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.

Opposites Attract: The Cliché at the Center of the Universe

By Rachel Quimby

One of my favorite books from childhood is P.D. Eastman’s “Big Dog, Little Dog,” the story of two bi-pedal pooches who are best friends. But Fred is tall, and Ted is short; Fred drives slowly and Ted drives fast; Ted plays the tuba, and Fred plays the flute. One day they visit a ski resort together, and that night, discover that neither can sleep in his own bed. I won’t spoil it for you, but let’s just say it’s a compelling tale about how opposites don’t just complement each other, their differences can serve as a bond. In other words: opposites attract. And every third grader who’s used a magnet to stick artwork to a refrigerator knows it.

Published on April 5, 2024.

Living in a recycled material world: Hitchcock Center inspires a fossil free future

By Margaux Paine

As the world grapples with environmental challenges, the Fossil Free Zones initiative, championed by Leave it in the Ground Initiative (LINGO), takes inspiration from the transformative work at The Hitchcock Center for the Environment. The Center proudly holds our Fossil Free Zones badge, symbolizing its commitment to a fossil-free future. This recognition signifies that the Center does not burn oil, gas, or coal on-site and relies entirely on renewables for its energy needs. Beyond certifying the center as a Fossil Free Zone, the broader vision of LINGO’s initiative is to empower communities and institutions to follow suit, creating a network of spaces committed to fossil-free living, resilience, and environmental stewardship.

Published on March 14, 2024.

In awe of the evolution of seeds: Seeds have lives and ecosystem roles far beyond their use to humans

By Lawrence J. Winship

February in New England brings longer days, uncertain weather … and seed catalogs! We gardeners pour over highly anticipated pages of glossy photos offering the promise of gorgeous fruits and flowers, all for the small price of a seed packet. Seed companies work hard to provide reliable uniformity. Their seeds will readily germinate, rapidly and with a guaranteed percentage. Their promises will come true — plant a radish, get a radish! Many are said to be disease resistant and adapted for local conditions of soil and climate. We take for granted that the horticulturists and farmers behind the catalogs know their trade, turning out crops of seed for us each year. More and more, many of us save our own seeds; taking the responsibility for seed quality into our own hands.

Published on March 7, 2024.

Unlike any other vertebrate: Exploring the strangeness of seahorses

By David Spector

Most vertebrates — the large group of animals that includes humans — have many features in common, but some oddball groups have lost some of those characteristics. For example, snakes have lost their limbs, but they retain most of the other features typical of the larger group. Some of the strangest of these animals, having lost or altered many of the usual vertebrate characteristics, are seahorses. Seahorses are named for their horse-like head shape, one of many distinctive traits, a few of which I compare with those of other vertebrates.

Published on March 1, 2024.

A world where we aren’t at the center?

By Monya Relles

Over the summer, I read and enjoyed “An Immense World: How Animal Senses Reveal the Hidden Realms Around Us” by Ed Yong. One of Yong’s central theses is that animal senses are so different from our own that it’s almost impossible to imagine the ways animals could be thinking, feeling, and perceiving the world.Yong calls the bubble of the world that an animal can perceive (through hearing, sight, electromagnetic senses, or senses even stranger) an animal’s umwelt. That umwelt, Yong argues, is often entirely foreign to our own.

Published on February 19, 2024.

Queering the outdoors: The Venture Out Project empowers LGBTQIA2S+ people through community and adventure

By Allie Martineau

Affinity spaces for queer people are essential, to share the things we carry. To meet friends, trade craft and clothing, talk about our lives, how to find doctors and well-sewn binders, how to come out, change a tire, ask for a raise, or cook for a polycule. Ana Seiler says, “whatever you’re carrying, come to The Venture Out Project.” Queer people can solve problems of all sizes together around a bonfire — with s’mores! The Venture Out Project (TVOP) was founded in 2014 to lead a few annual backpacking trips for queer and trans people. In 2024, it’s grown into a nationally recognized nonprofit supporting LGBTQIA2S+ community building and challenge-based personal development outdoors.

Published on February 2, 2024.

Facing the ‘age of humans’: Should a new epoch, the Anthropocene, be initiated to reflect human impact on Earth?

By Tom Litwin

As I concentrated on the computer screen, the news played in the background. A story about the environment got my attention, causing me to sit back and listen more carefully. I played the piece again to be sure I heard it correctly. In summer 2023, the earth experienced the hottest temperatures in recorded history. There had been months of reporting — record heat, drought, mega-fires, floods, extreme storms — so this wasn’t breaking news. What was unsettling was United Nations Secretary-General António Manuel de Oliveira Guterres’ alarming tone: “Our planet isn’t just warming, it’s boiling. We’re in the midst of a climate collapse … Climate breakdown has begun.” Career diplomats are typically staid, measured and understated. His comments were not that; he meant to be alarming.

Published on January 26, 2024.

Blue is the rarest color: An ode to chicory, a perennial wildflower with a storied cultural history

By Katie Koerten

I’ve written in the Earth Matters column twice before about the magic of the color blue in nature. First, in “It’s not easy being blue in nature,” I wrote about how rare blue is in nature due to its relative costliness to produce. Then I described the two pigments found in bird eggs in “Cracking the mystery of how birds’ eggs are blue.” Today I want to share with you what made me fall in love with blue in the first place: chicory.

Published on September 28, 2023.

Can we adapt to increasing intensity of rain events?

By Christine Hatch

We’ve been hearing a lot about the “unprecedented” July rainstorms that have caused so much flooding and heartache for our farmers across the region. But were they really unprecedented? I don’t mean to diminish the real impacts by asking, but I want to be clear-eyed about what we’re facing. What distinguishes the effects of the climate crisis from the weather of the moment is an examination of trends over long periods of time. In order to quantify changes in our long-term climate, we look at the historical record of weather data, calculate averages and standard deviations, and decide whether the event we saw falls far outside the historical record of events or not.

Published on September 14, 2023.

How much of natural history is lost in translation?

By Meghadeepa Maity

In a past column, I wrote of “a Bengali poem that I‘ve loved forever” which references several species of wildlife and plants, and “stands out for the unsaid depth of emotion — it speaks of nostalgia, grief and homesickness.” আবার আসি ব ফি রে (“Abar Ashibo Phirey”) was written in 1934 by Jibanananda Das (he/him) and published posthumously in 1957. I’d recited the poem at a bird walk once, and after requests from several attendees, I determined that a translation was necessary.

Published on August 31, 2023.
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