The Ripple: River Seasons

Stream Songs

Rivers, as flowing water, can be soothing to the ear, or overpowering with noise, depending on the river’s bed or soundscape. Protruding rocks may be the only visible evidence of what creates the sounds a river or stream makes as water tumbles over and around boulders and pebbles. Sounds of water have long been equated with well-being and are soothing to the human spirit; with recordings, practically anyone can listen to a river or stream and imagine the water flowing right outside one’s window. City plaza fountains around the world add to the well being of city dwellers and draw people to their sounds, providing a gathering place for relaxation and socializing.

As water levels often drop this time of year, during the summer, the sounds of moving water may become softened and even silent, to be restored by rain storms. Even slight waterfalls offer a murmur of sound if enough water flows past the stones. The sounds of flowing water in the mountains have been known to save people’s lives, leading them to safety, or at the least providing them with life-sustaining water. Even in winter, the muted voice of a stream can be heard flowing under the ice, and seldom here in New England does a stream freeze entirely.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Ripple: White Noise

White Noise

Rivers flow through our lives both metaphorically and realistically – sources of drinking water, energy and transportation, but also as symbols of life “flowing like a river.” Rivers have been dammed, turned into lakes, or redirected into irrigation channels, among other human uses for them. We, as a species, tend to take them for granted, using them as a way to rid ourselves of our waste – out of sight, out of mind – with little regard for the other animals and plants which live within their banks.

If our lives do indeed flow like a river, we owe it to the source of the metaphor to respect and honor these bodies of water for their importance in our lives and the myriad of species which depend on rivers for sustenance. Just the sounds of a river, or stream, can elicit a sense of well-being, of calm in the frenzied state of modern human life. Spend time without electronic devices, and sit next to a river taking in the birdsongs, the water’s movement, the splash of fish and other creatures, and you, too, will feel the connection between humans and water. The sounds of water are often recorded as “white noise” to block out the cacophony of sounds and thoughts flooding our minds when we desire sleep, and nothing can surpass the calming sounds of flowing water in the moment.  Read the rest of this entry »

Six Community Organizations that Support Learning on the River

Six Community-Based Resources Support Learning on the River

Our river ecosystems are about more than just water – they about thousands of species of plants and animals, fascinating natural history, and the connections between humans and their surroundings. By utilizing resources made available by a handful of local community-based organizations and events, families can learn about and connect with our local landscape.

The Westfield and Connecticut River are ecosystems made up of beautiful landscapes and filled with fascinating natural history, home to a great many creatures of all shapes and sizes. By utilizing resources offered by community organizations and plugging into local networks, families can access the many community-based learning opportunities that our local habitat affords us. From species identification to Native American culture, the our rivers are filled with opportunities to engage in community-based education… Read the rest of this entry »

The Ripple: Takers of the Wild and Free

Takers of the Wild and Free

“Where Does the Dance Begin, Where Does It End?” by Mary Oliver is one of the poems to which I aspire to align my perspective on the world.

We are not the movers and shakers of the earth, for that would be far too appraising of how we have laid claim to a home that was never rightfully ours; rather, we are the Takers of all things wild and free and the Leavers* of a world whose light dims a little more each day.

With all of our advancements, we have not progressed to the point of living in ways that will allow us to continue to inhabit the earth. We are simply atoms that are arranged to form beings capable of comprehending arrangements of atoms, and we have not yet mastered the art of awareness – or so we pretend.

Read the rest of this entry »

Suggested Events for January 28 – February 3, 2017

Hilltown Families List of Weekly Suggested Events

“[Last year] was the first year my three year old participated in the Valentine’s Day swap & we had a blast making and receiving our cards in the mail. This site truly enhances what western Massachusetts is all about community and our great state!” – Summer Mikaitis (Pittsfield, MA)

Suggest EventIf you have a community event, educational program or service opportunity for youth/families happening in Western Massachusetts that you’d like to let us know about, self-post your event at any time on our Suggest An Event bulletin board. The events below are “suggested.” Please take the time to confirm that these events are happening, along with time, place, age appropriateness, and costs before attending.

Enhanced PublicityServing Western Massachusetts since 2005, Hilltown Families supports development and enhancement of our local economy and community. Local businesses, individuals, schools and non-profits are encouraged to partner with Hilltown Families through sponsorship and advertising. Let us help get the word out about your after-school/homeschool class, event, camp, workshop, fundraiser, business/school, service, open house, volunteer opportunity or general announcement. Deliver your message to thousands of families living throughout the four counties of Western MA while supporting the community development work of Hilltown Families! Click HERE to find out more.

