April 27, 2015 at 11:00 am (Contributing Writer, Ecology, Kurt Heidinger)
Tags: Ecology, Hilltowns, Massachusetts, Nature, outdoors, overstocking our rivers, Pioneer Valley, River Walking, river-life, Rivers, rivers and streams, trout fishing, western massachusetts
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 »
March 29, 2015 at 3:00 pm (Art, Citizen Scientist, Community Based Education, Ecology, Hilltown Families, Mass Appeal, Nature Based Education, Science, Suggested Activity, Volunteer Opportunity)
Tags: 22News, 22News Mass Appeal, Community Based Education, Mass Appeal, Sense of Place, 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 »
March 23, 2015 at 12:00 pm (Contributing Writer, Ecology, Kurt Heidinger)
Tags: Aldo Leopold, Ecology, Hilltowns, Massachusetts, Nature, outdoors, Pioneer Valley, Rivers, rivers and streams, western massachusetts
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 »
February 23, 2015 at 9:00 am (Contributing Writer, Ecology, Kurt Heidinger)
Tags: dams, Ecology, Hilltowns, Massachusetts, Nature, outdoors, Pioneer Valley, River Walking, Rivers, rivers and streams, western massachusetts
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 »
January 26, 2015 at 12:00 pm (Contributing Writer, Ecology, Kurt Heidinger)
Tags: Ecology, Hilltowns, Massachusetts, Nature, outdoors, Pioneer Valley, River Walking, Rivers, rivers and streams, western massachusetts
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 »
December 22, 2014 at 9:00 am (Contributing Writer, Ecology, Kurt Heidinger)
Tags: Ecology, heat waves, Hilltowns, Massachusetts, Nature, outdoors, Pioneer Valley, River Walking, Rivers, rivers and streams, sea lamprey, western massachusetts
Why I Love Sea Lampreys
Sea Lampreys: A lot to love, and even more to admire.
Our rivers—the Westfield and the Connecticut—are alive. They could be more alive than they are, but the Holyoke and Turners Falls dams on the Connecticut and the West Springfield dam on the Westfield prevent that vivacity. These dams make anadromous fish (that spend part of their lives in fresh water and another part in salt water) go extinct.
I have wondered how it is that people can allow these extinctions to happen, without feeling absolute horror and guilt, and preventing any more of them. One reason is that we don’t know why their lives are valuable. Read the rest of this entry »
November 24, 2014 at 12:00 pm (Contributing Writer, Ecology, Kurt Heidinger)
Tags: Ecology, Hilltowns, Massachusetts, Nature, Pioneer Valley, Rivers, rivers and streams, western massachusetts
The Importance of Flying Rivers
Flying Rivers have receded in the Amazonian rain forests but can be seen around our very own Mount Tom! However you won’t see them in Fall. Wait for a humid August day, and you’ll have more luck.
Perhaps you’ve heard that California is experiencing a very severe drought caused by climate change. Since most of our fruit and vegetables are grown there, now is a great time to become knowledgeable about our regional food system, and to redouble support for our farmers who can supplement the shrinking Californian supplies. Compared to the rest of the nation, we’re lucky to have such a vibrant and energized agricultural base. A few years ago, a study was done to see if Northampton could grow enough food to supply its own population; and the answer is—if everybody’s vegetarian—”yes.” What good news! Read the rest of this entry »
October 27, 2014 at 9:00 am (Contributing Writer, Ecology, Kurt Heidinger)
Tags: cinema, Ecology, Film, Hilltowns, Massachusetts, Nature, outdoors, Pioneer Valley, river movies, Rivers, rivers and streams, western massachusetts
Rivers in Reels: Short Guide to River Movies
A classic film set on the Potomac River…a river mighty enough to hold two film icons.
Witch hazel crane over Halloween rivers, their branchtips glowing with yellow blossoms—tassled tiny chandeliers of color, calling for sensitive notice. Catch one in the sunlight; examine the blaze that pops vibrant against the drab of forest dun and river dark. Rivers seem darker when leaves have fallen down. Soon the tiny chandeliers of the hazel will drop, too, into the flow to spin and drift and sail away deep into the frosty months of winter. Soon enough, water will show us its sterner self, as snow and ice will be with us.
Still a few weeks where we might catch some peace in a warm little microclime beside a Hilltown river: yet there’s no fighting it; it’s time for us to retreat from the outdoors a bit, and pull back into our shells of home and work. And imagination.
