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.

Earth Matters has been a project of the Hitchcock Center for the Environment for 13 years. 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.

Observing climate change without leaving home

By Tom Litwin

In Henry Thoreau’s essay “Walking,” he tells us that to preserve his health and spirits he “spend(s) four hours a day… sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields.” He writes in his journal, “I wonder that I even get five miles on my way, the walk is so crowded with events and phenomena.” For most of us, spending four hours a day naturalizing is not an option, but I take his point – we can learn about our environment by paying attention to events around us. Through observation we create a baseline for what we’ve come to expect from our environment, and what might be changing. Locally, the past 12 months have provided some telling observations. In summer 2022 it was obvious that we needed rain. Meadows turned brown, streams dried up, farmers irrigated fields, and a drought was declared. In one area of our woods smaller white pines turned brown. Were they falling victim to the drought, but why in this section of woods?

Published in Earth Matters on May 25, 2023.

Juvenile plants just not ready to bloom

By Lawrence Winship

Each spring the Connecticut River Valley is flooded with fresh colors and smells as leaves and flowers burst out of dormant buds on trees and shrubs. Green shoots push up through the last snow and over-top last year’s brown leaves, covering the ground with a new cloak of verdant shapes. Each new flower and leaf results from a distinct “choice” by the growing point of a plant to bear flowers, or to bear leaves. One or the other! Because once a growing point starts down the path of becoming a flower and ultimately a fruit, there is no going back for that particular shoot.

Published in Earth Matters on May 3, 2023.

Doin’ What Comes Natur’lly

By David Spector

This is a nature essay that is mostly about human language, word choice and the logic of argument. I describe a few of the animal behaviors that apparently help to get an individual’s genes into the next and subsequent generations. In presenting these behaviors, I attempt to use straightforward descriptive language; I also mention some words based on human culture that have been used to label those behaviors and to project them onto discussion regarding human norms. I try to make the case that the simply descriptive language of biology has fewer pitfalls than does the emotionally charged language of our human cultural discourse.

Published in Earth Matters on April 20, 2023.

Picture books can enrich kids’ outdoor experiences

By Allie Martineau

The days are longer, snow sculptureshave melted, and the seeds sleeping in the dirt are considering their next moves. Spring is here, and the outdoors of western Massachusetts are calling. There are plenty of day trips to community gardens, public parks, mountain trails and campsites. When your family sets off, pack a few picture books like those below to strengthen the experience — to add context, vibrancy or fantasy, or even to inspire art projects. In these books, you’ll find a reason to go outdoors again next weekend and get to know the flora and fauna of the Valley.

Published in Earth Matters on April 7, 2023.

Five ways to enjoy dandelions this spring

By Katie Koerten

In a few short weeks, dandelions (Taraxacum officinale) will be blooming in earnest. There’s usually one week — the last week of April or the first week of May, depending on the year — in which dandelions (from the French dent-de-lion, or “lion’s teeth,” named for their jagged, toothlike leaves) sprout up so prolifically that many lawns appear more yellow than green. Some folks consider dandelions a pesky weed and mow them down as soon as they can. Some think they are just dandy and intentionally leave them alone for their cheeriness or their benefit to pollinators. Love ’em or hate ’em, dandelions aren’t going anywhere soon… Here are five ways I’ll be enjoying dandelions with children this spring.

Published in Earth Matters on March 18, 2023.

Rewilding is letting nature take the lead

By Christine Hatch

In his book “Rewilding North America,” the late conservationist Dave Forman wrote about how in North America, rewilding began with large-scale efforts to reintroduce and restore populations of apex predators such as wolves. It included provisions for the full expanse of their range, wildlife corridors that allow for natural migration patterns, and support for the entire interconnected web that depends on these keystone predators for a healthy ecosystem.

Published in Earth Matters on March 4, 2023.

How farmlands can support wildlife, not just people

By Lee Halasz and Kari Blood

This winter has been one of the warmest on record in Massachusetts, and around the nation, extreme weather events are in the headlines on a regular basis. Scientists agree that our rapidly warming planet is now feeling the effects of the climate crisis. However, climate change is not the only crisis our planet faces. For decades, scientists and conservation groups have also been raising the alarm about the “biodiversity crisis,” in which wildlife populations are plummeting. Fortunately, one solution to addressing these challenges may lie in a surprising place: the farmlands that help define the landscape of the Connecticut River Valley.

Published in Earth Matters on February 24, 2023.

Bird joy as resistance in a troubled world

By Meghadeepa Maity

When I look at the news, I’m far more likely to see a Black victim of police brutality than to see a Black birder like Dexter Patterson (a.k.a. The Wisco Birder) singing and laughing in the woods. Today’s mainstream media have shown a necessary, heightened presence of minorities, but it’s a far cry from the kind of visibility we need. The disabled, queer/trans folks, BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and other people of color), immigrants and the poor are so often and so exclusively represented in our suffering, that after the latest targeted mass shooting has gone off air, we can just cease to exist in the public memory. We deserve to be recognized and amplified in our everyday joy, dignity and successes, rather than only in light of a catastrophe.

Published in Earth Matters on February 2, 2023.

Mistletoe: It’s not just about kissing

By Joshua Rose

’Tis the season of mistletoe, sort of. Mistletoe is evergreen, meaning it’s present year-round. However, winter is the season when we think about mistletoe most often. In the southeastern U.S., where I am writing this piece, mistletoe is hidden among the leaves for three seasons. Right now, though, with other leaves long since fallen, the clumps of still-green mistletoe stand out. This seasonal increase in visibility may have helped mistletoe become one of the iconic symbols of Christmas, dating back to at least the 1700s.

Published in Earth Matters on January 24, 2023.

Gay penguins, mutual aid and the myth of survival of the fittest

By Monya Relles

Have you heard about gay penguins? You may remember Ray and Silo, the gay penguins of the Central Park Zoo of 2004, proud parents of their own adopted chick. Since then, there have been dozens of gay penguins in zoos, in news articles, and even on TV’s “Parks and Recreation.” Gay penguins often spark the question of whether or not homosexuality is “natural” in the animal world. Yes: From gay penguins, to lesbian lizards, to fish who can change their sex in response to their environment, queerness is an integral part of the animal world and nature doesn’t care for the human-constructed boxes of male, female, straight or gay.

Published in Earth Matters on January 5, 2023.
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