! Read More →

March 24, 2017

Robin Returns

During the past two weeks Robin returned to Chinook and the ground woke up. Not spring, not yet—although buds are swelling and the leaves from subterranean bulbs are bursting through the soil. Robin wakes up a whole dimension of perception.

Flocks of siskins swirl in the sky all winter and startle suddenly out of trees in palpable whooshes. On one afternoon Thomas and I watched a hunting sharp-shinned hawk strike into a favorite fir of one flock, spraying siskins out of the other side like buckshot.

In the fall the juncos gathered on the ground in large flocks. Since then it seems that they spend more time removed in shrub and tree. A month ago flocks of male ruby-crowned kinglets foraged fervently on the ground, undistracted as they moved closely around the place where I stood. Why only males? Why so suddenly bold? The behavior went on for a few warm days and remains a mystery to me.

On certain sunny crisp days and after bouts of extreme weather, when the quiet sets in, the forest is tinkling with mixed flocks of kinglets and chickadees like raindrops pattering on the leaves. Among the evergreen huckleberry on the trails it is not uncommon for kinglets to hover as they flycatch just near your face.

Song sparrows travel quietly along beneath the flocks, deeper in the shrubs. Towhees deep in the forest (and often closer on the edges than they seem) can be heard from great distances mewing and creaking at movements of other creatures that go unseen by human eyes. And varied thrushes are always watching from the ground or a low branch, always right at the moment when you begin to feel alone in the forest.

Often when I sit quietly in the winter forest of Chinook for about ten minutes, I am startled when the bark of firs begins to crawl along the trunk. As my eyes focus in, I see small groups of brown creepers (often in twos and threes per trunk) animate the browner, barkier places. At those times, I am astonished to see also the true spectacle of pairs of nuthatches turning tight flying spirals downward around the trunks of trees close enough for their feathers to brush the surface. How is this possible—so fast, so graceful, so playful of movement?

And our pair of resident ravens who are simultaneously ubiquitous and phantom-like in their vigilant presence at Chinook . . . but they are for another post.

Of all these avian marvels of winter at Chinook, there is none quite so everyday and quite so perception-shifting as the return of Robin. Robin overwinters at various places on Whidbey Island, but there had not been any, to my knowledge, on the Chinook land.

Although I had seen a few in the trees, the return of Robin’s presence did not fully sink in until one day a robin and a varied thrush began foraging near me while I worked at the vermiculture bins. I have never had a varied thrush come comfortably on the ground near me until this robin arrived. And maybe that varied thrush felt something of what I feel in the presence of the robin, like I am more aware of what is going on around me and I am safer because someone is watching my back.

Robin, unlike Towhee or Song Sparrow and more than Junco, is out amongst us two-leggeds, on the lawn, in the garden. Between each dashing strut of rust on green-grey ground, Robin is still and alert with head cocked, speaking to me. At the twitch of the tail and the quiet tut tut I see Robin’s nervousness. At the swoop into the tree, the twitching tail, and the concerned peek! tut tut sound I know Robin is pushed beyond comfort, often with head facing the object of concern. At the high pitched seeeeee! with the robin bolting into a shrub or pressed flat to the ground, my head looks skyward for a bird of prey. Robin speaks in detail of dogs, hawks, weasels, humans, weather, and any threat or presence. But most profoundly, Robin tells me about myself, all day, everyday.

As I move across the landscape at Chinook, I practice what some have called “the honoring routine.” When I am calm, aware, giving space, and moving peacefully, Robin will not respond in any of those ways I listed. Instead, Robin will watch and continue about his life and sometimes, like near the vermiculture bins, we will fall into a tango-like rhythm, each of us sensitive and responsive to the quality of the other.

As spring advances and the robins settle into their respective territories for the breeding period, each place in the landscape will be occupied by unique robin personalities giving continuous feedback on our way of being in the world. During this part of the year, now quickly upon us, it is as if not only my awareness, but also my conscience has bled out of my person and into the land. Perhaps in the dark introspection of the depths of winter we do not need Robin as much. But as the light seeps back into the days bringing with it the busy mind, I welcome Robin back to Chinook.