Hilltown Families Events

It’s that time of the year again for the Hilltown Families Annual Handmade Valentine Swap! For the past nine years Hilltown Families has coordinated a community Handmade Valentine Swap — and we’re doing it again! Making handmade valentines is a great way to push against the commercialization of yet another holiday, while being creative with your family and friends. JOIN US! It’s free to sign up and open to all families in western Massachusetts! Last year our community generated over 1,550 handmade valentines! Let’s do it again! Deadline to sign-up is Wed. Feb 1st!

Saturday, February 4, from 10am-12noon at Flywheel Arts Collective, Hilltown Families and the Flywheel Arts Collective are continuing the Saturday Morning Music Party series with a breakfast bash featuring food, dancing, and diversions for kids! During a free breakfast of fresh pancakes, juice, and fruit, you can craft handmade Valentines with the Easthampton Parents Center. Then we’ll enjoy special guests, DandyLions Garden, a musical act for kids and inner children alike. We’ll round out the morning with DJ Youthelectronix for the “best ever dance party before noon!” This is a fundraiser for both Flywheel & Hilltown Families, with a “pay what you can” admission to attend with your family. For more information, email info@hilltownfamilies.org.

Bulletin Board

Open House:Jan 28

The Common School: Community, collaboration, creativity, social justice, inclusivity, environmental education – Come learn how these words are put into action at their winter Open House on Saturday, January 28, from 10am-12noon in Amherst. Play in their classrooms, meet their teachers, chat with current parents, and tour their beautiful campus situated amongst 140 acres of conservation land on Larch Hill in Amherst. Light refreshments provided. Questions? Contact Director of Admissions, Dana Kadish at outreach@commonschool.org or visit www.commonschool.org.

Open House: Jan 29

Cloverdale Cooperative Preschool invites new parents to an Open House on Sunday, January 29th, from 2:30-4pm. Cloverdale is located in back of the First Congregational Church on 130 Pine Street in Florence and is a half-day preschool with the option of STEAM focused extended day hours. Come find out about their new expanded hours starting next fall while spending time playing with your children in their engaging learning environment. Meet the teachers and some parents who will answer your questions about their program. For more information, visit www.cloverdalepreschool.com or call 413-586-1106 after 12:30pm.

Open House: Jan 29

Sunday, January 29th: Open House from 2-3:30pm at Smith College Center for Early Childhood Education (Fort Hill). Visit welcoming classroom environments, chat with teachers, and find out more about the Reggio Emilia-inspired curriculum. Providing engaging, intentional early experiences that support children in becoming lifelong learners, joyful investigators, and thoughtful citizens of the world. Fort Hill has dedicated visual arts and music teachers and studios, an emphasis on natural materials, and classroom experiences that nurture joy, curiosity, deep thinking, and imagination. Consider joining the Fort Hill family! Actively accepting applications for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers for 2017-2018. Contact forthill@smith.edu for information.

Open House: Feb 4

The Campus School at Smith College. Prospective kindergarten through grade 6 students and their parents are invited to an open house on Saturday, February 4, from 9:30am-11:30 am at the school on Prospect Street. Tour the school. Meet teachers, staff, and parents. For more information, contact the admission office at 413-585-3270 or visit their website, www.smith.edu/sccs.

Open House: Feb 5

Sunday, Feb. 5th: The Center School Admissions Open House, 2pm-4pm. The Center School is a preschool through 8th grade progressive school, serving Hampshire and Franklin counties. Prospective families are invited to explore the school on Sunday, Feb. 5th for a Birds-of-Prey themed Admissions Open House. Come early to enjoy a live Birds of Prey presentation with raptor rehabilitator Tom Ricardi from 1pm-2pm. Then, classrooms will be open and teachers will be offer bird-related activities for kids of all ages. Light refreshments will be available. The Center School has been offering rigorous education for deep thinkers and creative spirits for 35 years and is currently accepting applications for all ages, for fall of 2017. centerschool.net

Feb 20-24

Looking for something fun and creative for your kids during the February break? Check out Valley Performance Playground’s February Vacation Camp with Sarah Marcus and Felicia Sloin! This 1-week camp runs Monday, February 20 – Friday, February 24 from 9am-3pm and will feature theater games, singing, drumming, movement, and fun times with creative friends for students ages 7-11. Valley Performance Playground’s February Vacation Camp takes place at the Northampton Karate Studio, 320 Riverside Drive, in Florence. Cost: $250. Registration Deadline Feb 1. For more information, email sarahlaurenmarcus@gmail.com or visit online at www.facebook.com/valleyperformanceplayground.

