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.

Hope, joy and the climate crisis

By Monya Relles For the Gazette January 21, 2022 At a meeting of the Western Massachusetts Youth Climate Summit team last summer, Clover Hogan, executive director of the group Force of Nature, gave a talk about climate activist burnout. In the ensuing conversation, youth activists told Hogan they felt depressed, anxious, and helpless in the face […]

Published in Earth Matters on January 21, 2022.

Changing car culture for a livable planet

By Tom Litwin

Time can pass slowly while waiting for the light to change at Northampton’s very busy King Street/Bridge Street/Damon Road intersection. Cars and trucks are stopping and going, turning left and right, from all four compass points. An ambulance’s siren puts the whole intersection on alert. A train passing through the Damon Road crossing has me looking at my watch. Sitting at this intersection, I marvel at how our lives, culture, economy and the automobile are so enmeshed.

Published in Earth Matters on January 7, 2022.

Relishing the unexpected in field research

By Christine Hatch

In early December of 2009, my colleagues and I had spent the day in a high tiny headwater stream in Great Basin National Park listening to elk bugling all around us while we did our work. That evening, at dinner in Baker, Nevada, we heard the hunters at the bar complaining, “I didn’t see a single elk all day long!” Elk season opened that day, and all the animals were inside the safe boundaries of the national park. Nature knows things. Learning to listen to nature’s unexpected wisdom has fueled my passion for science.

Published in Earth Matters on December 25, 2021.

Saw-whet owls: Tiny, fascinating and overlooked

By Chris Volonte

Moving through New England in a wave each fall is a petite predator that might be one of the most frequently overlooked birds in Massachusetts. Measuring 8 inches long and weighing less than two tennis balls, northern saw-whet owls breed in southern Canada and the northern U.S., and at high elevations such as the Appalachians. They have large gnomelike heads, big eyes, soft feathers and a tendency to sit tamely when a person is near. They’re nocturnal, inconspicuous and — if you’re lucky enough to see one up close — impossibly cute.

Published in Earth Matters on December 14, 2021.

It’s not easy being blue in nature

By Katie Koerten

I’m a really big fan of color. When people ask me what my favorite color is, I explain, “Well, I have different categories of favorite colors.” The kids in my nature programs nod in understanding. You see, favorite things are important to kids, and you have to be specific when you’re talking about them. For example, my favorite color in the nature category? Blue.

Published in Earth Matters on November 26, 2021.

A tale of introduced species

By Joshua Rose

This year, Massachusetts saw two species of insects arrive unbidden. One of them has been the subject of great attention, with warnings in advance, newspaper headlines about its arrival, and alerts from the state government. The other snuck in under the radar, barely noticed except by obsessive naturalists. One is a potential menace that could cause millions of dollars’ worth of damage; the other is potentially beneficial, including eating the first. One is native to the U.S., historically occurring south of New Jersey; the other had never been seen on this continent before 2014, previously found no closer to here than Japan. One feature that they share is that both can thank humanity for letting them reach Massachusetts.

Published in Earth Matters on November 14, 2021.

‘Saving Us’: A cry for hope on climate

By Michael Dover

In 1965, President Lyndon Johnson’s Science Advisory Panel reported to him on the risks posed by rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, which Johnson included in an address to Congress. Decades later, the U.S. still lacks a comprehensive climate policy and strategy. The country is arguably more polarized than it was during the Vietnam War, and climate action is caught up in that divide. Given this history, anyone could be forgiven for giving up hope. But climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe of Texas Tech University sees the world differently. Born in 1972 — seven years after Johnson’s speech — and raised as an evangelical Christian, Hayhoe is the epitome of hope. Don’t call it optimism — she’s as realistic as they come when she tells us what’s in store if we don’t act to curb greenhouse gas emissions — but both her faith and her experience in talking to a wide diversity of people give her hope that humanity can meet this challenge.

Published in Earth Matters on October 29, 2021.

Plogging for the planet: Swedish pastime combines jogging with collecting litter, waste

By Kelsey Wentling

Recently, on a jog along the Mill River in Northampton, I ran by three bags of dog poop neatly lined up on a log and arranged in a rainbow sequence: green, blue, purple. The sight was almost beautiful, had it not been for the plastic and animal waste waiting to be ferried into one of Northampton’s most precious ecological resources just feet away. It bothered me— it really bothered me.

Published in Earth Matters on October 15, 2021.

Could rock dust be a tool for climate survival?

By Lawrence J. Winship

Weather disasters, dire predictions from climate modelers and polarizing language from politicians continue to fuel concerns about our global carbon footprint, as well they should. The linkage between increased levels of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere and increased global temperature and weather instability is obvious and well accepted by science. Burning of fossil fuels in the 1960s contributed 3.1 billion tonnes (metric tons; a tonne is equal to 2,200 pounds) of carbon annually; we now add more than three times that much each year. Although U.S. carbon emissions may have recently leveled off — mainly due to a switch from coal to natural gas — emissions from China and India are growing exponentially.

Published in Earth Matters on October 1, 2021.

A different kind of fall color change

By David  Spector

In New England’s late summer and fall, whole hillsides of leaves famously change color; meanwhile, another plant color change occurs on a tiny scale. Among the wildflowers now twinkling along New England roads are many species of asters. As with other plants in the daisy family, each aster “flower” is a composite of dozens of tiny flowers, called florets, of two types.

Published in Earth Matters on September 17, 2021.
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