When it gets cold in the coming weeks, light a fire and let yourself go on a voyage on a river—at least, a voyage of imagination and feeling. Rivers are real as the rain, but they are also imagined. I love imagining rivers, and of experiencing what others have imagined, too. Rivers are always apparent; they don’t hide. But they are inscrutable and relentless, always a mystery.
Here are a few of my favorite river movies, starting with the child friendly titles then moving into PG13-land: Read the rest of this entry »
September 22, 2014 at 9:00 am (Contributing Writer, Ecology, Kurt Heidinger)
Tags: Connecticut River, Ecology, Hilltowns, Massachusetts, Nature, outdoors, Pioneer Valley, Rivers, rivers and streams, western massachusetts
Touch the River and It’ll Touch You
The Connecticut River is the lifeblood of the Pioneer Valley.
Thinking of how important it is for nature-lovers to spend time “being in” nature, the conservationist Aldo Leopold wrote: “We can be ethical only in relation to something we can see, feel, understand, love, or otherwise have faith in.”
Ethics involve what we judge to be right or wrong; and Leopold is correct: if we are to be ethical—if we are to wisely judge the rightness or wrongness of a thing—we need to have a direct experience of it. It’s easy to forget that a river is alive, and has a life that is valuable unless, from time to time, you touch it. Unless we touch the river, we can’t understand enough about it to be ethical towards it.
Rivers have always provided humans with perfect places to live, whether it be the nhà sông of Vietnam, the chickee hut of the Mississippi shrimp catcher, or the highrise of a hedgefund manager towering over the Hudson. We’ve always been attracted to rivers because they, of all landscape features, are the most alive: kinetic in movement and full of creatures. There is a big difference between viewing a river, though, and touching it. I want you to touch a river this month if you haven’t lately—and let that river be the Connecticut, which flows for over 400 miles from just over the Canadian border to Long Island Sound.
One way to touch the Connecticut River is to volunteer to assist the Connecticut River Watershed Council’s Source to Sea Clean-up, scheduled for Saturday, September 26 and Sunday, September 27, 2014. Read the rest of this entry »
August 26, 2014 at 9:00 am (Ecology, Hilltown Families, Suggested Activity, Take Action)
Tags: civic pride, clean-up, Community, community action, community connections, Community Service, Community Service Based Learning, preserving nature, river clean, trash collection
Join Up for a Day of River Care, and Empower Your Family to Create Community Impact
Families can show their love and appreciation for the river by participating in the Connecticut River Watershed Council’s annual Source to Sea Clean Up, an event that mobilizes volunteers from all over the Connecticut River watershed for a day of cleaning and caring for the river.
The Connecticut River dictates the landscape of much of western New England. Western Massachusetts’ hills and mountains provide a river- and stream-filled frame for the Connecticut River as it flows through towards Connecticut and, eventually, into the Atlantic Ocean. The Pioneer Valley’s rich farmland is a gift from the river, and delicious local food is grown and raised on the valley’s river banks. The Connecticut River is the lifeblood of our local landscape, and we depend on the many different natural features that make up its watershed for everything from swimming and hiking to healthy food and fresh water. Read the rest of this entry »
August 25, 2014 at 9:00 am (Contributing Writer, Ecology, Kurt Heidinger)
Tags: Ecology, Geography, Hilltowns, Massachusetts, Pioneer Valley, western massachusetts, Western Massachusetts River
There’s Gold in Our Hills!
Gold in Mt. Tom anyone?
I met a person who was panning for gold in one of our hilltown brooks this summer who knew a lot about geology—at least enough to know that gold is produced by volcanic activity. We don’t think of our biome as having volcanic bones; Iceland, Hawaii, and the Pacific Rim come to mind, but Huntington?
Look closely, though, and you’ll find evidence of igneous geology all over the place: from Mounts Holyoke and Tom which were bubbling lava when hungry raptorsauri ran wild here 200,000,000 years ago, to the weirdly eroded lava ash boulders people place out by their driveways in Goshen, to the cocoa puff pumice balls that float in eddies just downriver from the Turners Falls dams. Read the rest of this entry »
July 28, 2014 at 9:00 am (Contributing Writer, Ecology, Kurt Heidinger)
Tags: Ecology, heat waves, Hilltowns, Massachusetts, Nature, outdoors, Pioneer Valley, River Walking, Rivers, rivers and streams, western massachusetts
The Beauty and Ickyness of Upland Wetlands
Thanks to wetlands, mountain rivers should be clear while valley rivers like the Connecticut can resemble a river of milk chocolate.
