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 different kind of fall color change

By David  Spector

In New England’s late summer and fall, whole hillsides of leaves famously change color; meanwhile, another plant color change occurs on a tiny scale. Among the wildflowers now twinkling along New England roads are many species of asters. As with other plants in the daisy family, each aster “flower” is a composite of dozens of tiny flowers, called florets, of two types.

Published in Earth Matters on September 17, 2021.

Leaving a positive trace on the land

By Monya Relles

Over a long weekend in August, my parents and I met in Vermont to hike Mount Mansfield, the highest mountain in the state. The section we walked, struggled and scrambled up is a steep path, part of Vermont’s Long Trail, and the summit offers breathtaking views of the sloping Green Mountains.

The ridge is a delicate alpine zone and “Leave No Trace” principles — which focus on minimum impact while enjoying the outdoors — are posted all along the hike, beginning to end. A Green Mountain land steward at the top told me that in 2004 the mountaintop was practically bare rock. In contrast, the weekend I climbed it, it was awash with life: from petite mountain sandwort flowers to an abundance of low-bush blueberries to a pretty house finch perched near the summit. But I just couldn’t help thinking: Can’t we do even better than this?

Published in Earth Matters on September 3, 2021.

When north is not north

By Tom Litwin

It was one of those thoughts you put aside to think about later, it was so fantastic I’d lose sight of the task at hand. I was researching why magnetic north is moving away from Canada and drifting toward Siberia, increasing its speed from 6 to 31 mph during the past two decades.

Published in Earth Matters on August 23, 2021.

Are beavers to blame for flooding damage?

By Christine  Hatch

Building roads in New England poses an engineering design challenge pitting human infrastructure against rivers and beavers, now with the added factor of climate change. We have lots of roads in Massachusetts, and lots of rivers. Everywhere they cross is an interaction between the natural world, with all of its unpredictability, and our transportation networks. These interactions aren’t always easy. A recent damaging flood in Belchertown is a case in point. Some folks quickly blamed beavers, but their dams weren’t the problem. The problem is how we design our roads and manage the water that they cross.

Published in Earth Matters on August 6, 2021.

Salmon story, part 2: Squeezed out by dams

By John Sinton

Meskouamegou, the Atlantic salmon, hatched high in the Kwinitekw (Connecticut) River watershed in 1600, had come from a genetic strain that had evolved for more than 10,000 years, specifically adapted to the ecosystem of the Kwinitekw and its tributaries.  Connecticut River salmon had to have extraordinary endurance to migrate 3,000 and more miles, and had to time their spring migration early to avoid warm water and predators.

Published in Earth Matters on August 2, 2021.

A salmon’s journey, Part 1: The year 1600

By John Sinton

In the year 1600, high in the watershed of the Kwinitekw (Connecticut) River near what is now the village of Beecher Falls, Vermont, Meskouamegou (Abenaki for salmon) emerged from one of 7,000 salmon eggs laid by her mother in the gravel of a swift-running Kwinitekw tributary now named Hall’s Stream. She would become one of a handful of Atlantic salmon to survive five years of life to return and lay eggs for the next generation.

Published in Earth Matters on July 26, 2021.

Whose nature is it? Opening the door to the outdoors

By Cory Elowe

One of the ways we can all help folks to experience the natural world around them is to share knowledge widely and without agenda.

The stereotypical — and sometimes accurate — picture of the American nature lover is white, wealthy and wielding the most suitable gear. Although some are working to diversify this image, many are irked by or even downright unfriendly to users who do not necessarily fit their own demographic.

Published in Earth Matters on July 10, 2021.

Bats back from the brink — for now

By Joshua Rose

Humanity’s attitude toward bats has vastly improved. For most of our history, various cultures associated bats with evil, mischief, witchcraft, disease, death or (of course) vampires. More recently, our attention has shifted toward bats’ beneficial aspects. We also have become aware of factors endangering some bat species, and and have become motivated to conserve their populations.

Published in Earth Matters on July 5, 2021.

Conte wildlife refuge is a 30×30 example for the nation

By Kari Blood

The song “America the Beautiful” is often considered an unofficial national anthem. This tribute to the land, its people and its aspirations was originally published as a poem on July 4, 1895 by Massachusetts-born feminist and poet Katherine Lee Bates. She spoke reverently of the beauty of our landscapes, “for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain, for purple mountain majesties” and called on us to seek “brotherhood from sea to shining sea.”

Published in Earth Matters on June 15, 2021.

Hummingbirds part of intricate web of relationships

By David Spector

Many of the 349 glistening species of hummingbirds have gemological labels, with amethyst, emerald, garnet, jewel, gem, ruby, sapphire and topaz mounted in their English names. These gems are alive, the names reflecting their iridescent colors, and they provide illustration of biological principles.

Published in Earth Matters on May 28, 2021.
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