—Robert Mellinger

February 5, 2015

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Learning from the Land

Meet Our Board: Spotlight on Cole

Cole Hoover, Director of Global Brigades Institutes, joined our board at the end of 2013.

Global Brigades is a student-led organization which serves the dual purpose of educating young people in the arena 0f sustainable development and learning from communities around the globe through cross-cultural engagement.  Cole’s department focuses on education. He describes the work as the education of the next generation of leaders, with a focus on creating the conditions for thoughtful, holistic, and meaningful engagement across cultures. He also co-founded and serves the board of Lumana, where he has a focus on social investor relations, and teaches a summer class at the University of Washington, Bothell, on social enterprise.

Cole came into his relationship with the Whidbey Institute through a Hollyhock Summer Gathering and an ensuing invitation from Rick Ingrasci to attend our annual Winter Gathering at Chinook. “I felt really embraced, and excited about the people we were meeting,” he said. “I fell in love with the land and mission.” His love of the land extends not only across this 100 acres but also across the region around the Puget Sound. “I have a deep connection to the wilderness, and my favorite place to [be] is out in the woods.” He describes Seattle as his ideal home, but said he loves to travel whether for work or pleasure.

Cole’s feelings on working with the other Whidbey Institute board members range from excitement to gratitude. The board and staff, he said, have both the skills and the vision to imagine an impact far beyond the Institute’s traditional borders. “It’s a group of playful people—really smart, and really professional—and they’re here to get things done,” he said. “Everyone senses the movement—the really huge direction [in which] the Whidbey Institute is going—and we are all accordingly excited and committed.”

Cole said that one of the reasons he joined the board was to share his experience in envisioning how organizations with a social purpose can build on their current ways of supporting themselves, through new revenue sources, programs, and business models. He hopes to leverage this skill in helping to increase the Whidbey Institute’s impact around the region. He also wants to make our land and programs more accessible to people in Seattle and beyond.

“I have a deep belief, in all areas of my work, that the highest value I can push for is equality of opportunity,” he said. “I’d like to make sure this is an inclusive place . . . and that we connect more people to this extremely thoughtful, heartfelt movement.”

Those wishing to meet Cole in the flesh will have to do so between his frequent travel engagements, but there’s this to count on: when asked if he’d be at Bioneers this November, Cole answered with an instant, and hearty, “Yes!”


March 3, 2014

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People & Partners

In the Presence of Nature | August 2016 Newsletter


Dear Friends,

It is with deep gratitude and bittersweet sadness that I share my intention to complete my role as a staff member with the Whidbey Institute this month. After seven years in the Seattle area, I will be moving to Colorado to be closer to my family.

Read More →

August 16, 2016

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Meet Our Board: Spotlight on Dale

by Marnie Jones

Dale Schweppe joined the Whidbey Institute board this summer and has already been working closely with staff to add focus and clarity to our external communications. With a professional background in business development, marketing, and strategy, he brings a talent for big picture thinking. These skills have been honed in the professional realm, but apply equally well to the Institute’s mission-driven work. “My career seems to have been about getting into the strategic vision, then developing the tactics that support it,” he said. Dale’s current professional role, as Director of Business Development at Technocel, engages his strategic and marketing skills as he collaborates closely with the product group in strategy.

Dale rolled up his sleeves early on in his board service, leading the staff and board in an exercise to clarify our mission and vision statements. “When you’re writing for the world,” he said, “you’ve got to condense the language down. It must be clear: ‘This is what we do. This is our vision.'” With Dale’s help, we at the Institute have clearly defined our vision and mission statements, while our resources, practices, and guiding principles—previously conflated—are described elsewhere. Staff, board, and collaborators now have a more precise tool with which to describe and measure what it is we do and seek to accomplish.

Dale’s role with Technocel was preceded by work in brands at Quaker and Dolby, and his career has taken him around the globe. “I’ve been blessed to go around the world, and not on my dime,” he said. “working on projects in the UK changed the country for me—I was no longer a tourist, I was a commuter! What an experience!”