Last week, I stood by the side of the East Branch of the Westfield River in Chesterfield with a group of intrepid explorers, astonished by the gasp and growl of its raging flood waters. “Where’s Augustus Gloop?” I heard someone ask; “He would love all this hot chocolate!”
Laden with brown soils that had eroded from roadsides, construction sites and fields upstream, the river did look like it was made by Willy Wonka. A wild and scenic river like the East Branch of the Westfield should not look like hot chocolate because of its federally-registered conservation status, and the fact that there is little development in the hilltowns. And yet here was unmistakable proof that torrential rain on vegetation-less lands was causing extensive erosion. Read the rest of this entry »
June 23, 2014 at 9:00 am (Contributing Writer, Ecology, Kurt Heidinger)
Tags: Ecology, Hilltowns, Massachusetts, Nature, outdoors, Pioneer Valley, Rivers, rivers and streams, western massachusetts
Make the world of rivers bigger than the world of pavement inside of you!
Imagine—by float, boat or walking, you’re in the river as it wends past farmland, backyards and woods, through plains, valleys and gorges. After an hour, the initial thrill of united movement, of flesh and water and flow, has passed, and so have the conversations. The river begins to insinuate your skin and re-network your synapses; you start thinking like a river. Feel the expansion.
Hear the river sound; its voice (like ours) combines the everything it passes through, and that passes through it (for it breathes and eats with its mouth open): the more obstructions, the more turbulence; the more turbulence, the louder the growl. Read the rest of this entry »
May 27, 2014 at 6:00 pm (Ecology, Franklin County, Hilltown Families Event, Volunteer Opportunity)
Tags: Community Service, Deerfield River, Ecology, RiverFest, Service Based Learning, The Art Garden, Watershed
Hilltown Families and The Art Garden partner for a final community-service art-making event for the season
Our watersheds are vital and important ecosystems for animal and plant species. Celebrate the Deerfield River Watershed with friends, family, Hilltown Families and The Art Garden on Friday, June 6th, from 4-7pm in Shelburne Falls for our final community-service art-making event for the season.
At this event we will be focusing on what we love about the Deerfield River Watershed and preparing for the annual Deerfield RiverFest’s Frog and Flower parade on June 7. Be a part of creating large cardboard fish, frogs and flowers for the parade, as well as individual processional artworks. All ages can participate! Materials provided. Takes place at The Art Garden.
Engaging your family in community service teaches kids positive values while opening up channels of communication between parent and child, and can increase their participation as future volunteers. Join us for an evening of community service art-making on Friday, June 6th from 4-7pm at The Art Garden in Shelburne Falls, MA, for We (heart) the Deerfield River, the final event in a series of five free family community service nights!
The Art Garden is located at 14 Depot Street in Shelburne Falls, MA (in the Shelburne Falls Trolley Museum building.) SEE MAP. Questions? Email Sienna at firstname.lastname@example.org.
May 26, 2014 at 3:00 pm (Contributing Writer, Ecology, Kurt Heidinger)
Tags: Ecology, Hilltowns, Massachusetts, Nature, outdoors, Pioneer Valley, River Walking, Rivers, rivers and streams, western massachusetts
When I Jump into Your Flow
When I jump into your flow
You’ll take me wherever you go
ever you go, ever you go
You’ll take me wherever you go
We’re in one, and sucked into bigger flows that swept into bigger flows. And on and on. Minnows circling in eddies. In white water, stonefly nymphs cling to stone. Anadromous fish are making their way up whatever tributaries aren’t dammed, and being watched and counted at Holyoke and Turners Falls dams. Visit them, because their populations are declining and might soon vanish—just 397 Blueback Herring, for example, have passed Holyoke Dam as of May 21st.
April 30, 2014 at 12:00 pm (Community Based Education, Ecology, Hampshire County, Suggested Activity)
Tags: Community Based Education, Experiential Learning, food chains, Geology, habitat, Nature Based Learning, phenology, River Ecology, species diversity, Water Cycle, Westfield River, Westfield River Committee
Wild and Scenic Saturdays on the Westfield River
April through October, 2014
Wild and Scenic Saturdays cover a wide range of topics and include activities that cater to families with children of all ages. Additionally, the learning embedded in each and every one of the events will help children not only to better understand the river ecosystem, but will allow them to connect the things that they experience in the watershed to concepts that they’ve learned and home and school.
