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.

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.

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.
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