A Walk In The Woods by Bryan McGriff

A Walk In The Woods by Bryan McGriff

This past February, as the Whidbey Institute’s Communication Manager, I had the good fortune to go for a walk in the Legacy Forest with Jessica Larson from the Whidbey Camano Land Trust (WCLT). Jessica is a Stewardship Director with the WCLT and helps to coordinate and monitor the Whidbey Institute’s Conservation Easement along with our Forest Stewardship Plan.

I was eager to learn more about the WCLT’s role in protecting the Whidbey Institute’s 106 acres of forest and wetlands and wanted to hear from her about some of the unique aspects of the land and features to look for when traveling the 4+ miles of trails.

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March 17, 2023

Summer Service: perspectives from two youth volunteers

Pictured: a photo by tessie of MadelEine, Anika, and a curious doe. Photos courtesy the Bunnell family.

We were lucky enough to get to know the Bunnell family during spring and summer 2020, as Beth and her daughters Tessie (14) and Madeleine (16) got involved as volunteers on the land. When we asked for their reflections, Tessie and Madeleine both expressed excitement about what they had seen and learned, and eager anticipation of their next visit to the land. 

“I look forward to spending more time at the Whidbey Institute and seeing how our trail looks in the different seasons,” Tessie said.  Read More →

April 16, 2021

Rose Medicine

This article by Westgarden Steward Jules LeDrew introduces rose medicine: Flower and Hips. Harvest is early June through Summer Solstice and fall.

This time of year most plants show their full identities and character through their unique and colorful displays of flowers. You will find our native wild rose, Nootka Rose, on beaches and holding up hillsides in sandier soils across the PNW. While she may be less eye popping with smaller light pink flowers, her medicine can be as significant as some of the most prized roses in the world. These include the Damask rose, at home in our own Westgarden. Rosa Damascena is native to the Valley of the Roses in Bulgaria, which is also the heart of the rose essential oil industry trade. Records of its huge popularity go back to the Ottoman Empire. Rose medicinal use stems from many cultures, including ancient Greece, and dates back thousands of years. Read More →

June 30, 2020

The land welcomes you

I don’t know about you, but I entered this week with a surreal feeling. Anxiety and hope are both present in me—anxiety for the health and safety of the many, and especially those who are especially vulnerable to illness or to food and shelter insecurity in the days and months to come. Hope for what is possible when we awaken and live into our interdependence with one another and with Earth. In this spirit, I spent part of my weekend planting seeds. Read More →

March 16, 2020

The Magic of Saying Yes: An interview with Bethany Bylsma

Tender Wild is coming up October 18 through 20 at the Whidbey Institute. This workshop is described as a chance to explore the wild parts of writing, the tender stories that must be told, and ways to engage yourself and others in writing practices that bring life back. To understand more about the opportunity, I connected with facilitator Bethany Bylsma. Here’s our conversation. —Marnie Jackson

Learn more about the program and register here.

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September 9, 2019

Getting to Know the Neighbors

While I was writing this article, I realized this is a good analogy for what is happening in the world and the US today.—Kay Nairn

A Slug Encounter, by Kay Nairn

When I moved from Utah to the Pacific Northwest in the mid ’70s, one of the many things I had to adjust to was the slug. I’d never seen a slug before, and thought I had never seen anything to ugly. I love animals, but I just couldn’t even like slugs. I would sometimes camp on the Chinook grounds and when a friend bought land next door I would camp out there—often right on the ground.

I once found a slug in my tent, and shortly after that I woke up with a slug on my head. Ewww.

That’s when I realized that if I was going to stay outdoors in this area, I was going to have to learn to not hate or fear the creatures.

The best way to let go of hate and fear is to get to know the other. So . . . I spent a few hours following a slug around the Farm Loop trail, and off the trail, and over and under fallen twigs and leaves, and into places I would never have gone without a little creature to show me the way. I found that slugs do move slowly most of the time, but they can skitter along pretty fast when they feel threatened. I became fascinated by their feelers and how rapidly they withdraw them and move them, and by how they chew.

By the end of the afternoon, I’d gained a great appreciation for slugs. While I can’t say I love them, spending time with a slug turned my dislike into curious appreciation.

Photo by MrsAirWolfhound via Flickr Creative Commons

February 1, 2016


by Kimi Hoover

One of my favorite things about summer is the chance to sleep under the stars, especially when they’re shooting stars! The month of August brings the Perseid Meteor Showers—one of the best nighttime shows of the year.  

Being on the staff of the Whidbey Institute has many perks, one being the opportunity to throw my tent up on the Chinook grounds for a night of celestial viewing.

August 13 was billed as one of the best nights to see the meteor shower as there was no moon. At about 9 pm, with just a few minutes of light left, I drove to the Institute and got a recommendation from my colleague who lives onsite, Thomas, on the best location to get a clear view of the northeastern sky.

I pitched my tent without the rain fly—only the bug netting between me and the night sky. I knew rain was predicted for the next morning so I set my alarm for 5 am. I thought I could pack up at dawn and be home before the rain hit.  

As the sky darkened, I was rewarded with dozens of bats flying overhead but only three shooting stars before I dozed off. I was awakened at 3 am by two screech owls calling back and forth between two trees.