Dale’s husband Jamie, who works in integrative somatics and photography, often travels as well—and, between them, Dale and Jamie spend a fair portion of their time in California and abroad. “We make our travel work together. When he teaches in Hawaii, I go to Hawaii. If it pours the whole time, that’s ok,” Dale said with a laugh.” It’s a Hawaiian rain!”

Dale grew up in Tacoma and Gig Harbor, but said that he’s become a fan of country living in his adult life. “I don’t do well in cities anymore,” he said. “As a child, I came to life when we moved to my great-grandparents’ property in Rosedale, Washington. I went into the woods and blossomed there.” On the subject of their arrival on Whidbey, Dale said that connections from as far away as California, Wisconsin, and Hong Kong all contributed to nudging him and Jamie here. “Circumstance and coincidence brought us to Whidbey, but we couldn’t have been welcomed more fully. The community embraced us almost overnight.”

Dale credits Jamie with helping him grow in his love of nature, as well as with prompting him to envision the next stage of his career outside the boundaries of what he’s experienced thus far. “Jamie once went to an Anna Halprin workshop that changed his whole life trajectory,” Dale said. “His work has meaning—it’s a calling. He helps me ask what I want the rest of my working life to look like. It’s scary to step outside the self-imposed trap—to face that I’m not going to be in corporate land for the rest of my life—but that’s where the awakening lies.”

Dale said that one of the questions he’s asking today is what meaningful work he can do with his next twenty years. “I feel pulled toward working on something that can make a difference in the bigger picture. That’s what drew me to the Whidbey Institute,” he said. “I came to the Winter Gathering, and I brought that program and this organization together in my mind. ‘Who are these people? What is this place? What comes next? What are the distinctions between programs and Institute? How do people come back?'”

The answers to these questions lie at the heart of the Whidbey Institute’s strategic work, and it is both helpful and timely to have Dale with us in this effort. As one of his collaborators on staff, I feel that Dale adds particularly vital expertise to our board—and that his service will be long remembered as a gift to this organization and all of those we serve.

September 5, 2015

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People & Partners

Chinook Encounters: My Encounter with a Hawk

My Encounter with a Hawk

by Tia Gschwind

When I was at the Winter Gathering on Whidbey Island, I went out into the forest with Joanna (an adult) and two other kids, Mateo and Tobias, and we encountered a hawk. Here’s what happened:

We were walking down a path in the forest when I heard a rustling coming from behind a log. I looked over and a bird flew out from behind it and hit my face! Then it flew into a nearby tree. We took pictures and looked at it through binoculars, and later when we got back I looked up what type of bird it was, and it was definitely a hawk. I couldn’t find out what type of hawk. But all I know now is a hawk is my spirit animal. Because if you have an encounter with an animal that’s not a pet, like in your dreams or in real life, then that animal is your spirit animal.

We even named it. The name “Russet” popped into my head and the boys wanted to call it Seahawk because of the football team, but we decided on calling it “Russet Seahawk”.

It was an amazing experience and I feel really lucky to have had that encounter with the hawk.

And that is the story of the hawk that flew into my face!


Header and sidebar photos by Thomas Arthur Anderson; hawk photos by Joanna Wright and Tia Gschwind.

March 25, 2015

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Chinook Encounters

In Transition: Jerry Millhon

As Whidbey Institute Executive Director for four transformative years, Jerry Millhon professes to have followed a cardinal rule: “hire people better than yourself.” While those of us on the staff would argue that Jerry’s a match for us all, we do see his attention to team-building bearing fruit. Most of us are here because of Jerry’s leadership, the culture he helped create, and the potential that he saw in each of us to fill the right role at the right time for the health of the whole organization.

This winter, Jerry is following his heart’s calling and stepping into Thriving Communities Initiative (TCI) program leadership—a shift which brings to a close his four years of service as Director. He and I recently spent some time together reflecting on his experience here.

Both Jerry and his late wife Kay loved, and served, the Institute during their first years on Whidbey Island—Kay as a staff member, from 1995 to 2004, and Jerry on the board, from 1995 to 2002. Thereafter, the two moved to San Francisco where Jerry took a position as Executive Director of the Foundation for Accelerated Vascular Research (now Vascular Cures). When the pair returned to Whidbey, for a volunteer assignment with the South Whidbey School District, Jerry experienced what he called, “a powerful sense of community and a feeling of coming home.”

