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.

Invading the meadowlands of the Connecticut Valley

By John Sinton

While researching the natural history of our Valley on a spring day some years ago, I happened to be complaining about that noxious invasive, Japanese knotweed, to my dear late friend Elizabeth Farnsworth, who told me that I could not write about invasive plants without writing about natives as well. This led to an argument about what the first invasives were after Colonial settlement and whether one could imagine a purely native vegetative state (pun intended).

Published in Earth Matters on May 4, 2018.

Amherst’s salamander tunnels, 30 years on

By Ted Watt For the Gazette

Spotted salamanders are iconic for many people. Shiny, black and yellow, 7- to 9-inch long amphibians, they live underground for 11 months of the year as top predators of the soil community. Mating and laying eggs in vernal pools, they then return to the forest soils, sometimes crossing roads in the process. How can we help these animals when they cross roads to get to and from their breeding pools? How can we assist them into an uncertain future? This is where salamander migration tunnels fit in.

Published in Earth Matters on April 23, 2018.

The ghost in the woods has something to say

By Lawrence J. Winship

For a short few days in the early spring, ghostly clouds of delicate flowers dance briefly among the leafless trees in our local hardwood forests. Look carefully and you’ll find that these clouds are scattered individuals of a small understory tree called shadbush, so named because it fruits in June when the shad return to our rivers.

Published in Earth Matters on April 6, 2018.

An odd bird with a spectacular spring courtship ritual

By David Spector For the Gazette

Take a toy football, coat it with glue, then roll it in dead leaves. At one end attach a narrow wooden dowel and two large black buttons. The result: a model timberdoodle, or American woodcock.

Published in Earth Matters on March 23, 2018.

How to get the birds to pick the feeder in your yard

By Joshua Rose For the Gazette

For many of us, our most intimate interaction with birds is through feeding them. At our feeders, we can witness the comings and goings of migration, vivid breeding plumage molting into low-key winter colors, new fledglings learning to fly and feed themselves, even death.

Published in Earth Matters on March 9, 2018.

Garter snakes emerge for their grand coming-out party in March and April

By Patrick O’Roark

In nature there are many signs that spring is approaching. Beautiful sights (such as blossoming wildflowers) and sounds (like the increasing variety of bird songs) fill us with happy anticipation of the warmer weather and longer days to come. But nature’s signs of spring aren’t limited to the traditionally beautiful. The creeping, crawling and slithering creatures of the forests and fields are also responding to the warmer temperatures and longer days. Common garter snakes (Thamnophis sirtalis) will soon be emerging en masse from their winter refuges in a remarkable annual spring event.

Published in Earth Matters on February 23, 2018.

Kids learn inventiveness by inventing

By Katie Koerten

Recently I’ve been doing engineering and design workshops with third-graders. At the Hitchcock Center for the Environment, w e’re known for our educational programs about nature and sustainability. But all of us Hitchcock Center educators are also doing programs on engineering and design; it is curriculum that fosters confident, innovative thinking — crucial to tackling the problems facing the natural world.

Published in Earth Matters on February 9, 2018.

Hurricane Irene: It wasn’t the wind, it was the water

By Christine Hatch For the Gazette

“What are you going to do about the wall of water coming down the river?” The call still rings in the ears of Deerfield Select Board Chair Carolyn Ness. The sun was already shining, the storm had passed, people were out in kayaks — and yet a 30-foot-high wall of water, the accumulation of rain from all of the upstream watersheds, was on its way downriver.

Published in Earth Matters on January 26, 2018.

Red crossbills, an enigma of variations

By David Spector For the Gazette January 13, 2018 An evolutionary conundrum may soon appear in your nearest stand of spruce trees. This winter, red crossbills, among the most puzzling birds in North America, are moving south and east of their usual haunts. As it does every few years, this species is likely to appear, […]

Published in Earth Matters on January 13, 2018.

Thick is the new thin: Keeping ourselves warm outdoors in winter

By Ted Watt For the Gazette

How do I, as a naturalist spending a lot of time outdoors year-round, keep warm on cold winter days? I take some cues from animals that stay active in the fields and forests around us.

Published in Earth Matters on December 29, 2017.
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