ADVERTISE HERE: Reach thousands of families in Western MA while supporting the community development work of Hilltown Families! See your summer camp, class, community event, school, open house, audition, homeschool program, workshop, volunteer opportunity, wellness program, local business, after-school class, or non-profit featured here in the Bulletin Board section of our list of Weekly Suggested Events and in our weekly eNewsletter, reaching thousands of families living throughout the four counties of Western MA while supporting the community development work of Hilltown Families! Find out more about our advertising options and how you can partner with Hilltown Families in your online marketing by emailing us at info@hilltownfamilies.org.

Become a Contributing WriterJOIN OUR TEAM OF CONTRIBUTING WRITERS: Interested in becoming a Contributing or Guest Writer for Hilltown Families? We welcome writings that reflect the community-building and educational efforts parents, teens, teachers, artists, activists and community leaders work towards and accomplish, and how that affects, supports and empowers our families. All writing styles welcomed, including local reviews, DIY posts, seasonal cooking/local food, and community-based educational & community service learning opportunities/resources. Send your query to info@hilltownfamilies.org.


LIST OF WEEKLY SUGGESTED EVENTS
January 28 – February 3, 2017

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Suggest an EventCultural Itineraries | Forecast | Museum Passes | Weekly eNewsletter | Farmers’ Markets | Storyhour & Playgroups| Berkshire Family Fun | Advertise/Sponsorship | en Español

Donate Now Read the rest of this entry »

The Ripple: The River Knows the Way

Following Water

Part of our local Deerfield River watershed in Western MA

Part of our local Deerfield River watershed in Western MA

Teachers often repeat the same lesson; in fact, they have to because, in the act of renewing civilization, they carry the past into the present and hand it off to the future.

One thing I find myself teaching again and again is: “It is impossible to get lost in the woods—all you have to do to find your way is follow the water.”

Follow the water and you’ll never be lost. That maxim has a zen-ish, new-agey ring to it, even a poetry. But it is based on the hard physical fact that all places on the terrestrial earth are composed of watersheds. Read the rest of this entry »

The Ripple: The Importance of Ice

The Ripple: Take Me To the River

Older and Stronger than Mountains and Sky: The Long Body

Let me take you to the river. I want to show you something miraculous—something that lives there that has been alive longer than the sky or the mountains. The reason I want to show you this is to make you feel good. Knowing that the life we live right now is connected to all the lives around us should make you feel good, I think. (We are not alone!) Knowing that the life we live right now is older than the sky and the mountains, well, I think that might make you feel even better. (What power we carry with us that we barely even recognize because, like the breath we just breathed, we take it for granted!) Let’s go, get out of here and down to the river!

William Cullen Bryant, the great North American nature poet, wrote:

The nature within us is constantly dependent on the nature which is without us, and needs every moment to be cherished, solicited, assisted, and impelled by it.”

He was sensitive to what the Iroquois called the “long body“:

“The sensory and muscular systems are properties of the familiar or “small” body. A person also has “long body” that can perceive and affect conatively significant objects that are out of reach of the small body. The long body is an Iroquois term that refers to the tribal body, and embraces living members of the tribe, as well as ancestors, tribal lands and objects. Families, tribes, corporations, churches and other groups, are long bodies that are composed of the long bodies of their members.”

What a different view of ourselves this is! We are not just individually-packaged, brandable, marketable, identity-products! We are part of the long body—our faces handed down from ancestors farther back than genealogies fathom, our features shared by our kin, our bodies filled with water that fell from the sky and drained through the soils. Our selves are less the unique existential objects we are conditioned to perceive them to be, than they are the matrix of myriad biophysical entities and forces. Without place, there’s no face. What Bryant was sensitive to, and understood, is: everything outside of us is us.

I realize that this fact (that we have a long body) seems ridiculous—but let me suggest the ridiculousness is proof of its miraculousness. We are much more than we have ever been taught.

It was Bryant’s sensitivity to his environment that informed him of his long body, not scientific research. What so wonderful is that we are able to be as sensitive he was to what is actually happening around and to us, what is actually giving us life and making us who we are. Life is the miracle making everything happen, whether it is our own, our children’s, even the neighbor’s dog that barks all the time. Keeping that sensitivity sensitive, and moving it to the forefront of consciousness and into the daily humdrumeries, takes practice; it needs to be encouraged and shared; and it needs to be employed to inform our actions, personal, social, political and economic.

So that is why we are now at the river! Time to sense the life larger than ours, and cultivate sensitivity to it.

Let us first look at the massive river-sculptured stones at the Chesterfield Gorge, Shelburne Falls or Rock Dam. These beautiful places might seem like they have been like this since the beginning of time, but they haven’t been. You are far older than they are! Wherever we live in the valley or the hills, everything we see around us that is not made by humans—mountains, rivers, valleys—are the result of the actions of the Laurentian Ice Sheet that melted only 12,000 years ago. Our ancestors migrated from northeastern Africa 50-60,000 years ago—and they are not dead; we are them; they are us. By virtue of our long body, we are more than 4 times older than these places! And we can eat ice cream!