When Jerry returned to the Institute, first in February 2010 as Interim Director and then in May 2010 in the permanent role, the organization was seeking a programmatic rudder and stability. The need for new leadership at the Institute arose at that time, and Jerry and Kay saw, “a new opportunity to see how precious this place was.””Everyone cared immensely,” he said, “but we all felt like we were seeking something just beyond our reach.” The Institute was embattled by the economic recession and a lack of clear direction, while Jerry himself was entering a time of deep, challenging experience with Kay on her journey with cancer. “When Kay and I were examining [whether my] becoming the ED was the right move for us, what we saw was not the challenge ahead,” Jerry said. “No—I saw us on the shoulders of those who had committed talents, countless hours, financial resources, and love to this place over the years . . . those who had lifted this organization up, including my wife Kay. They became vivid in my mind.” With Kay’s blessing, and in part because of their shared history with this place and the rich promise of the land, he jumped into the fray.

Jerry described his early experience as Institute Director as a blend of team-building and culture-shifting. “One cultural challenge to overcome was the feeling of scarcity,” he said. “Can you put that in the context of an abundant, loving, and wonderful place? [We were] creating a culture of financial stewardship.” With that new culture came the first team member—Wendy, in accounting—who helped the organization take its next steps toward solvency.

When it came to adding staff, Jerry said he relied first on a new core team member—Heather—who knew what they were getting into. “To do the kind of thing we were talking about, you need a critical mass of people who are really committed. Heather understood the vastness of the challenges ahead, and could see beyond the immediate horizon.” In our conversation, Jerry spoke of current and former staff members who stepped into vital roles at the right times. With credit to all the people, past and present, who helped create what we have today, Jerry described our current team of staff and board as, “diligent, competent, and able to dance together.”

“The growth of a wise, energized and productive board has been key! We have had a number of wonderful supportive board members over the years,” he said. “We really have partners in this process. Because it has a complex history and complex cultures, [the Whidbey Institute] demands . . . a powerful board.”

Regarding his upcoming transition, Jerry said he is pulled to attend to the thing he loves most. “I sense the unbelievable hunger in the world for stories and replicable actions that are contributing to a positive impact. It feels really important to apply as much of my time as I can to the buildup of a sustainable flow for Thriving Communities.” He’s not worried about the Institute, which has become not only stable, but robust, and which is able to both honor its roots and contribute to today’s most vital personal, social, and ecological solutions.

Thriving Communities launched with a 2012 gathering around local food systems. Since then, the body of work has grown to cover topics including local economy and health, and has both showcased and nurtured community-building programs in over 33 communities around the Pacific Northwest. Now, Jerry is ready to help it grow into something even greater. “I want to be in the gravel, in the dirt,” he said. “I’m not talking about heady ideas: I want to be able to see eye-to-eye with those people who, for some weird reason, started something that has actually changed the fiber of a community. I want to feel why and how, and give people confidence in what they could do in their own community. Those are stories and conversations that don’t have an end.”

October 9, 2014

Posted In:
People & Partners

Garden Apprentice Appreciation

Our South Whidbey Community has been so blessed by the presence of our four Community Garden Apprentices, Alexa, Casey, Camille, and Lissa, throughout the 2013 growing season.

As we harvest our gourds, mulch our beds, and tuck the gardens in for the winter we can look back on an incredible year of growth, friendship, abundance, and learning. Alexa MacAulay worked in our Whidbey Institute Westgarden; Camille Green worked in the Good Cheer Garden alongside Lissa Firor in the Good Cheer Food Bank; and Casey Jackson inspired the next generation of gardeners at the South Whidbey Academy and South Whidbey Middle & Elementary School gardens.

We gathered together in the Whidbey Institute Farmhouse on October 14 to share a meal, remember the season, and say goodbye and thank you to these four vibrant women. It was a joyful evening, made better by the freshness and flavor of the food on our shared table. Life lesson: farmers throw the best potlucks.

Marnie Jones

October 25, 2013

Posted In:
Learning from the Land