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photo of john thomson bending over tending plants in sun mountain gardenJohn Thomson tends the grounds on Sun Mountain Lodge properties.

Growing Experience
John Thomson's interns

John Thomson and Marleny Santana stand in front of well-tended vegetation at Sun Mountain Lodge.

John Thomson manages both plants and student interns at Sun Mountain Lodge above Winthrop. The lodge itself and the cabins at Patterson Lake have somewhere around five acres of grounds landscaped in a mixture of native and non-native plants, arranged in patterns pleasing to the eye. Thomson is the grounds superintendent.

Thomson’s internship program through Washington State University takes students out of the classroom to get their hands dirty, learn, and gain experience. They earn a stipend and a place to live.

“It’s mostly gardening,” Thomson said. Thomson earned his own degree from Oregon State University, and then worked in a Whatcom County plant nursery for 20 years before moving to the Methow Valley.

Thomson’s internship program is starting a sixth season at Sun Mountain. He has had seven interns in that time, and interest - even international interest - seems to be increasing. The newest intern, Marleny Santana, is from the Dominican Republic. Thomas also had inquiries from Chinese and Canadian students.

Santana has been in the country since August 2011. She’s working on her master’s degree in landscape architecture from Utah State University. Such a degree is not offered in her native country where she earned an undergraduate degree in architecture.

“She will have the highest degree in this arena in her nation,” when she graduates, said Thomson. Santana hopes to finish her master’s degree at Utah State in December of 2013.

Local man Ryan Oliveros, a student at Central Washington University, started his fourth summer internship at Sun Mountain Lodge on June 8.

John Thomson at work pruning an apple tree in the valley earlier in this year.

Santana found out about the program by talking with her department head at Utah State University. The Sun Mountain internship is open to graduates and seniors there. Santana will return in late August to the university in Logan, Utah.

Santana’s goals in her internship are to “learn the local species, learn how to grow them and keep them nice.” She also wants to get to know local people, “It’s a pleasure to be creating good relationships that will last forever,” she said.

“We love having her . . . we are her American parents,” said Cyndi Thomson, John's wife. She said that she and her husband “enjoy including (the interns) in valley life”, showing them the area and helping them “do the things we do in the Methow” - like kayaking, hiking, potlucks, bicycling and so forth.

Santana does have relatives in this country, including three aunts in the Bronx, and other extended family and friends in New York and Miami. She also has a cousin in Quebec, Canada.

Thomson’s plant ecology final for his apprentices includes a day hike of the Maple Pass Loop above Rainy Pass. The Methow’s mountains have been an introduction to the alpine environment for all the interns so far.

The tropical land of the Dominican Republic is a long way from Sun Mountain Lodge and the high Cascades: broadening experiences are the point of the internship.


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