The sculptured ledges and boulders were whittled by the rushing torrents spewed by melting glaciers, and there were people here then; hunting the same caribou that followed the melting ice and now live in the shrinking Arctic Circle. Think of them when you see Sugarloaf Mountain in South Deerfield, because it was one of their favorite places—like it is ours, today!

iron_bacteria_burnThe sculptured stones of our rivers are ancient, anywhere from 400 to 200 million years old—but they are younger than what I have brought down by the riverside to to see: Gallionella ferruginea, the bacteria that makes rust colored plumes near riverbanks by metabolizing iron dissolved in the water. As it metabolizes the iron it affixes oxygen molecules, which oxidizes the iron and turns it orange.

Gallionella is an aerobic (“air-breathing”) bacteria works with an anaerobic (“non-air-breathing”) relative that metabolizes dead leaves inside the riverbank, and “poops” out soluble iron. The iron is carried by flowing subterranean water into the river, where Gallionella metabolizes it, producing rust colored plumes. The anaerobic bacteria’s action of “biological iron apportionment has been described as one of the most ancient forms of microbial metabolism on Earth, and as a conceivable extraterrestrial metabolism on other iron-mineral-rich planets such as Mars.”

From now on, when you see the rust colored plumes in streams and rivers, pause and cultivate sensitivity—you’re in the presence of creatures whose family is older than any place on earth you’ve been, any mountain you’ve ever walked on or even seen pictures of. And then consider that you have as many bacteria on and in you than you have of your own cells! And that our immune systems are significantly constituted by symbiotic bacteria like Lactoacidophilus; which proves we share our long body with them. And photosynthesis—the metabolism of solar radiation by chlorophyll—was first accomplished by bacteria 2.3 billion years ago; and these bacteria created our atmosphere.

The blue sky is a child of the most ancient and primitive lifeforms on earth that generously exhaled it, giving us a place where we can have a face. And that is why I brought you here to the river. I wanted you to meet iron bacteria and cultivate a sensitivity for the life of the long body, older and stronger than the rocks and the sky—and as immediate as we are.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kurt Heidinger, Ph.D. is the Executive Director of Biocitizen, non-profit school of field environmental philosophy, based in the Western MA Hilltown of Westhampton, MA where he lives with his family. Biocitizen gives participants an opportunity to “think outside” and cultivate a joyous and empowering biocultural awareness of where we live and who we are. Check out Kurt’s monthly column, The Ripple, here on Hilltown Families on the 4th Monday of every month to hear his stories about rivers in our region. Make the world of rivers bigger than the world of pavement inside of you!

The Ripple: A Vision of Our Future

River People: A Vision of Our Future

From the Hudson of New York, the Thames of London, the Tiber of Rome, the Nile of Cairo and the Ganges of Varanasi, all the great old cities of the world are sited next to the rivers that gave them food, water, and a port. These cities, slowly flooding as the icecaps melt, are where the essence of the cultures we identify as Eastern and Western distilled themselves, on the riparian edge between forest and brackish (or fresh) water. Imagine the long course of evolution that took our species out of the trees of Northeastern Africa, led us on the great tribal migrations that dispersed us across the globe, and left us to settle on the banks of these rivers. Imagine, also, how this riparian habitat provided the nourishment and stimulation, and gave us the slow swirls of time and leisure that became the centers from which our cultures emerged. Even if we live high in the mountains, out on the plains, or in Las Vegas, we are river people. Read the rest of this entry »

The Ripple: Lessons of Drought

The Lessons of Drought

In the one hundred and twenty years that flow records have been kept for the Westfield River, never has it been as low as it is today. Drought is a phenomena we are going to experience more now and in the future because our climate is warming. How we learn about and deal with this planetary change will mean everything: the success or failure of our own species’ evolution-by-natural-selection depends on learning lessons that are taught only by our biome, which is to say by the great life our own is nested in.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Ripple: The Language of Rivers

When Rivers Talk, They Speak River, Not English

Last summer a great non-profit that spends all its time and resources trying to keep our rivers and streams healthy, the Massachusetts Rivers Alliance (MRA), put out a short and illuminating educational video called “If Rivers Could Talk.” It features scientists, activists and recreationalists from around the state sharing their tales of how they love their rivers, and what they are doing to care for them.

