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.

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.

The magic of the woods, and the need to preserve them

By Kari Blood For the Gazette Friday, November 02, 2018 When I was a child growing up in upstate New York, there was magic all around me. I found that magic in The Woods, as we reverently called them, that surrounded our neighborhood. I could wander out through my own backyard to the footpath leading […]

Published in Earth Matters on November 2, 2018.

Sharing nature on Instagram

By Katie Koerten

I’m about as cynical about social media as anyone. I spend too many hours of my life on the Internet and I feel icky about it. Any benefits I get — seeing what faraway friends are up to, learning about events I might be interested in, reading interesting and important articles — are usually offset by the disappointment at the wasted time. Yet every now and then, social media can be a source of joy, and sometimes even does what it set out to do: connect people.

Published in Earth Matters on October 22, 2018.

Stalking a seldom seen dragonfly

By Joshua Stewart Rose

Seven years ago, I attended the annual meeting of the Dragonfly Society of the Americas — a mixed group of researchers, naturalists, and other dragonfly enthusiasts — in Delaware. There we heard that tiger spiketails (Cordulegaster erronea) were breeding in the northwestern corner of that state. Spiketails are large, distinctive dragonflies, black with bright yellow stripes and green eyes. Their namesake spike is an ovipositor, which the female jabs into stream beds in a sewing-machine-like motion to lay eggs. Many of us detoured on our way home to see them. This was the only time I had ever seen the species, which had never been recorded in Massachusetts — yet.

Published in Earth Matters on October 5, 2018.

Following the footsteps of great naturalists in Northampton

By John Sinton For the Gazette

I spent an absorbing three hours in some woods, fields and wetlands at Hospital Hill (now called Village Hill) in Northampton earlier this year. Take it from an old codger — if you’re ever offered the chance to accompany three skilled professional naturalists on a species hunt, jump at it! You’ll see whole worlds in clumps of weeds and grand surprises along the trails.

Published in Earth Matters on September 21, 2018.

What color is your praying mantis?

By Patrick O’Roark

You may have noticed some large, charismatic insect friends hanging out in tall grasses or low bushes lately, or perhaps absorbing the warmth of the sun on the side of a building.

Late summer and early fall is prime time for seeing praying mantises. The adults have finished mating and the females are out and about laying their egg cases, known as oothecae. As winter approaches, the adults will die and their oothecae will be left behind to overwinter, awaiting the warmth and moisture that comes with spring. At that point the conditions will be right and eggs will hatch. Somewhere around 100 to 200 nymphs will emerge from the ootheca, and this next generation will disperse amongst the grasses and shrubs that will be their home for the next several months.

Published in Earth Matters on September 10, 2018.

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.
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