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!
From June 24th – July 1st, nine young people from three Northwest states (Washington, Oregon, and Montana) and two Reconnect Earth trip leaders spent eight days together in Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, learning about and discussing environmental issues, social justice, and grassroots activism. Along the way the group experienced some of the most spectacular landscapes in the North Cascades, including subalpine meadows, old growth forest, and a hike to the base of a giant alpine glacier.
We started the trip on June 24th at the Schriebers Meadow/Park Butte trailhead in Mount Baker-Snoqualmie Forest, hiking up the Park Butte Trail and reaching the beautiful Mazama Park Camp by late afternoon. Mazama Park is situated in a subalpine heather meadow, and it was here we pitched the camp that served as our base of operations for the first four days of the trip. The next few days included hikes to the historic fire lookout on Park Butte and to the bottom of Easton Glacier, as well as a rest day during which participants had a chance to recover from the physical activity while enjoying a day in Mazama Park.
On our fifth day in the field we packed up camp and hiked to Elbow Lake, descending from the subalpine environment into an ancient old-growth forest dominated by massive hemlocks and cedar trees. Our group camped for two nights at Elbow Lake, with some participants joining a hike to the Nooksack River on the sixth day of the trip. We admired towering trees and a mature forest ecosystem featuring saprophytic plants, diverse fungi, and amphibians like the western toad.
Throughout the trip our group engaged in a activities and discussions designed to increase participants’ knowledge of local natural history, environmental and social justice issues, and how to use grassroots organizing skills to create a better future. Topics included the history of Indigenous peoples and colonization in the Washington; workshops on campaign planning, grassroots lobbying, and nonviolent direct action; and exercises and facilitated discussions designed to help students explore their relationship with the natural world while harnessing their power as agents of positive change.
On our last full day together we moved camp from Elbow Lake back to Mazama Park for one final night in the field before returning to the trail head the next morning. Finishing the trip and saying goodbye was a bittersweet process for everyone involved; our nine participants and two trip leaders formed bonds during our time in the North Cascades that will last well into the future.
This first trip of the season is meant to be simply a first step for participants to engage in creating a more environmentally and socially just future–whether with Reconnect Earth, other organizations, or on their own. Going into the next school year Reconnect Earth will be providing support to young people organizing grassroots campaigns in their schools or communities. All alumni of our summer trips are invited to apply participate in this next phase of our work.
Meanwhile, we’re getting ready for our next eight-day trip coming up in August. Apply to join the trip here and participate in an eye-opening experience you’ll never forget!
On March 10th Reconnect Earth led an event designed to spark conversations about decolonization and confronting the horrific history of colonialism in what is now Washington. This trip, called Decolonizing Bellingham’s Landscape, was part of our ongoing work to do environmental education in a new way that acknowledges and celebrates the history of Indigenous peoples on the landscape.
Reconnect Earth begins all of our trips with a formal acknowledgement of the Indigenous peoples on whose land it takes place. However, the goal of this particular event was to go much further. We began in downtown Bellingham, walking down to Bellingham Bay below Maritime Heritage Park where we had a conversation about how Indigenous peoples like the Lummi have harvested food from the water since time immemorial. For countless generations the Bay has been a source of sustenance for the Lummi, who have managed their fishing practices in sustainable ways and continue to do so today.
We next walked up into Maritime Heritage Park itself, a small urban park located where Whatcom Creek enters the bay. We stopped by a western red cedar and talked about the Lummi’s many uses of this tree, including everything from building cedar log canoes to making highly sophisticated fishing nets from cedar bark. This was followed by a conversation about cultural appropriation and when it is or is not respectful to use Indigenous art and imagery in public places (hint: the key is building authentic partnerships with Indigenous artists).
We continued to an overlook above the bay from which we could see Lummi and Orcas Islands. We discussed the long history of coastal peoples as expert seafarers. Prior to colonization the Lummi regularly made canoe journeys down the West Coast to the mouth of the Columbia River to trade with the villages there. The Haida, whose territory is in what is now northern British Columbia and southern Alaska, are known for making even longer canoe voyages as far south as California.
Toward the conclusion of the trip we arrived at the bridge over Whatcom Creek itself. This is close to where the first permanent White settlers in what is now Bellingham built a sawmill in 1852. The Lummi treated them with hospitality, but just a few years later that kindness was repaid with dispossession. At the Treaty of Point Elliot in 1855, the Lummi and other Indigenous groups from throughout Northwest Washington were persuaded under duress to sign most of their territory over to White settlers. This is an injustice which has yet to be rectified.
Our group made a timeline of the colonization which took place in Washington during the mid-1800s. We also talked about the long history of Indigenous resistance to colonizing forces. This includes the Puget Sound War of 1856, sparked by the colonial government’s duplicitous behavior in the wake of the Point Elliot Treaty signing. Today Indigenous people continue exercising and advocating for their right, guaranteed under the terms of the treaty, to fish in their accustomed territory.
This Reconnect Earth trip was in no way intended as a substitute for learning directly from Indigenous people, who alone can speak authentically to their experience in what is now Northwestern Washington. Rather, the hope was to spark conversations that would lay the groundwork for deeper learning about the Indigenous presence on the landscape. To this end, we also talked about local opportunities to learn from Indigenous educators and community leaders in ways that don’t put undue demands on their time.
You can read more about the philosophy behind this Reconnect Earth event here. And stay tuned, because our work to continue engaging with these issues through education is certainly far from over.
