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“Tree line and sky line,
sight line and chalk line,
the hawk over the woods,
circling the roof,
seeing the mountains enclosing the waters surrounding our home”


Cultivating Place

On our 100 acre woodland campus, we cultivate place together—collaborating with nature and one another to learn better how to relate to our planet, our built environment, and our human and other-than-human communities. Our gardens, forest trails, and buildings provide a context in which and from which to learn and grow.

On Ecological Work


When Land Steward Robert Mellinger joined our team, he had the opportunity to work alongside outgoing Steward Maggie Mahle. Bringing his own background in liberal arts, journalism, wilderness ecology and education, permaculture design, and wildlife tracking, he has helped enrich our culture of land stewardship.

“Maggie so strongly embodied an ethic that is so hard for most of us to live up to, which is to spend more time listening than talking. Her patience was extraordinary,” he said. “To get to know the Institute through her eyes, and through her stories, will influence the way I interact with the world for the rest of my life.”

 “The real, hard ecological work ahead of us requires first falling in love. That’s difficult to do without spending the time getting to know what’s around us, deeply.”

—Robert Mellinger

Robert feels a sense of excitement about working alongside other community members on this land, and welcomes the stories of all who have been involved with Chinook. “It’s been important to get a sense of the deep history of the Institute, and of all the different people who have contributed to creating this place and holding this place in a way that makes what we’re doing today possible.” He hopes to hear more of those stories, and envisions a future in which we can welcome even more community members into a relationship with this land. “Because the Institute focuses on looking at ecological issues in all their dimensions, from community to leadership to ecosystem vitality, it’s a good place for community to being understanding ecological design, in the sense of participation—‘I’m a person, a community member, and we interact with our landscape and change it.’” Robert hopes that the Institute can foster both a love of nature and a sense, in the individual, of what one’s participation means in the dynamics of natural systems.

“The land is always there, quietly offering its wisdom. Though our task as stewards may be to care for the land, the land has its own needs, and messages for us which only a deep listening can discern so that we can better focus our energy. The earth becomes an ally, and I’m reminded always how much our love and attention and care matters.”

—Maggie Mahle, former Land Steward


“Without a return to a responsible co-existence with the Earth we are truly lost, both physically and spiritually.”

—Kirk Webb, Landscape of the Soul program FACILITATOR





deer photos, top 3: © Marnie Jackson, Bottom 1: © Gordon LEe

The Heart of Cascadia

“The political, cultural, and geologic forces affecting Cascadia affect us all, and the Salish Sea physically connects our Whidbey Island home to a complex living ecosystem.”

—Marnie Jackson, Communications Manager

When our neighbor Kurt Hoelting pulled out a map and drew a circle around this place, he found that a radius of 100 kilometers just took in the peaks of the wild Olympics and the snowy Cascades, brushed the southern end of the Puget Sound, and encompassed the San Juan Islands and the outlet of the Salish Sea to the north.

Our campus, known as Chinook, is adjacent to Hoelting’s acreage. Like his home, ours sits in the center of this 100-kilometer circle—the heart of Cascadia and the center of the Salish Sea.

Hoelting spent a year exploring this region by kayak, on foot, by bike, and on public transportation, and emerged with an even deeper understanding of his personal role in stewarding it all.

At the Whidbey Institute, we know that our tie to the land is vitally important and deeply personal. Here, we care for our spaces and see how they care for us.



“This much is clear to me. If I can’t change my own life in response to the greatest challenge now facing our human family, who can? And if I won’t make the effort to try, why should anyone else? So I’ve decided to start at home, and begin with myself. The question is no longer whether I must respond. The question is whether I can turn my response into an adventure.”

—Kurt Hoelting, The Circumference of Home / photo © Gabriel Shirley

“We were all in pursuit of a new way to live … to be in this economy. Beginning to forge another kind of economy, or education for our children. How to live in community? How to live closer to the earth, actually in an intimate relationship with the earth?”

—Fritz Hull, Chinook Founder

1970s-People-103-Fritz,Vivienne GREAT

Founders Fritz & Vivienne Hull


“The Chinook Land which houses the Whidbey Institute is truly one of the “Thin Places” of our world. To dwell on that land is to be thrust into a place of discovery.”


