For Mary Janda, the Skagit River is more than a natural resource, it’s a teaching tool. For the past 26 years, Mary has taught in the Concrete School District; utilizing the Valley’s natural resources and the outdoors as a classroom. “I got those kids outside so they never would forget,” she recalls.
Fortunately, the Skagit Valley offers an abundance of teaching opportunities. Mary would read wild stories of pioneers in the Valley to her Pacific Northwest History students out of And They Called the Place Skagit. Mary would take her students to side channels of the Baker and Skagit River to learn about habitat requirements for salmon. Her students participated in service learning through restoring Lorenzen Creek in Concrete, WA. And took her students to see Mount Baker and the Baker River to teach about volcanic activity. Mary utilized organizations that provide outdoor learning opportunities such as Skagit Fisheries Enhancement Group, North Cascades Institute, and Puget Sound Energy. These outdoor educational opportunities taught her students about the natural history of the place we all call home.
Outdoor learning and having a teacher advocate for you like Mary Janda has for her students is so beneficial to students, schools, and the community. “People’s experiences of places, their spiritual or numinous encounters, the names and naming of outdoor places, and the stories that people both tell and listen to in a place, provide outdoor educators with important clues in thinking about what a place-responsive form of practice might look like… Becoming and being place responsive offers opportunities to enrich the lives of our students, our communities and our places.” (A Pedagogy of Place: Outdoor Education for a Changing World. Brown, Mike; Wattchow, Brian)
Mary has had a connection to the outdoors since she was little. She recalls her dad taking her and her sisters on drives and camping trips, “he didn’t talk a lot, sometimes he would just keep to himself, he was an only child. But that is how he showed me what he loved.” Mary also has memories of building forts in the woods with her dad and sister.
In 1972, the same year as the North Cascades Highway opened, shortly after Mary and her husband got married, they bought some property off a logging road in Marblemount. “From that time when we bought the land, my heart was in Skagit but we had not built enough of our cabin in the woods and finally at 2 ½ kids later we decided that’s it, we want to live up here, we wanted to live in this place.” Mary has lived upriver for over 45 years; she raised a family, lead a Scout Troup, taught both at home and in the Concrete School District, and has volunteered. Her passion for the Valley is deeply rooted in her teaching pedagogy, “it is hard to explain the deep feelings that I have. And I think it is like passion for that place and all the people too. So that they get that, that there is so much more to life than just your phone, tv, all of the things that distract us from what, when I can be outside smelling the air, looking at the leaves…”
In wildness is the preservation of the world – Henry David Thoreau
Mary is now partially retired from formal teaching though still very active in engaging with youth. She is on the Board of the Concrete Resource Coalition and the Skagit Fisheries Enhancement Group.
This is one of many stories in a series about members of the community and what the Skagit means to them, we are calling this series of interviews This Skagit Life.
Skagit is a very special place, with healthy communities and spectacular natural resources. So much of what makes Skagit remarkable is the people who live, work, and play here. We realize that the health of the watershed depends on people seeking to protect that which they hold close to their hearts – without identifying what is special to each of us and then finding common areas of agreement, we will be less likely to succeed.
This Skagit Life is a partnership project between the Skagit Watershed Council and the Skagit County Historical Museum. This Skagit Life is a culmination of multiple oral histories from community members displayed as articles, events, and an exhibit at the Skagit County Historical Museum running April through September 2019.