The field environmental philosophy school I run, Biocitizen, was asked by MRA to participate in this educational project, in part because of the “citizen science” Rapid Biotic Assessments we do with Hilltown Families every year in the late Summer, and in part because we are always using the Westfield River as an outdoor classroom. It was an honor and joy to express our love for the Westfield, which is one of cleanest and wildest rivers in southern New England.  Read the rest of this entry »

The Ripple: Streamcrawling

Streamcrawling

When I started writing this column in 2011, I did so hoping to inspire readers to “make the world of rivers bigger than the world of pavement inside of you!” Rivers are all around us, but they don’t form as much a part of ourselves as roads do. Close your eyes again: can you see a river? How far can you follow it? Does it lead anywhere?

If we close our eyes, we can see roads. Try it yourself— for just a moment, close your eyes and visualize the way to Northampton, Pittsfield, Greenfield or Springfield from your front door. It’s not hard to see mental images of roads, is it? They just appear because they are engraved into our neural systems.

We carry the “environment” inside ourselves. The “environment” is part mental construction, part everything else.

This truth is self-evident, but—after studying the ways we comprehend and fit into the designs of nature for over thirty years—I have yet to read much, or participate in many discussions, about it. True: the concept of “nature deficit disorder” has gained currency, which is good; but, the larger issue of getting more than individuals over the disorder—and getting vast populations over it—can’t even be imagined yet. Individuals can take a long hike every couple of days, or garden, and get over it. But how do the people of NYC, or any other urban inhabitation on earth, get over it? Do these populations even want to get over it? Is there a candidate for public office anywhere running on a platform of ensuring that all citizens get over nature-deficit disorder? Is getting over it “good for the economy?” Can it be considered a “market-based solution?” Is there anyway that Wall St. investors can “financialize” the process, or corporations turn it into a product, or universities turn it into a hot new major? Read the rest of this entry »

The Ripple: The River Knows the Way

Sustainability: the River Knows the Way

Biology tells us that water is life. Religion tells us that life is sacred. Biology does not want to admit that life is sacred (because that would not be “objective,” but it would not exist without water.  Think of any biologist and name one not totally dependent upon water for life. Einstein’s brain was 75% water, and so are ours. Think of how you are reading this now—to some actual extent, water is reading this too. As a hard science, biology is a means for water to get to know itself—for water is life and life/bios is what biology studies.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Ripple: Synchronization of the Watershed Flora & Fauna

A River Is Always In Synch

Like tiny submariners bursting up and out of the bottom of the brook, breaking into wings and soaring for a short time above the world they once knew, the stoneflies are here, molting from crab-shells they lived in. On the back of my neck, computer keyboard, every boulder around me: they multiply, skitter all directions, avoiding the rushing water they recently called home. The frenzy begins.  Read the rest of this entry »

The Ripple: Life in the Riparian Zone

The Life Riparian

“Land is not merely soil; it is a fountain of energy flowing through a circuit of soils, plants, and animals.” – Aldo Leopold

Riparian is a strange sounding word that denotes “river bank”: the meeting point of river and land. We enter the “riparian zone” when we get close to a river. It is a place we want to be, because it brims with exuberant sounds and smells, and because it often harbors wild plant populations that flower and fruit, attracting pollinators and all sorts of other hungry creatures. In fact, when I think “riparian” I think of food. The riparian zone is where the food is, and where the food is, life is. It is possible to trace this living landform from where it almost touches the sky all the way down to the sea.

A few weeks ago, two miles high in the Chilean Andes with my friends at Superfun, I became dangerously dehydrated. Careful to avoid water that might have bad bacteria in it, I found what I thought was a perfect source. Beneath a melting ice field I filled my canteen and drank until I gasped in pain. So cold, the water sang in my skull; so pure it tasted like breath. For half an hour I sat on a rock, loving the fact that this straight-from-the-glacier water was as perfect as water can be. The purest of the pure, cleanest of the clean, the supreme goal of bottled water drinkers achieved. Woo!

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The Ripple: Rivers Near and Far

In Chile

Rivers are everywhere, and one of the joys of paying attention to them is—if you let them, they bring you places far from what you have left behind. Sometimes that new space, that new place to wander, is exactly what is needed, for there the unexpected can find you, and in finding you, can awaken you to the multiplicity (and miracles) of worlds there are on our small, living planet. In this post, I am taking you to a river new to me, far from those who are my friends and teachers in Western Massachusetts… Read the rest of this entry »

The Ripple: Carrying the Ocean Inside

We Carry the Ocean Inside Us

A few days ago, when the East Branch of the Westfield River was shrouded in warm drizzly fog, it occurred to me that I was in a giant breathing lung. Every breath I inhaled was as wet as what I exhaled. My exposed skin was wet, too, with mist, and the tips of the wool threads of the sweater I wore held glistening beads of water that matched the droplets hanging from delicate branch tips.