Soil and Seed

FlowerFeature“The garden is like the center of a web of relationship, not only with all the people who have worked there over the years abut also with the places that the plants come from.”

—Mara Grey, Appletree Garden Steward

Mara Grey—botanist, Celtic harpist, storyteller, master gardener, and author of The Lazy Gardenerand The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Flower Gardening—volunteers as caretaker for the Appletree Garden at Chinook.

When we spoke with Mara in the shade of the old apple tree, the conversation ranged from Chinook history and garden stewardship to ancient languages and the power of story. We spoke of the early garden stewards, like Marybeth Crandall and Wilma O’Nan, and the underlying geometry of the garden paths—three interlocking circles, in the tradition of a knot garden.

“In this garden,” Mara said, “I feel a sense of interconnectedness with the rest of the land. Gardens are like microcosms of dealing with nature.” Discussing what makes gardening “work” or “play,” Mara said she feels the work she does here contributes to the whole organization. “I have a feeling that by bringing the plants here, I’m feeding people. In that way, I do feel a sense of contributing to the work of the Institute. Being here is never work—it’s just plain fun.”



“I wake up every day to the routine surprise that everything is still here, somehow thrumming along and creating itself anew all the time.”

—Robert Mellinger, Land Steward

MargaretSmile“As a newcomer to South Whidbey, just working with neighbors in the garden made me feel a different sense of belonging. The things that come up when you’re just chatting and picking beans are really cool. I’ve had long chats about water conservation with a volunteer at Good Cheer, and about music, kids, and different things. That’s one of my favorite parts of working with volunteers.”


Cabbage seedlings

“The garden teaches people real, deep respect … it’s a living thing, like us.”

—Kumudini Shoba, Herbal Garden Wisdom instructor Photo © CIFOR (CC BY-NC 2.0)

On a recent late summer afternoon, Kumudini Shoba met with garden steward Abigail Lazarowski and Communications Manager Marnie Jackson in the garden. The three meandered slowly, meeting self-heal and angelica, apothecary rose and elecampane. They touched their leaves, knelt beside their roots, and studied the bees dancing among their petals. “What I do all day is help people restore balance within themselves, through getting to know the garden and its plants,” Kumudini said. “Some people only know herbs as a capsule. Many people taking echinacea have never even seen an echinacea plant. I want people to meet these plants—these plants are teachers.”

Kumudini has been involved with the Whidbey Institute for many years, and planted many of the specimens in the Westgarden’s herbal border herself. She worked with former garden stewards Cary Peterson and Maggie Mahle, as well as Abigail, and continues to mentor, steward, and care for both our plants and our community knowledge.

When asked why she’s involved with the Westgarden, Kumudini shared her vision of a growing herbal apothecary and a budding generation of younger herbalists and gardeners. “My hope for this garden is that people will work with it, volunteer, and be involved,” she said. “An understanding of herbs is missing in this culture, and we need younger people to take this garden and make it their own.”

“Community garden spaces should be comfortable for everyone to explore what excites them about gardens, to challenge themselves to learn, and to have more meaningful relationships with people and plants. A community garden should be a supportive environment—that’s a given. It should be a place to work, learn, and grow together.”

—Anna Strick, 2016 Garden Apprentice

Kris Karlson, Whidbey Island Waldorf School teacher, watched his students engage in garden treasure hunts, plant identification games, and other activities which garden steward Abigail Lazarowski designed to hold the attention of his playful, extroverted student group.


“We benefited greatly from our time in the garden. Abigail is so patient. She fine-tuned the program to meet the children—seeing how they work best, she taught the curriculum while bringing in art, math, and games. They really connected to the Earth, with their hands in the dirt. Children bring something special to your garden. They are accepted in the garden and they bring joy when they come.”

—Kris Karlson

Get Involved

Visit Our Gardens

Our gardens are always open to visitors and, in the growing season, we welcome volunteers to help us tend our Westgarden. Email to learn more.

Check Out Our Trail Network

Our 100 acre trail network is open to the public from dawn ’til dusk. Stop by the office during business hours to grab a map or say hi!

Explore Our Wetland Loop

Engage your senses, learn about the Chinook land, and gain a deeper understanding of wild places everywhere on our Wetland Loop Interpretive Trail.