On November 10th Reconnect Earth set out to witness one of the most spectacular seasonal phenomena in the Pacific Northwest: the return of migrating adult salmon to their spawning ground in the streams where they were born. The group of us met up at Bellingham’s Arroyo Park, then followed the trail down to Chuckanut Creek and investigated several spots along the creek looking for salmon.
We were fortunate to get an up-close look at some of these amazing fish as they struggled upstream through the shallow waters. Though we didn’t want to disturb the salmon, there were times when we could have reached out and touched them. We also took time to identify and appreciate other animals and plants we encountered, including the three main conifer tree species that grow in the park: western red cedar, western hemlock, and Douglas-fir.
At this time of year Chuckanut Creek is home to migrating chum salmon, one of the five salmon species in the Northwest. We found numerous salmon resting in pools and fighting their way up through the rocky riffles as they sought their spawning grounds. This year’s returning adult salmon will lay eggs that hatch next year and give birth to a new generation of fish who will migrate to the ocean and spend years there fattening up before returning to their freshwater streams and beginning the cycle anew.
After taking plenty of time to appreciate the salmon, we gathered up for a discussion about the history of Indigenous peoples and colonialism in the Pacific Northwest. Like all parts of North America, the Northwest has a brutal history marked by genocide and the theft of land from Indigenous nations. These injustices have yet to be rectified and are still with us today. Our group participated in an activity meant to spark discussion by building a timeline of events from the past 200 years that affected Indigenous people in this region. Though this history includes many atrocities carried out by European colonists, it also includes inspiring stories of Indigenous resistance. From the rebellion led by Nisqually Chief Leschi in the 1850s, to recent victories won in court by tribes like the Lummi defending their salmon fishing rights, Indigenous people have been fighting back since the first wave of colonization began.
Our conversations about local Indigenous history led to an extremely thought-provoking discussion about the wider implications of colonization, and how traditional societies all over the world have cared for the landscapes they have inhabited since time immemorial. We finished by talking about a couple of upcoming opportunities to take action on environmental issues, including a December 3rd public hearing on a proposed crude fossil fuel export ban in Whatcom County, and the December 6th national day of climate strikes.
Overall this year’s salmon-searching trip was a big success when it came to both seeing fish and exploring the complex issues that define our relationship with the more-than-human world. Reconnect Earth has one more weekend trip coming up this fall. Learn more and sign up to join it here.
On Sunday, October 27th Reconnect Earth took a trip to one of the best sites to access the amazing shoreline ecosystems along the coast of Northwest Washington: Clayton Beach in Larrabee State Park. For countless millennia, Indigenous peoples like the Lummi have harvested the rich bounty of marine life along this area’s coast, relying on fish and shellfish as a major food source. We discussed this human history, looked for life among the rocks and pools along the beach, and talked about issues facing marine ecosystems and how to take positive action.
The tidepools along Clayton Beach support an amazing diversity of marine invertebrates–from thousands of acorn barnacles coating the rocks, to strawberry and aggregate green sea anemones extending their delicate tentacles, to predatory marine snails known as whelks that prowl the barnacle and mussel beds. In the waters off shore marine birds including grebes, loons, and cormorants rode the waves and dove to pursue fish. We spent plenty of time admiring these various creatures and observing their behavior.
Among the most active animals we came across were the crabs that scuttle among the rocks at low tide. They included the one pictured here, which we identified here as a black-clawed shore crab. Much tinier hermit crabs scurried along the bottoms of tide pools, lugging the snail shells they commandeer to use as mobile shelters. Then there were the shell-producing animals themselves, like the hundreds of tiny periwinkle snails scattered all over the tide pools and barnacle beds. Among the more active creates, the occasional limpet clung to a rock beneath its dome-shaped shell, waiting for high tide to come in.
Toward the end of our time at the beach we gathered together for a discussion about threats to marine environments including destructive fishing practices, fossil fuel export projects, and epidemics like seastar wasting disease that have been tied to climate change. We then talked about people and movements who are taking positive action to combat climate change, including young activists like Greta Thunberg and leaders of the Sunrise Movement. We discussed how to get involved in organizing efforts right here in Bellingham, including work to launch a local Sunrise Movement hub.
On Saturday Reconnect Earth set out on our first weekend day trip of the Fall 2019 season: a hike to beautiful Lost Lake in The Chuckanut Mountains just sought of Bellingham. Our group of seven people started at the North Chuckanut Mountain Trailhead, following the Hemlock and North Lost Lake Trails which took us gradually uphill higher into the Chuckanuts. Large Douglas-fir and western red cedar trees towered above us, and we paused throughout the trip to identify and talk about local plant species that also included western hemlock, big-leaf and vine maples, Oregon grape, sword ferns, and many others. Bird calls and the occasional long trill of a Douglas squirrel sounded from the forest canopy above us.