Amphibians must feel this way, I reckoned, but even more so—for, unlike us warm-bloods, they breathe through their skins. I’ve walked with kids who reprimand other kids for picking up newts and frogs, because our skin oils clog the breath-pores of their cool, moist lung-bodies. That’s sensitivity, the kind that makes me hopeful. Whom ever is teaching these kids deserves a high five!

Way way back in time, about 390-360 million years ago, fish with gills and lungs crawled out of the water and onto land. It is hard to grasp such a length of time—or is it? Most of the colorful rocks that comprise the Westfield’s riverbed are about that old. Our lungs, the breath we’re breathing this very instant, can be traced back to these miraculous walking fish. Gills extract oxygen directly from water; somehow they managed to reverse the engineering of their gills, and created within them a sort of mini ocean, an inner sea, where atmospheric oxygen could be turned into sea-water: and that sea-water is our blood. Our lungs are 90% water, and our blood 80%. Somehow, the walking fishes brought the ocean onto land, by keeping it inside of themselves. And—think of the taste of sweat when it drips onto the tongue—that is exactly what we do today.  Read the rest of this entry »

River Teachers as Green Heroes

A Great River Teacher: Greenfield’s Karl Meyer

When it comes to learning about the rivers of Western MA, we are our own best teachers; for, the surest (and perhaps only) way to understand rivers is to be with them: to visit them often, walk their edges, get to know the creatures who call them home, meditate on their floodings and dryings and flow patterns. Swim in them. Float on them. Let them take you, calm you, connect you. In our world so many things are mixed up and frustrated; a few hours with a river reminds us that our world is not the only world; rivers teach us that water embraces whatever is before it, and there is no obstruction that can’t be flowed over and beyond.  Read the rest of this entry »

The Ripple: Ancient River Friends

Freshwater Sponges: A Most Ancient and Wonderful River Friend

Of all the river beings who remind us of the unity of our highlands and our beaches, the most startling is the lime-green freshwater sponge that you sometimes encounter downstream of swamps and beaver dams. I am always blown away when we meet each other around here, not only because they are most venerable of the multi-celled river beings, but also because you’ll find that they are not documented as living around here yet!

The leaves are falling again, and soon enough we’ll view without obstruction the muscular bodies of our hills and valleys.

I think of geology when I see our biome bared: the thermochemical transformations that over eons have given us our sandy happy valleys and smooth rounded granite ridges.

400 million years ago our mountains were the first and tallest in what is now North America; 200 million years ago the subterranean lava leaks that are now Mt Holyoke and Mt Tom were spluttering; 90 million years ago the Atlantic Ocean formed, splitting North America off from what is now Europe and Africa; and very recently, only 13,000 years ago, the Laurentian Ice Sheet crushed the mountains into boulders and pebbles, then melted and those waterfalls and rivers spewed the grits out into the ocean, where they formed Long Island and Cape Cod. Yes—the sands of P-town come from here, where we live!  Read the rest of this entry »

The Ripple: Late Summer Adventure Connects to Place

Get Thee to Rock Dam

The Connecticut River is the Mississippi River of southern New England: from the border of Canada to the Long Island Sound, 400 miles long, slowish, wide and sandy. It is a lazy looking, yet muscular, river. From Brattleboro to Holyoke, there are few fast, rocky sections for kayakers to be challenged by, and most paddlers just drift along, feeling the serene strength of the patient roiling waters.

One of these rocky stretches is Rock Dam perhaps the most beautiful and wildlife rich section of the Connecticut River in Western Massachusetts, and it is accessible to hikers who are ready to wade a little bit.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Ripple: A Philosophical Exercise of Eradicating Invasive Species Along Our River Edges

Cutting Knotweed

Cutting knotweed is a philosophical exercise, because doing it makes you a cultivator of the wild. Wherever the knotweed takes over, creatures starve. It provides no food to native species, except to pollinators when it briefly flowers. By eradicating it, we increase biodiversity, and the amount of food there is to feed our wild creatures.

Every summer I bring students into our woods, and wade in our rivers, so they can learn biocultural history and experience deep biotic immersion. Over the years, we have become very aware of the character and health of our biome; by visiting the same places, we register how they have changed—and they always change. One of the most striking changes we have encountered is the blanketing over of our favorite river spots by Japanese Knotweed, a bamboo-like plant.

Two years ago, we began to reclaim some the beaches we love on a nationally-registered Wild and Scenic river (the East Branch of the Westfield river) because they’d disappeared under impenetrable groves of the stuff. We had nowhere even to put down our packs and eat lunch. Until we got squeezed out by this pernicious plant, we thought there was some entity that would come and take of the problem; but after a few years, we realized there was nothing stopping knotweed from choking the entire river corridor. Action was required.