As I lay in my own cozy nest enjoying the owl symphony, I noticed I could no longer see any stars so I knew the clouds had moved in. About a minute into the owl serenade, a gigantic flash of lightening lit up the whole sky and was instantly followed by a huge crack of thunder. With my heart racing I leaped up and started the fastest tent breakdown of my life! I bet it took fewer than three minutes for me to get everything stuffed into a couple sacks. I made a dash for the parking lot just as the downpour hit.  

On the ten minute drive home, I witnessed many incredible displays of lightning traveling from horizon to horizon. Then, snug in my bed, I listened to more thunder before the adrenaline finally wore off enough for me to fall asleep.

The next day Thomas and I, along with the rest of the staff, had a good laugh when he mentioned that he had looked out his window right after he had been awakened by the storm and all he could see was this phantom headlamp darting frantically this way and that as I hurriedly packed up my gear, and then the dot of light streaking away as I made my dash to the safety of my car!  

Shared laughter, shooting stars, bats, and owls . . .  oh, how I love my job.

stock header photo from flickr creative commons; sidebar photo by marnie jones

September 5, 2015

How the Woodpecker Got His Colors

How the Woodpecker Got His Colors

by Johnny Palka, Whidbey Institute Senior Fellow

One afternoon in early July I was walking on the Chinook land, the beautiful protected forest of the Whidbey Institute. Partway up a low ridge I heard a sharp, resonant rap, then a few seconds later another. When I looked around for the source, I spotted a magnificent Pileated Woodpecker clinging to the side of a Douglas Fir trunk, and excavating his signature rectangular cavity in search of insects. Of course, I wanted to take his picture, but my telephoto lens was buried in my backpack. So I stopped, slowly took off the backpack, unloaded it to the get to the long lens, removed the short lens from my camera, replaced it with the telephoto, stood back up, and looked again toward the Pileated. There he still was, unperturbed, continuing to excavate the same cavity. He allowed me to take several photos (see sidebar), then circled sideways around the trunk to start another excavation on the back side where I could no longer see him, only hear his chiseling beak hard at work.

Intimate encounters like this always seem to leave me with two feelings. One is a feeling of connectedness with the creatures or objects I have observed, and often also of gratitude that I have had the privilege of experiencing this connection. The other is a feeling of curiosity and wonder at the deepest nature of what I am experiencing. In the case of the woodpecker, I felt privileged to have been in his presence for so long, and seemingly without his having felt disturbed, AND I felt very curious about what makes black feathers black, white feathers white, and red feathers red to my personal experience.

The link between the woodpecker’s feathers and my own internal experience is best understood by contemplating the physical nature of light, including its quantum aspects. That is the direction that my mind most wants to go! I will be exploring this topic, and others that are at the interface between personal experience and how nature works, in many subsequent pieces.

Editor’s note: Check back! We’ll soon provide a link to the online home for more of Dr. Palka’s nature writing.

August 4, 2015

Spring Notes

Spring Notes

by Robert Mellinger

I wake up everyday to the routine surprise that everything is still here, somehow thrumming along and creating itself anew all the time. How, I wonder and wonder? Spring at Chinook (and most places) is a time when the world shows us how most conspicuously.

During the past few of weeks the red-breasted sapsuckers (Sphyrapicus ruber) have returned with the typical panache of a Chinook sapsucker. Landing on apple and ash trees right at face-level, they cock their dashing red heads in your direction, cast a wily eye, and give the trunk a few taps. Those who make their home at Chinook are scarcely noticed in the winter months. Perhaps they are deeper in the forest. Perhaps they  prefer overwintering sites away from Chinook. Wherever they go, their return to center stage is a marker in this place of the Earth’s turning and the great dam of life unleashed by longer, warmer, sunnier days.

Rufous hummingbirds (Selasforus rufus), butterflies, and countless other insects congregate at the sweet wells that Sapscuker has chiseled into the living cambium of trees. A cascade of relations of stunning complexity can be witnessed with a pause of just moments before these little fonts of life.

Dark-eyed juncos (Junco hyemalis) flit furtively out of low places like vegetated banks and near the base of trees. Along the road one day, one flew out of the bank and stopped to watch me closely. After a few moments, it began to hop about on nearby branches make the quiet alarm that sounds like two small beach stones lightly tapped together—a sure sign of a nest! Right where it flew out of the bank, I did indeed find a nest full of tiny, pink, baby birds. The nest was a harvest of twigs, shed winter blacktail deer (Odocoileus hemionus) fur, moss, and grasses.

The robin-like song of black-headed grosbeaks (Pheuticus melanocephalus), the cat-call whistle of Pacific slope flycatchers (Empidonax difficilis), the whacky, ascending twirl of Swainson’s thrushes (Catharus ustulatus), and the various drummings of woodpeckers make a distinctly spring symphony complete with baseline.

Western thatching ants (Formica obscuripes), move out across the landscape of blooming flowers, seeding grasses, and awakening insects, drinking nectar, cutting thatch, and eating bugs. They sometimes chew small holes in base of bell-shaped flowers.

On two consecutive Saturday evenings, Thomas has encountered a newborn fawn and a baby owl, both sitting in the middle of a trail (pictured at right). Bella the deer, who is really a male, has the buds of his first antlers.


June 3, 2015

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