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.

Irruptions: Think birds, not volcanoes

By Joshua Rose

“Irruption” doesn’t sound like an enjoyable event. It sounds like a natural disaster, or perhaps a health problem. But for birders this term describes something that we anticipate eagerly, sometimes waiting years for one.

Published in Earth Matters on May 17, 2019.

Science on skis

By Christine Hatch

Scientific fieldwork can be exciting, rewarding and great fun. It can also be a tough slog and include colossal mistakes. Often it’s all of the above, and more, as it was with this adventure.

Published in Earth Matters on May 3, 2019.

Land conservation is part of the climate change solution​​​​​

By Kari Blood

When the first Earth Day was celebrated on April 22, 1970, what brought people into the streets were pollution of the air, water and land, and loss of wildlife. Earth Day was a reaction to massive oil spills, factories and power plants darkening the skies with toxic smoke, and waterways so polluted they could catch on fire. Back then, only a handful of scientists were talking about how the earth’s climate might be changing, and common use of the term “global warming” was still years away.  Today, as we observe Earth Day almost 50 years later, we can thank those early activists for the federal Clean Air and Clean Water Acts, the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the Endangered Species Act and other legislation. While there’s still much to be done to stop pollution and protect wildlife, another issue has taken center stage, and it is the most serious planetary challenge we have ever faced: global climate change.

Published in Earth Matters on April 19, 2019.

The case for unstructured nature play

By Katie Koerten

Recently the Hitchcock Center hosted an eye-opening talk called “Balanced and Barefoot” by Angela Hanscom, author of a recent book by the same name. Hanscom is a pediatric occupational therapist whose work with children led her to create a popular international outdoor play program called Timbernook.Throughout her career, Hanscom made troubling observations in her work at schools, hospitals and outpatient clinics. She noticed that children had decreased strength and balance, poor attention and increased fidgeting. Kids in the 2000s had a fraction of the physical abilities of children thirty years earlier. At the same time, they were spending less and less time outdoors, as school recess times were shortened and more time was spent indoors, often sedentary. Hanscom connected the two trends and saw the solution: giving more opportunities for kids to play outdoors in unrestricted, unstructured ways.

Published in Earth Matters on April 5, 2019.

“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.
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