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.

Learning to be good stewards of our forestland

By Ted Watt

My partner, Dave, and I are fortunate: We own just under 200 contiguous acres of forest in the hilltowns of western Franklin County. As we explore the land, we’re coming to love it — large white pines on the west slope, stunted black oaks on the ridge, bobcat tracks on top of the higher outcrops, and a couple of small, ecologically rich pockets of wildflowers. We have a lot of deer — two years ago, we found extensive pawing through the first snows in December as they foraged for buried acorns. We’ve visited some seriously roughed-up red pines that the black bears regularly use for signal trees. As we come to know this land better, we also wrestle with what it means to be stewards of forested land these days. We want to do the right thing.

Published in Earth Matters on January 4, 2020.

A fern that climbs into the Ivy League

By David Spector

The word “fern” comes from the same root as “feather,” but not all ferns have feathery fronds. One of our local ferns could easily be mistaken for an ivy. The well-named American climbing fern is an evergreen fern with small hand-like “leaflets” (the technical term is “pinnules”). The leaves of this fern climb and wrap themselves around other plants, a habit that makes them resemble ivies and other vines of flowering plants.

Published in Earth Matters on December 30, 2019.

Can trees help us with climate change?

By Lawrence J. Winship  For the Gazette December 8, 2019 This past summer, driving back from a family wedding in Montana, I saw thousands of rail cars headed east, fully loaded with Wyoming coal. One particular scene sticks in my mind. An enormous train thundered along beside the interstate highway in front of a wind […]

Published in Earth Matters on December 8, 2019.

The Return of the Woodlands: A story of natives and invasives

By John Sinton

I began this series on environmental transformations in the Pioneer Valley in March, describing the land and its peoples before the English arrived in the mid-1600s and the effects of the influx of people, plants and animals that followed. In the second part, I left our readers at the height of deforestation around 1850. The few remaining great trees grew in inaccessible spots, the rest cut for potash, buildings, fences, heating and sundry other uses. The construction of railroads beginning in the mid-1840s placed further demand on forest resources. Williamsburg woodlands accounted for 11 percent of its land cover in 1841 but only 8 percent in 1860; Northampton’s forest cover was 25 percent in 1840 and 11 percent in 1860. Hold in your mind the image of bare, deeply eroded hillsides and limitless views.

Published in Earth Matters on November 23, 2019.

A bird’s eye view of landscape ecology

By Tom Litwin

The jet rolled down Bradley’s runway, gaining speed until it reached about 170 mph and lift off. The thud of the wheels being contracted confirmed we were gaining altitude. From my window seat, I watched the landscape unfold below. Hartford’s tall concrete buildings and dense network of roads were quickly left behind as the plane turned north. Below were the Connecticut River, agricultural fields, suburban neighborhoods, parks and woodlands, and commercial and industrial centers that created a patchwork of shapes, colors and textures. The patchwork ebbed and flowed as we approached and passed over Springfield and Northampton. As the jet tracked to the northeast we crossed the mountains and dense, unbroken forests of Vermont and New Hampshire. Within minutes the coast of Maine, with its hundreds of islands, appeared. Our bird’s eye view of the New England landscape ended as we reached the Canadian Maritimes, turning east to begin the journey across the vast North Atlantic.

Published in Earth Matters on November 9, 2019.

A stream in the niche of time


There’s a tiny creek tucked into the Santa Lucia Mountains, in central coastal California. The valleys below burst with green lettuce and strawberries almost all year round, because the mild climate and rock-free soil favor agriculture. Rainfall is concentrated in a single season centered around the winter months from October to April, and during the rest of the year, farmers must rely on water stored behind dams in the mountains or, more commonly, groundwater. But in most years much more groundwater is pumped out of the underground aquifers than is recharged from rain. Drought years are even worse. It was here that we went looking for fish.

Published in Earth Matters on October 30, 2019.

Want to save the Earth? Start at home with a land trust

By Kristin DeBoer

Looking back at last month’s youth-led Global Climate Strikes, and my own family’s growing concern for this planet we call home, I find myself thinking about what “home” means and where we can really make a difference. When the climate and politics of the entire world seem overwhelming, it may seem insignificant to focus on the health of where we live. But perhaps acting at home is the most hopeful thing we can do. And that can begin with the land.

Published in Earth Matters on October 12, 2019.

A living, breathing yard with native plants

By Katie Koerten

After years of dabbling in gardening, I still don’t consider myself a gardener. I don’t have a lot of free time to devote to weeding and landscape design; I’ve never had a lot of extra money for big garden projects, and I’m not attentive enough to remember to water. But I do love plants, and I’m making my outdoor space a place where bees, songbirds, hummingbirds, caterpillars, butterflies and other creatures can thrive. Gardening can be less work if you choose native plants, and those are the best ones to plant to bring lots of life to your yard.

Published in Earth Matters on September 28, 2019.

Like a moth to a flame

By JOSHUA ROSE For the Gazette

We’ve all seen moths swirling around a light on a warm night, so familiar that we have the saying, “like a moth to a flame.” That sight is less common than it used to be. In many places, insects of all kinds are less common: populations are impacted by habitat destruction, lawn chemicals, traffic, exotic species and climate change. Also, individual lights become less attractive to insects as light pollution weakens their visibility.

Published in Earth Matters on September 13, 2019.

What ‘men’s work’ has to do with preserving the planet

By Michael Dover

In the past few years, we’ve seen many twists and turns of emotion around gender. Recently there has been an inspiring surge of women stepping forward to assert their dignity and rights, alongside continuing revelations of toxic masculinity in the corridors of power. Simultaneously, the growing environmental justice movement is highlighting the importance of hearing the voices of marginalized groups in matters of the earth and how we live on it. Men have a key role to play in this process as well.

Published in Earth Matters on August 31, 2019.
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