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.

“Big Night” for salamanders

By Ted Watt

It has happened every year since the glaciers melted and forests returned to New England. And it will happen again this year, from now to mid-April in our area.When the snow is largely melted in the woods and it starts to rain during the day, keep your eye on the temperature. If the rain continues and it remains above 40 degrees as darkness descends, it’s Big Night for the Pioneer Valley’s spotted salamanders.

Published in Earth Matters on March 22, 2019.

Forest history of the Pioneer Valley

By John Sinton For the GazetteM

A great, thick-waisted rock maple, maybe 150 years old, marks the corner of our property, healthy and with plenty of room inside for squirrels and other creatures. I think of it as ageless, even though it’s only twice as old as I am. Our maple, in fact, is a metronome that marks the tempo of change in the forests of the Pioneer Valley. We live not in the temperate, multi-millennial redwood forests of the West Coast, but in the Eastern Woodlands, which fire, hurricanes, high winds, insects and disease transform every few hundred years. Our forests are a mix of trees that can live anywhere from thirty to several hundred years.

Published in Earth Matters on March 11, 2019.

How do we build and live in toxin-free buildings?

By Jessica Schultz

The modern environmental movement began with Rachel Carson’s book “Silent Spring,” about widespread contamination of land and water by DDT and other long-lasting pesticides. Developed in the 1940s, these chemicals went into wide use after World War II. But evidence mounted that they persisted in the environment and accumulated in animal and human tissue; as a result, DDT and most related pesticides have been phased out in the U.S. and elsewhere.However, another class of toxic compounds that were developed around the same time — perfluorinated alkylated substances (PFAS), with some of the same environmental and health concerns — continue to be used in a host of consumer products and building materials. They are now found in the bodies of virtually all humans and are considered to be ubiquitous throughout the web of life.When we think about what materials to incorporate into the construction of the places where we live and work, do we really want to use any product containing toxic, persistent chemicals?

Published in Earth Matters, Living Building Project on February 22, 2019.

Oaks in the Valley: Diverse species supporting diverse ecosystems

By Ted Watt

When I think of oaks, images of statuesque trees arise — standing alone in a pasture or reaching strongly for the sun in a deciduous forest. I’m sure many of us carry similar pictures either from here in New England or from almost any other place on the continent. Botanists classify oaks in their own genus — Quercus, the ancient Roman name for oak.

Published in Earth Matters on February 8, 2019.

Snowflakes with wings

By David Spector

Snowflakes here have an extra meaning: “Snowflake” is an old name for the bird that’s better known today as the snow bunting, one that we can see this time of year. This bird moves south for the winter from its arctic nesting range to relatively warm and sunny regions, including here in New England.

Published in Earth Matters on January 28, 2019.

“snow puzzles”

By Lawrence J. Winship

As we move deeper into winter, once again it becomes evident that living at 42 degrees north latitude has one certain consequence: We trade the bright long days of summer for the short, dark days of winter. Lower sun angles, later dawns and earlier sunsets are all caused by the tilt of our planet’s axis away from the sun. We spin at an angle of 23.5 degrees relative to our orbital plane around old Sol. Facing towards the light and then away in a perpetual annual cycle, we don’t turn our backs completely on the sun, as they do above the Arctic Circle — but it does get pretty dim! Season in and season out, Earth continuously radiates heat energy back to the cosmos, so the reduced solar input in winter throws our soils, forests and lakes into negative heat energy balance and they freeze — water like a stone.

Published in Earth Matters on January 11, 2019.

Rain, rain, go away: Local farmers wrangle with a difficult season

By Reeve Gutsell

Farming is hard. Ask any local farmer, and they’ll tell you the same thing: From wrangling with the vagaries of weather to struggling with pests and diseases, farming is hard on the body, the mind and the finances. Unfortunately, climate change is making life even more challenging.

Published in Earth Matters on December 31, 2018.

Mission to a vanishing sea-ice landscape, Part 2: Ecosystem

By TOM LITWIN For the Gazette  December 14, 2018     Editor’s note: This is the second of a two-part series. Part 1 was published on December 1.   Three days out of Dutch Harbor, the U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker Healy was coming into position about 75 miles off the southwest coast of St. Lawrence […]

Published in Earth Matters on December 18, 2018.

Earth Matters: Mission to a vanishing sea-ice landscape, Part 1: Icebreaking

By TOM LITWIN For the Gazette  December 3, 2018 Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part series. Part 2 will be published on December 15. Ten years ago, I was part of a team of international scientists lined up along the railing of the 420-foot U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker Healy as we prepared […]

Published in Earth Matters on December 3, 2018.

Don’t drain the swamp!

By Christine Hatch

I’m offended. I hereby register my formal and public complaint regarding using “drain the swamp,” to refer to removing excess, unusable or undesirable from politics in general and Washington D.C. in particular. While the latter may be a worthy activity — now more than ever, for the good of the swamp and clean air and water for every other living creature — in our physical, natural world, please don’t drain that swamp! Your life might depend on it! Here’s why.

Published in Earth Matters on November 19, 2018.
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