Earth Matters

Every two weeks, the Hitchcock Center publishes a column, "Earth Matters: Notes on the Nature of the Valley," in The Daily Hampshire Gazette. Writers include Hitchcock staff and board members, former board members, presenters in our Community Programs series, and friends of the Center. Look for the column at the end of Section C of the weekend Gazette or on their website. We will keep a complete list on this site, so if you miss seeing a column in the newspaper, or want to see it again, come here at any time.

How birds and other organisms can tell us where we are

By David Spector

The ways birds use the sun, the stars, their own internal clocks, the Earth’s magnetic field, odors, and other cues to navigate are well documented. Birds can also help a human to know his or her location.

Published in Earth Matters on June 19, 2017.

‘Tikkun olam’: An ancient expression for our time

By Benjamin Weiner

At Ellis Island, years ago, I was struck by an exhibit listing some of the contributions made by immigrant languages to American English, though I realize now that at least two important Jewish offerings went unrecorded. The more colorful of my ancestors’ Yiddishisms were probably deemed unfit for inclusion in a family museum. But the other gift I’m thinking of, Hebraic, has more dignity and has more recently entered fully into the specialized vernacular of social activism.

Published in Earth Matters on June 2, 2017.

Peace, love and bonobos: How a great ape can lead us to a better world

By Sally Jewell Coxe

Do you know what a bonobo is? Have you ever seen one? If you answered “yes” to either of these questions, you are an exception. Bonobos, closely related to chimpanzees, were the last great apes discovered by Western science, and still remain largely unknown to most of the world. Found only in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, bonobos inhabit the heart of the world’s second largest rainforest.

Published in Earth Matters on May 19, 2017.

Reverence, resistance and the climate crisis

By Margaret Bullitt-Jonas

Suppose you deeply loved this planet and were also deeply concerned for its future. And suppose you wanted to hold an event to give voice to those feelings. What would you call it?

Published in Earth Matters on May 5, 2017.

A glimpse of the lions of the insect world

By Elizabeth Farnsworth For the Gazette

Have you ever noticed a line of funnels dotting the sand at the base of your house, just inside the drip-line of your gutter or roof? Funnels about an inch across, and so regular that they could not possibly be due to raindrop drips?

Published in Earth Matters on April 21, 2017.

Singing the bluets: Counting on a spring wildflower

By David Spector

At this time of year I count on one of my favorite spring wildflowers, the little bluet (Houstonia caerulea), for a lovely show. Depending on exact location, altitude and microclimate, anytime from early April (even late March after mild winters) to early May, I see lawns covered with a late “snow” of these flowers. A highlight of my commute is a lawn a few miles from my house that has ideal conditions for this species and is often covered with bloom before the flowers appear elsewhere.

Published in Earth Matters on April 7, 2017.

Reasons for hope on climate concerns

By Michael Dover

Like others concerned about climate change, I was disheartened by last November’s election. We now have a president who has called climate change a hoax, and his appointees to lead the Departments of Energy and Interior and the Environmental Protection Agency all have strong ties to the fossil fuel industry. The new administration appears to be moving toward more widespread fossil fuel extraction and use. The very act of collecting and reporting information on climate change may be at risk.

Published in Earth Matters on March 24, 2017.

Oddly shaped trees in our woodlands may hold a human story

By Lawrence J. Winship

In my youth, tromping through the deciduous woodlands of Ohio and Pennsylvania with family and friends, we occasionally came upon strange-looking trees. Their shapes were so contorted that we found it hard to imagine how they could have gotten that way.

Published in Earth Matters on March 10, 2017.

Winter can be a good time to start learning bird songs

By David Spector

People unfamiliar with birds are often amazed at a birdwatcher’s ability to identify individual sounds from the natural chorus of birds, frogs, grasshoppers and others.

It’s not an inborn talent, though: Anyone who can hear can learn identification by ear, and in this column I offer some tips for learning bird sounds. Each person learns differently, so, as with any advice, use what works and ignore the rest.

Published in Earth Matters on February 24, 2017.

Harlequin ladybugs: Helpful on one hand, troublemakers on the other

By Reeve Gutsell

In recent years, many New Englanders have noticed an abundance of ladybugs congregating near the walls and windows of their homes during the end of autumn and re-emerging during spring. These non-native harlequin ladybugs (Harmonia axyridis: actually a beetle, not a “bug”) are an invasive species that were introduced to North America in 1916 to control scale insects and aphids, both of which are major crop pests. Although they did successfully control aphids, harlequin ladybug populations didn’t establish in the wild until 1988, when one wild population was noticed near New Orleans. Since then, they have spread throughout much of North America, as well as into Europe, South Africa and South America.

Published in Earth Matters on February 10, 2017.
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