As we approached Lost Lake our group also stopped to appreciate one of the most impressive landscape features in this area: the immense Chuckanut Sandstone cliff formations. We looked up at these cliffs composed of compressed marine sediments that accumulated over the course of millions of years. Today the Chuckanut Sandstone shelters a variety of lichens that grow in the open rock face, and are a great place to look for fossils of ancient plant life.
Finally we reached the lake itself, a secluded spot in the heart of the Chuckanuts where water lilies float on the water’s calm surface and dragonflies patrol their territory. Some of us ventured out on fallen logs that took us several yards over the lake itself, while others chose to stay safely on shore. After exploring the lake for a while our group gathered together and had an lively discussion about climate change and its impacts on Washington. We also discussed groups and individuals who are taking the lead on confronting the climate crisis, from local sustainable business owners to the global Climate Strike movement.
On the return trip to the trailhead we had almost reached our destination when we were treated to a last unexpected wildlife encounter: two deer wandering across the trail who we were able to approach within feet of. It was a fitting conclusion to another memorable adventure into Northwest Washington’s wild places with Reconnect Earth.
Bruna Press & Archives, 221 Prospect Street, Bellingham, WA
Join Reconnect Earth for this special event on Nov. 9th celebrating and supporting the next generation of environmental leaders. Over the course of the evening you’ll hear readings from winners of a student (ages 16-29) essay and poem contest on re-imagining an inclusive twenty-first century environmental movement, learn how Reconnect Earth’s programs are supporting student activism, have the chance to enter a raffle of items donated by local businesses and artists, and enjoy light refreshments.
This event is a fundraiser that helps make possible Reconnect Earth’s work to foster and grow a network of empowered young leaders to sustain grassroots environmental and social movements for years to come. A donation of $15-$40 (depending on your income level) at the door is suggested. Other opportunities to donate will be available throughout the evening.
A new school year is here, and Reconnect Earth is getting ready for another season of weekend trips to beautiful natural areas in and around Bellingham, WA. This fall we’ll be hiking to Lost Lake in the Chuckanut Mountains, exploring the vibrant marine life along Samish Bay, and looking for migrating salmon, among other adventures. Learn more about specific upcoming trips and sign up to join one here!
This August Reconnect Earth concluded our first field season running eight-day backpacking trips for students focused on exploring and learning about environmental issues, social justice, and grassroots activism skills. Fifteen students from three Northwest state participated in our program this summer, joining our trip leaders for an unforgettable experience in the North Cascades. Participants explored and deepened their own relationship with the more-than-human world; engaged in workshops on campaign planning and skills including running a meeting, lobbying, and nonviolent direct action; and explored complex topics like the history of colonialism in the Northwest and how oppressive systems manifest in outdoor spaces.
But while summer may be over for this year, Reconnect Earth’s work to support student activism is not. This fall, winter, and spring we’ll be amplifying issues important to young people through student-driven campaigns, ramping up our school year programming that takes participants outside to engage with wild spaces close to their communities, and providing additional opportunities for training in activist skills. It’s an exciting time to be doing this work: from climate change to gun violence, young people are leading the way on some of the most important issues of our time. Reconnect Earth’s goal is to support the growth of a new wave of student activism in whatever way we can.
Stay tuned for more announcements about upcoming events with Reconnect Earth over the coming weeks and months. In the meantime, here are a few photos from some of the many special and inspiring moments on our Summer 2019 trips:
Yesterday Reconnect Earth joined Sunrise Movement Seattle and other youth-led organizations at the offices of Washington’s U.S. senators, to call on them to support a Green New Deal to fight climate change. This action, organized by Seattle students, was the latest escalation in Sunrise Movement’s campaign to pressure Sens Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell to join twelve other senators and 94 members of the House of Representatives in supporting our best opportunity to confront the climate crisis head-on.
Sunrise Movement Seattle has had many interactions with both Murray and Cantwell’s offices over the last several months–but despite claiming to be strong supporters of the environment, both senators have refused to take a stance on the Green New Deal. This puts them at odds with climate leaders including both of nearby Oregon’s U.S. senators and Seattle-area Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal. So yesterday, Sunrise and other youth organizations decided to increase the pressure.
Around two dozen people met on the ground floor of the building out of which both senators conduct their Seattle field operations, before going over the plan together and taking an elevator up to first Murray and then Cantwell’s offices. At each office several young people who agreed to act as spokespeople delivered messages to staff in the small lobby area while most members of our group stood just outside the doors, flooding the hallway and holding signs and banners. At each office staff tried to get us to stop taking video–something organizers of the action felt was necessary to provide transparency and show how public officials are responding to calls to back the Green New Deal–and at some point building security was called. Despite this, participants in the action stayed peaceful and compassionate the whole time.
Since Sens Murray and Cantwell still have not signed onto the Green New Deal there will no doubt be additional escalations in this campaign–and Reconnect Earth is excited to support Sunrise Movement in this crucial work. For yesterday’s action we helped spread the word and recruit folks to participate, and we stand ready to do so again next time. Youth are rising in Washington and throughout the country in response to the climate crisis, and there will be much more to come!