Cutting knotweed is always good thing to do. At the river spot you love, chop it down and let it dry out on shore. It will come back out of the root, so hit it again until it’s finally surrendered. Be sure not to spread the root, because that’s its primary means of colonization.  Read the rest of this entry »

Citizen Scientist Wanted for National Moth Week

Explore Night Time Nature
During National Moth Week
July 18-26, 2015

Did you know that there are over 11,000 moth species in the United States alone?  More than just an evening version of butterflies, moths provide necessary biodiversity to ecosystems all over the world!

National Moth Week will take place this year from July 18-26, and provides an opportunity for families to learn about and help to document the many different moths found in their surroundings!  There are Moth Week events planned nationwide, but the most exciting part of the celebration is the opportunity to help contribute to scientific research on moth species and populations.

Moth Week supports numerous organizations in their research efforts, and families are encouraged to contribute accurate data of any type that they collect.  By searching for moths, families can learn about the many different species who live in the environment surrounding them, as well as the role that the moths play within the local ecosystem.  For more information on how to submit data and ways to search for and identify moths, visit nationalmothweek.org.

The Lepidopterists’ Society can provide K-12 students, teachers and parents resources on butterflies and moth awareness either in the classroom to enhance your educational curriculum, or for your own personal interest and enjoyment.  Check out their projects at www.lepsoc.org.

Learning Along the Watershed: Rivers, Wetlands & Bogs

Learning through the Lens of Habitat: Watersheds in Western MA

Our natural landscapes come to life in the summer months, offering families numerous opportunities to learn about local plant and animals species and a variety of habitats found in our region. These community-based resources are available everywhere, from the parks in our cities to rural countryside. While the months are warm, look for ways to engage in your community in meaningful ways while supporting nature-based interests and education.

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When thinking about the flora and fauna found in our local habitat, consider how these environments support them and how they are all connected with one another.  In western Massachusetts we have a variety of natural surroundings we can examine, including rivers, wetlands and bog, and how they support insects, birds and plants.  Check out these community events that utilized our local habitats and species to support learning, along with points of entry to community engagement that include intergenerational adventures, citizen science and community service… Read the rest of this entry »

The Ripple: Living Patterns of Watersheds

Thinking Like a Watershed

In the same way all the tiny veins at a leaf’s edge connect to the midrib and then the leaf stem and then the branch and tree trunk and roots, so do our upland streams and brooks flow down into our rivers that empty into our oceans.

Make this summer the summer you discover (if you haven’t yet) the Westfield River watershed.

A watershed is—imagine—a giant bathtub, where the high sides of the tub are defined by ridgelines; and when the shower is on (rain), all the water is contained in the tub shape, flows to the bottom (river), and exits through the same drain.

A better way to imagine what a watershed is: it is a leaf-shaped geography. Read the rest of this entry »

The Ripple: Respecting the Lifeblood That Are Rivers

No Substitute for Health, Our Own and Our Rivers’

Last month, I wrote about how our native trout survive, miniaturized, in the plunge pools of our chilly mountain brooks, while in the main courses of our rivers, big fat factory-raised trout are set loose by the Department of Energy and Environmental Affairs so folks who want to catch big fat native trout out in the wild can pretend. They have to pretend because, as game fish go, factory-trout are listless and lack the vital energy and intelligence of the native trout who actually live and breed here. Read the rest of this entry »

The Ripple: Cheering on our Native Trout!

Native Trout vs. Finned-Zombies: the Essential Difference

More than ever our rivers—and other river-lovers—need us. The Massachusetts Department of Ecological Restoration has published a list & calendar of river-helping opportunities. This local offering is a perfect way for those of us who want to do something, to do it!

Purples, reds and greens thrown high like hard candies, caught by each branch tip that shakes in the soft warming breeze;
our winter dun hills flare up in their pointillist fervors, a rolling canvas of vivacious colors that blend and bleed and swarm ‘til we can’t see the ridgelines or hollows;
hawks and falcons and eagles circle above our busy ant movements in parking lots, farm fields and backyards;
sweet tulips burst and bend over, taking their bows:
the snow melts and sugarings are suddenly memories;
and amorous fish arrive from far out at sea, crowding the rumbling spillways of Holyoke Dam, hoping to catch a ride on a world-famous elevator, so they may have babies upriver where their parents once did.

Read the rest of this entry »

Hilltown Families on Mass Appeal: Vernal Pools

Hilltown Families on Mass Appeal: March Segment
Vernal Pools: Natural Habitats & Local Species as Community Resources

Hilltown Families and Mass Appeal (a weekday, hour-long lifestyle program on NBC) have teamed up to offer a live monthly segment on WWLP 22News!  Each month, Hilltown Families’ Founder & Executive Director, Sienna Wildfield,  joins Mass Appeal hosts, Ashley Kohl and Seth Stutman, to talk about ways to engage in your community while supporting the interests and education of your children (and yourselves!).

