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 comforting sight of the common nighthawk

By Ted Watt

When I was living in Boston, some evening every year in late spring, I would find myself walking across Government Center or through the North End and all of a sudden, over the roar of traffic would come these distinctive nasal calls. I would quickly glance around and then remember to look up. And there against the blue-black of gathering darkness I could see their zig-zagging silhouettes above the buildings. Their flight patterns (rapidly changing direction) and the white patches on the underside of their wings are distinctive. The common nighthawks were doing their aerial displays and feeding.

Published in Earth Matters on August 24, 2018.

The red-backed salamander: Not iconic but abundant

By David Spector

There is a bounty of animal life beneath our feet. Turn over a log in a forest for a glimpse at some of the hustle and bustle of soil creatures: Earthworms, millipedes, small insects and others feed on fresh or decaying plant matter.

Published in Earth Matters on August 10, 2018.

To burn or not to burn: Is that even a question?

By Lawrence J. Winship

For many years my wife and I have stayed warm by burning locally harvested firewood in a high-efficiency, EPA-certified airtight woodstove. Adding insulation, replacing leaky windows with low-E thermopane units, putting this stove into our inefficient fireplace — all are simple and cost-effective measures. We take pleasure and some pride in the annual rhythm and exercise of stacking and moving the wood. And we look forward to fall and winter when we gather around the warm presence of the stove, immune to power outages, independent from fossil fuel, reducing our carbon footprint. But a while back, new research concluded that biomass energy was not as carbon neutral as we had thought. Perhaps wood burning was even worse than coal! Ouch!! Were we making a mistake?

Published in Earth Matters on July 27, 2018.

Jacks, jills and joeys: A passel of ‘possums aka tick ‘hoovers’

By Reeve Gutsell

With scraggly fur, a long, rat-like tail, a pointy snout, and a large mouthful of teeth (50 to be precise), opossums are more likely to inspire fear or disgust than praise. However, this unique North American marsupial is a relatively harmless scavenger and a friend to gardeners through its consumption of snails, slugs and beetles.

Published in Earth Matters on July 13, 2018.

To solarize — or not? There are several routes to choose

By Michael Dover

In the fall of 2015, I wrote an Earth Matters column on envisioning a fossil-fuel-free Massachusetts. I cited an analysis by the nonprofit Solutions Project that projected the likely mix of renewable energy sources from wind, water and the sun that together would eliminate the need for fossil fuels in the state.

Published in Earth Matters on June 29, 2018.

Climate change: How did we get here?

By Tom Litwin For the Gazette Friday, June 15, 2018 Climate change is very much in the news, with the tumultuous politics in Washington, dramatic reports of melting ice caps and sea level rise, and growing concern about “extreme” weather events. As confirming data arrive daily, society is grappling with the complex challenges of this […]

Published in Earth Matters on June 15, 2018.

As the Earth’s air conditioners falter, extreme weather results

The change of season from winter to spring is a welcome time of year, with our ice-covered Valley landscape a distant memory. Although we routinely benefit and suffer from the attributes of ice, we pretty much take it for granted.

Published in Earth Matters on June 1, 2018.

The ‘dawn bout’: Why do the birds wake me up so early?

By David Spector

The thrill or, from some perspectives, the annoyance, of being awakened by bird song raises questions for the inquiring naturalist. What is that dawn chorus of avian voices? Why does a bird sing at dawn?

Published in Earth Matters on May 18, 2018.

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.
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