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.

Little brown bats in the barn

By Mary Harrington

They have been coming every summer for as long as I can remember — probably even longer than we have lived in the neighborhood. I’ve never paid much attention to them. Sometimes I noted with appreciation their war against mosquitos, waged near our back patio. Other times I was annoyed by the debris that built up under their home. But in general, we lived near each other and didn’t get involved.

Published in Earth Matters on August 17, 2019.

A natural case of apparent conflict of interest

By David Spector

If you sit on a city park bench you’re likely to see birds, especially house sparrows. This species, native to Europe and Asia, was first introduced into North America in 1851 and is now common where farms or cities provide both grain on the ground and nest holes. As such, it provides easy observation opportunities. In breeding season you may observe a common behavior — one sparrow feeding another — that raises interesting evolutionary questions.

Published in Earth Matters on August 3, 2019.

Of beech bark, bumps and bears

By Lawrence J. Winship July 19, 2019 The smooth silvery gray bark of beech trees seems to call out, “Write on me!” Or at least those with handy pocket knives may think so (not a good or polite idea, by the way). Some of the thinnest bark of our New England trees, not fire-adapted like […]

Published in Earth Matters on July 19, 2019.

A box for birds: Nesting American kestrels

By Reeve Gutsell For the Gazette

I peered through my binoculars at a large wooden nest box. It was perched atop a tall pole in the middle of a grassy field between the Hitchcock Center and the Hampshire College Farm. I was hoping to spy the rusty brown body or sharp black and white facial markings of the nation’s smallest falcon, the American kestrel.

Published in Earth Matters on June 28, 2019.

How the English colonists transformed the forests of the Pioneer Valley

By John Sinton

In 1600, the 125,000 Native people who lived in New England had reached a dynamic equilibrium with their forested landscape through thousands of years of manipulation and accommodation. (I described this relationship in Part 1 of this series, published in March.) Then their world fell apart. 

Published in Earth Matters on June 14, 2019.

Mission to a vanishing sea-ice landscape, part 3: When your garden melts

By Tom Litwin

After two weeks at sea aboard the U.S. Coast Guard ice breaker Healy examining the effects of climate change on the Bering Sea ecosystem in 2008, I was helicoptered to the Siberian Yupik village of Gambell on St. Lawrence Island. Gambell, or Sivuqaq in Yupik, population 700, is on the very northwest tip of the island at the entrance to the Bering Strait and just a short 36 miles from Russia. I went to Gambell to learn how local traditional knowledge was being used to gauge the impact of climate change on the villagers’ daily lives and future. Gambell is dependent on the Bering Sea and its ice to provide food for their families and the village community. Their relationship with the Bering Sea is the bedrock of their culture and fundamental to their survival and well-being.

Published in Earth Matters on May 31, 2019.

Irruptions: Think birds, not volcanoes

By Joshua Rose

“Irruption” doesn’t sound like an enjoyable event. It sounds like a natural disaster, or perhaps a health problem. But for birders this term describes something that we anticipate eagerly, sometimes waiting years for one.

Published in Earth Matters on May 17, 2019.

Science on skis

By Christine Hatch

Scientific fieldwork can be exciting, rewarding and great fun. It can also be a tough slog and include colossal mistakes. Often it’s all of the above, and more, as it was with this adventure.

Published in Earth Matters on May 3, 2019.

Land conservation is part of the climate change solution​​​​​

By Kari Blood

When the first Earth Day was celebrated on April 22, 1970, what brought people into the streets were pollution of the air, water and land, and loss of wildlife. Earth Day was a reaction to massive oil spills, factories and power plants darkening the skies with toxic smoke, and waterways so polluted they could catch on fire. Back then, only a handful of scientists were talking about how the earth’s climate might be changing, and common use of the term “global warming” was still years away.  Today, as we observe Earth Day almost 50 years later, we can thank those early activists for the federal Clean Air and Clean Water Acts, the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the Endangered Species Act and other legislation. While there’s still much to be done to stop pollution and protect wildlife, another issue has taken center stage, and it is the most serious planetary challenge we have ever faced: global climate change.

Published in Earth Matters on April 19, 2019.

The case for unstructured nature play

By Katie Koerten

Recently the Hitchcock Center hosted an eye-opening talk called “Balanced and Barefoot” by Angela Hanscom, author of a recent book by the same name. Hanscom is a pediatric occupational therapist whose work with children led her to create a popular international outdoor play program called Timbernook.Throughout her career, Hanscom made troubling observations in her work at schools, hospitals and outpatient clinics. She noticed that children had decreased strength and balance, poor attention and increased fidgeting. Kids in the 2000s had a fraction of the physical abilities of children thirty years earlier. At the same time, they were spending less and less time outdoors, as school recess times were shortened and more time was spent indoors, often sedentary. Hanscom connected the two trends and saw the solution: giving more opportunities for kids to play outdoors in unrestricted, unstructured ways.

Published in Earth Matters on April 5, 2019.
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