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.

The secret of the well-equipped naturalist

By David Spector

How might  you equip yourself for an expedition to observe nature? The answers vary with where you’re going, the targeted aspects of nature, how long you expect to be outside, your level of interest and expertise, the time of year, etc. Here are some of my answers for day trips in western Massachusetts.

Published in Earth Matters on July 11, 2020.

‘Murder hornet’ hysteria takes toll on beneficial bees

By Joshua Rose

The headlines started in March, from media nationwide. From CNN: “Invasive ‘Murder Hornet’ spotted in United States.” From The Associated Press: “‘Murder Hornets,’ with sting that can kill, land in US.” Here’s The New York Times: “‘Murder Hornets’ in the US: The Rush to Stop the Asian Giant Hornet.” Even in our own Gazette, a recent letter to the editor was headlined “Beware of the ‘murder hornet.’”

Published in Earth Matters on June 27, 2020.

Sustainability must be a global goal

By Michael Dover

I recently reread a short essay by the late Donella Meadows from 1992 called “What does sustainability mean?” It’s still relevant, pointing the way to what we as a planetary culture need to think about and do. Meadows was a brilliant analyst of global ecological, social and economic systems, and a principal author of a breakthrough report, “The Limits of Growth,” in 1972. She taught at Dartmouth College until her death in 2001, and was equally at home writing for a technical audience and for the public, publishing a regular column, “The Global Citizen,” in her local paper, including her essay on sustainability. Back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the idea of sustainability had a pretty decent pedigree. Meadows quotes the World Commission on Environment and Development 1987 report, defining a sustainable society as one that “meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

Published in Earth Matters on June 13, 2020.

The evolution of a pollinator gardener

By Ted Watt

I love to grow stuff. I’ve been gardening since elementary school. When I grew my first sweet corn in fifth grade, I was so amazed when I went to the garden one day and the corn plants were taller than I was! Since then, I’ve learned a lot about how to keep plants healthy and happy, and have experimented with a wide range of species. In the process, I’ve had successes and a great many failures. With all the recent talk of planting for pollinators, I’ve lately been adopting a perspective in addition to my long interest in promoting diversity.

Published in Earth Matters on June 9, 2020.

How pigeons found their niche alongside us

By David Spector

A story: Many thousands of years ago a bird species nested on cliff ledges from central Asia, across north Africa, to parts of Europe. This bird fed on grassland seeds, often many miles from the cliffs, and could find its way over long distances between feeding grounds and nests. Its population was probably limited by availability of cliffs within reasonable commuting distance of seed-producing open country.

Published in Earth Matters on May 9, 2020.

Will we heed viral lesson from ‘broken’ tulips?

by Lawrence J. Winship

Hundreds of years ago, the flowering bulb markets of Holland were overcome by tulip mania. Buyers bid up highly desired varieties to astronomical prices, paying enormous sums for rarity and flamboyance. Fortunes were made and lost. One of the most sought-after varieties was the Semper Augustus, with striking streaks of white in its red petals — strange, magnificent, and deadly to other tulips.

Published in Earth Matters on April 25, 2020.

Earthworms aren’t the soil heroes you imagine

By John Stinton

Most of us have a rosy image of the earthworm, that aerator of soil without whom our gardens would grievously suffer. Our myths suggest that worms turn infertile soil into fertile compost, fluffy loam. In fact, the opposite is true: The worms are in rich soil because that’s where the compost is. Earthworms eat the nutrients in the compost; they don’t enrich it. Worms eat almost everything in the soil — fungi, invertebrate life, leaves, twigs, algae, moss and microscopic life. In passing soil through their gut from one end to the other, they throw out castings that mark their paths.

Published in Earth Matters on April 21, 2020.

Wildlife shedding winter strategies, waking up to spring

By Tom Litwin

As our days get longer and warmer, the wildlife of our fields and woodlands are shaking off the challenges of our New England winters. Not too long ago, nighttime lasted a seemingly interminable 14 hours, with freezing temperatures lasting for days. Ice covered ponds and streams; snow and “wintry mixes” sealed off the ground and animals in their burrows below. The solutions wildlife use for surviving the life-threatening demands of winter are wonderfully diverse and are shaped by two branches on the evolutionary tree: Are they warm- or cold-blooded? Warm-blooded animals generate their own body heat by converting food and body fat to energy. Cold-blooded animals take on the ambient temperature that surrounds them, including freezing temperatures.

Published in Earth Matters on March 21, 2020.

Outside opportunity: Reconnecting people of color to nature

By Kari Blood

Kestrel Land Trust recently produced a video designed to inspire people to conserve and care for forests and farms in the Pioneer Valley. In sunlit outdoor scenes, we see teen girls laughing together at the Mount Holyoke summit, a farmer walking his fields, and an older woman with her husband enjoying the picturesque Fort River Trail at the Conte Refuge from her wheelchair. These images resonated with hundreds of the land trust’s followers on Facebook and Instagram. Yet a question from one supporter stood out: Why doesn’t this video reflect more ethnic diversity? Three young Latina girls are in the video, happily scrambling on the rocks at the summit of the Mount Holyoke Range, but all of the other faces are white.

Published in Earth Matters on March 14, 2020.

Hunting groundwater in a frozen bog

By Christine Hatch

I love the winter landscape. It’s stark, quiet, and reduced to its essence. And fieldwork in winter makes a scientist feel hearty and tough, like an explorer; discovering a known landscape anew. I recently had a chance to experience this as part of a project to restore a natural wetland at the site of a retired cranberry bog. Our job was to map groundwater seepage by measuring surface temperatures throughout the bog. This particular field expedition had to be conducted under very specific conditions that are hard to come by, and this was our third year trying. Ideal conditions for this work are the coldest and clearest of winter days, with no wind or precipitation, and no snow on the ground. We found our window in the first week of February, and headed to a retired cranberry farm in Plymouth in search of groundwater.

Published in Earth Matters on March 7, 2020.
Older Posts »

Recent posts


Translate »
Hitchcock Center for the Environment