This monthly segment continued on Thursday, March 26, 2015, highlighting how local habitats and native species can be used as a catalyst for learning. Through the lens of Vernal Pools and the animals that depend on them for survival, Sienna shares three methods of engagement as a way to support interests and education via Vernal Pools:


Vernal Pools: Methods of Engagement that Support Community-Based Learning

When looking for community-based resources that support learning via the lens of vernal pools, consider nature center, conservation organizations and your local library.

Phenology-based activities coincide with the natural changing of our seasons (our ultimate accessible community-based educational resource) and are great catalysts for learning through community engagement. Maple syrup season, filled with delicious community activities and opportunities, is our most recent seasonal activity here in Western MA.  But can you name other seasonal events coming our way as winter transitions into spring? The one we want to highlight this month is Vernal Pools!

As the seasons transition and habitats and animals respond to the change in weather and climate, Vernal Pools begin to emerge and come to life based on the timing of this change and the relationship plants and animals have with their environment! Taking advantage of these changes and getting out into your community to participate in nature-based learning activities will support the development of skills and integrated learning in a wide variety of subjects.

Methods of engagement as they relate to Vernal Pools can include nature-based learning, service-based learning and citizen scientist, and the embedded learning families can extracted from these engagement opportunities can range from ecology to natural history, entomology to zoology, scientific process to art!

The following methods of engagement and events highlight these community-based resources and the embedded learning you can extract from participation: Read the rest of this entry »

The Ripple: The Living Land Wants to Play

Our Bodies of Water

The land is an organism, wrote Aldo Leopold, the Yale-trained game management specialist, about seventy-five years ago. An organism is alive, and its life is made up of the contributions of disparate organs, each of which would be lifeless without the collaborations of all the others.

The idea—actually fact—that land is an organism is, of course, an ancient one, as venerable as our anthropomorphic figure of “mother earth.” Leopold’s work, especially his classic book A Sand County Almanac, reveals how he struggled through his education in empirical science to prove something that we, as a species, have felt and known for eons. If Plato was correct, and knowledge is remembering something we have forgotten, then Leopold stands as a vibrant example of a knowledgeable person. His experience of translating the wisdom of our ancient ancestors into the lexicon of science is one that anybody who loves and tries to protect land knows well. Read the rest of this entry »

The Ripple: Getting Beyond the Dam

Life Will Return to Our Rivers!

The challenge we (who value these nonhuman lives) face is to turn the immense powers we have to obstruct life into powers that liberate it.

Sweet as maple syrup, the thaw is coming.

Sea lamprey, shad, herring, alewives, eels, sturgeon and the last of the salmon: all are sensing it, as they swim far offshore in the (comparatively) warm ocean. Exactly how they sense the return of Spring remains unknown, even to the brightest marine biologist; but our lack of comprehension, alone, will not prevent their return. Our dams will.

Every dam we remove increases the chances that our native anadromous fish—and all the other creatures (birds, mammals, amphibians, reptiles) that feed upon them—will thrive. For this reason, I long ago joined the Connecticut River Watershed Council, which has a laudable record of success in removing the obstructions that block fish passage.  Read the rest of this entry »

The Ripple: Listen to the Story of the River

The Importance of Escaping to the River

Be adventurous and skirt the edge, but do be careful; use snowshoes, stay clear of ice jams, and have a friend close by if you can’t resist walking in spots that clogged with frozen floes.

A walk alongside one or our rivers is a walk with a companion, even when alone. Cares of the world will ping pong and even hornet in the head ‘til settled by rushing water. Give a river a chance, when one’s thoughts have quieted down: listen—it tells a story, and like every really good story, it draws us out of our heads and into another.

Asked how I began to love rivers so much, I recall how as a lad I’d scoot to the flow whenever things stagnated, or became too crazed, in a house with three brothers. No matter the boredom or conflict I escaped from, the river—Silvermine river it is—settled the ping pongs in my head by providing fresh and loud sensations, and endless opportunities for adventure. Rafting down it in cold April floods, in cheap inflatable pool rafts that punctured instantly (unless steered by experienced skippers), introduced me to hyperthermia, blue lips and the need to pack hot chocolate in thermos.’ (We wore cotton back then, and I remember shivering for hours like a wet cat on an iceberg. The experience toughened me up, and made me realize that dressing correctly makes all the difference between teeth gritting and laughing when on the adventure. To this day, I dress so I when sleep in snowdrifts, I purr.) Read the rest of this entry »

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