For over twenty years, the Westfield River has been distinguished as a National Wild and Scenic River. The river and its watershed provide critical habitat for a great many plant and animal species (rare ones included!), serve as a source of clean drinking water for humans, and offer us a place to commune with nature and enjoy activities like kayaking, fishing, and hiking. Treat yourself each month to Kurt’s column, The Ripple: Stories About Western MA Rivers. This month he features the Westfield River in his post, “The Cure for All Things Pavement.”
During the coming months, the Westfield River Committee is offering a series of Saturday workshops, work days, guided explorations, and other events in order to engage the community in a process of learning about and how to care for the river and its watershed. The Wild and Scenic Saturdays offer a mix of educational activities, opportunities to engage in community service, and adventures into the watershed’s fascinating wilderness. Read the rest of this entry »
April 29, 2014 at 3:00 pm (Animals, Ecology, Nature Based Education)
Tags: Frog Eggs, Frogs, Hatching Frog Eggs, herpetology, Lifecycles, Vernal Pools
Lifecycle Studies: Hatching Frog Eggs
Here in western Massachusetts, one of Mother Nature’s first ways of letting us know that spring has arrived is the chorus that comes during the evening. Peepers and wood frogs add natural music to the wet, muddy, spring landscape, letting everyone and everything within earshot know that winter is finally over. And soon after the evenings get noisy, amphibians get busy! Not long after emerging, ponds and vernal pools become home to hundreds of eggs.
Springtime outdoor exploration with kids is sure to lead to discoveries of egg masses if you live near still or slow-moving water. There’s a lot to be learned just from examining the egg masses themselves, but there’s even more to be learned by watching the eggs hatch, develop, and grow from a gelatinous cluster into full-sized frogs! Families can schedule regular visits to a pond or vernal pool to watch these future-frogs grow, but it’s much easier to see the small daily changes that occur if the eggs are right inside your home or classroom.
Before bringing home an egg mass, do some research and learn to identify the egg masses you’ve found. Read the rest of this entry »
April 28, 2014 at 10:00 am (Contributing Writer, Ecology, Kurt Heidinger)
Tags: Ecology, Hilltowns, Insects, Massachusetts, Nature, outdoors, Pioneer Valley, Rivers, rivers and streams, western massachusetts
The Cure for All Things Pavement
Make the world of rivers bigger than the world of pavement inside of you! Tuning into this “wheel of time” is one way that we leave our pavement-based perception of place. If you are lucky, you’ll get to see mergansers, a sort of river loon, as they hunt for the same trout that are hunting the invertebrates.
Before there were roads, there were trails and before there were trails, there were rivers. The Nile and the Mississippi—can you see Cleopatra and Huck & Jim making their ways on these liquid highways? Have you heard the tale (more or less true) of how Native Americans followed the paths of deer that traveled up and down food-rich riparian corridors; and that Routes 5 & 7 were laid over such paths?
Once upon a time, people knew their places from the perspective of the river; and what is so wonderful is that this perspective is still available to those who pine for a way of seeing, and being, that is not pavement-based. This summer, you could float down the Deerfield or Connecticut Rivers—and you ought to!—but floating down means that you’ve already driven up it. Nothing wrong with that; in fact it can’t be avoided given our moment in time; but the proper way to get the feeling and the vision of being placed in a biome is to head upstream, like the Atlantic Shad are doing right now. (Reminder: the operators of the Holyoke and Turner’s Falls dams open their anadromous fish viewing stations around Mother’s Day, and—despite the fact that both dams are causing extinctions—they are worth visiting.)
If you want to change the way you and your family view your “place” by leaving the pavement and making your way up a river valley, you are lucky! Read the rest of this entry »
March 24, 2014 at 12:00 pm (Ecology, Suggested Activity)
Tags: Ecology, Vernal Pool, Vernal Pools
Vernal Pools: Community Resources & Events Supplement Interests & Education
Along with the greenery of spring comes a reawakening of wildlife, and some of western Massachusetts smallest and most fascinating creatures make their debut as soon as the snow melts! One sure sign of the change of seasons is the sound of peepers – noisy wood frogs who have made their way from their winter residences to the vernal pools that have filled with fish-free water thanks to the melting snow. Vernal pools aren’t just home to wood frogs, though. Their amphibious neighbors include salamanders, fairy shrimp, and tiny mussels, making vernal pools a fascinating (and usually temporary) incubator for many species.