On Saturday Reconnect Earth visited Lookout Mountain Preserve, a protected area in the northern Chuckanut Mountains. Though in Bellingham proper the snow from recent winter storms had almost disappeared, we arrived at the Lookout Mountain trail head to find a thick layer of snow still on the ground. We began hiking up the trail and soon were immersed in the forest.
Lookout Mountain showcases Pacific Northwest forests in a variety of stages of succession. Early on the hike we passed through groves of red alders, a sign of a recently disturbed area where the first generation of new tree life was returning. A little later the trail climbed through dense stands of young Douglas-firs of uniform age. Tree growth patterns and other evidence suggested a generation of conifers recovering from the effects of a landslide which likely occurred years ago.
Later still we passed through stands of much taller, widely spaced Douglas-firs with young western hemlocks coming up underneath. Though still much too young to be considered old growth, this part of the forest is beginning to take on old characteristics like multiple layers of tree crowns and abundant fallen woody debris. Massive, decaying cedar stumps indicate that long ago, before the logging which took place over a hundred years ago, this area did indeed support old growth.
We paused on the trail for lunch and an interactivity activity that facilitated conversations about how we encounter nature and the “natural” world throughout the course of our lives. As we climbed higher the snow on the trail grew deeper, until we were hiking through a true winter landscape which looked utterly different from what we’d left behind in Bellingham. We emerged from the trees onto the Lookout Mountain Overlook with a view of Lake Whatcom and the hills beyond.
Toward the end of the hike we took another break to write letters to the incoming state senator from the Bellingham area, Liz Lovelett. Senator Lovelett was recently appointed to fill an empty seat in the state legislature, and we wanted to send her the message that people in Bellingham care deeply about a healthy, livable environment.
We arrived back at the trail head having experienced one of the many wild areas which exist mere miles away from Bellingham’s downtown. However, a bus stop at the trail head parking area makes Lookout Mountain Preserve unusual in that it is easily accessible via public transit. Maintaining this type of easy access to green space is an essential part of ensuring equity in natural park systems.
As we headed for home the late afternoon sank behind the hills. Up on the mountain the shadows of Douglas-fir trees grew longer on a snowy landscape far above Lake Whatcom.
Applications are now live for Reconnect Earth’s Summer 2019 trips, an unforgettable eight-day experience backpacking and camping in Washington’s North Cascades, while learning about ecology, human and natural history, and grassroots social change. On a summer trip you’ll hike through ancient forests, climb to alpine lakes, or look down onto glaciers during one of our trips focused on harnessing your potential as an agent of positive social and environmental change.
Washington’s North Cascades mountains are home to a National Park, multiple federally-designated Wilderness Areas, and some of the most diverse ecosystems in North America. The region’s towering old-growth forests, alpine meadows, and rushing rivers are also sites of ongoing struggles over colonialism, Indigenous sovereignty, and resource extraction. On each Reconnect Earth trip we’ll explore what it means to work for social justice and environmental sustainability on contested land, while experiencing some of the most spectacular landscapes in the Pacific Northwest.
Reconnect Earth is offering trips during two sets of dates in Summer 2019:
June 24th – July 1st (trip full)
August 19th – August 26th (space still available!)
Because of our low overhead we are able to offer trips at a significantly lower cost than comparable backpacking experiences. Tuition for an eight-day Reconnect Earth trip is $450, with scholarships available for those for whom this is a genuine financial hardship (you’ll have the chance to submit a scholarship request as part of the application process). The first step to joining a trip is to fill out our application form.Apply now.
Reconnect Earth’s summer trips are open to college students and other self-identified young adults ages 18 and up. Our trips will engage your mind as much as your body as we travel up steep mountains and down into glacial valleys while re-conceptualizing our relationships with the land in ways you may never have imagined. No prior hiking or backpacking experience is needed to participate and we are committed to supporting participants with special needs.
Reconnect Earth visited Bellingham’s Boulevard Park this Saturday for a walk following the edge of Bellingham Bay, during which we searched for marine invertebrates, birds, and other sea life. Seven of us explored the water’s edge and followed the over-water walkway to Fairhaven, stopping to observe any organisms we found along the way.
Bellingham Bay supports a variety of marine ecosystems including sandy beaches, rocking shores, and eel grass beds. When exploring the beaches we admired oysters and discussed the effects of ocean acidification; picked up clam, mussel, limpet, and crab shells; and examined washed-up kelp and eel grass. An examination of some submerged boulders revealed a small chiton–an ancient type of mollusk–clinging to a rock face just beneath the water’s surface.
Farther out from shore a harbor seal poked its head above the waves, while a variety of birds hunted for food. With the help of a spotting scope we were able to identify surf scoters–a very distinctive-looking type of duck (pictured below) that uses its powerful beak to crack open marine mussel shells–far out on the bay. Slightly closer in a loon surfaced holding a small fish that it quickly swallowed. Common and Barrow’s goldeneye ducks came near enough to identify even with the naked eye. However, it took binoculars to make out the beautiful golden eyes that give these birds their name.
At the end of our walk we took time to write letters to our Washington state legislators, urging them to support proposed bills that would help protect the Salish Sea and the creatures who call it home from toxic pollutants, catastrophic oil spills, and other threats. By advancing important pieces of legislation this year, Washington’s lawmakers have a crucial opportunity to protect the Salish Sea ecosystem that includes Bellingham Bay.
Saturday’s visit to the bay was Reconnect Earth’s first weekend trip in 2019, but it won’t be the last time we get outside this winter. See the full list of trips coming up here.