Vernal pools truly come alive at a very specific time during the spring. On the first rainy night when the temperature stays above 40 degrees, frogs and salamanders migrate from their winter homes to their annual breeding grounds, filling the pools with the sounds of mating and an abundance of eggs. While it can be tempting for rainboot-clad kiddos to stomp right on into a big, shallow puddle in the woods, it’s important to know whether or not they’re romping about in a vernal pool. Such pools house the eggs of many species of frogs and salamanders, and humans’ springtime frolicking can easily disturb these eggs and negatively affect populations. However, spending an afternoon exploring along the edges of a vernal pools is nature’s classroom at its best! Families can learn to identify commonly found species, and can watch a vernal pool over the course of the spring, summer, and fall (and maybe even winter) to see how it changes… Read the rest of this entry »
March 24, 2014 at 9:00 am (Contributing Writer, Ecology, Kurt Heidinger)
Tags: Ecology, Endangered Fish, Hilltowns, Massachusetts, Nature, outdoors, Pioneer Valley, Rivers, rivers and streams, Short-nosed sturgeons, Shortnose Sturgeon, Sturgeon, western massachusetts
Our Friend, the Shortnose Sturgeon
Since the Atlantic Salmon was declared extinct in the Connecticut River two years ago, I have wandered the river banks with students, wondering what a healthy living river is like. That the Shortnose has survived under such duress, with such poor assistance provided by humans, made us love it—because it expresses the brisk vitality that remains in that 400 mile waterbody. The Shortnose does not give up, and neither should we. Before we lose this last clan entirely, let us try to assist it, and raise the Shortnose’s image and story to the forefront of our biocultural awareness. Let this environmental-adapter epitomize us and our still beautiful Nonotuck biome, at this moment of epochal transition.
Spring equinox has passed and the great thaw is underway, turning greys into green and silence to chansons. Have you enjoyed the cold (as much as the otters, who fished the icy pools)? The ice it brought let us walk rivers and tributaries as if they were sidewalks, and grand boulevards. What a wonderful feeling!
The perspective gained by walking above the river was as rare as the record-breaking weather that enabled it. Seeing the way trees lower, extend and up-curl their limbs over the water, to catch the sun on each yearning pinkytip; and noticing deep punctures of buck hoof puzzled over by bobcat pads as wide, soft and light as hamburger buns—such perceptions awaken dormant parts of human being, sparking awareness of how lucky we are when we find time to unplug. Despite the best attempts of technologists to rewire us, we’re wild; and, when we step into places without signs or brands or passwords, a brisk vivacity and slight confusion welcomes us, and matches our character, as Shakespeare made plain in this description of some dukes chillin’ in the forest of Arden: Read the rest of this entry »
March 24, 2014 at 6:00 am (Berkshire County, Ecology, Hilltown Families, Suggested Activity, Sustainability, Video)
Tags: Environmental Film Festival, Environmentalism, Film Festival
Project Native 4th Annual Environmental Film Festival
March 29 & 30, 2014
Great Barrington, MA
For the past three years, Project Native has hosted a successful day-long environmental film festival. This year they are expanding the festival to include an evening screening at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center in Great Barrington, MA, on Saturday, March 29th in addition to the festival on Sunday, March 30th at the Triplex Cinema.
The festival will kick off Saturday, March 29th at 7pm with a special screening of Revolution, an award-winning film by Rob Stewart, director of Sharkwater at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center in Great Barrington, MA. Startling, beautiful, and provocative, Revolution has already won awards at international film festivals. Revolution is not just about the environment—it’s a film about hope and inspiration. It is an urgent call-to-action with an uplifting message that tells us it’s possible to alleviate the damage already done. While creating this film, Stewart met with experts in their fields to investigate the important issues affecting our lives. In an effort to uncover the secrets to a safer world, Stewart goes on an adventure filled with action and drama that will leave audiences around the world, at any age, inspired about how they can get involved in the fight to save our planet.
“Our goal is to not only show the problems facing our world, but to also inspire action for positive change,” says Karen Lyness LeBlanc, Education & Outreach Coordinator for Project Native. Project Native is encouraging middle, high school and college students in the area to attend and bring their friends. This event is FREE, thanks to support from the Dr. Robert C. and Tina Sohn Foundation. A panel discussion will follow the film.
Then on Sunday, March 30th, screening at the Triplex Cinema…
February 24, 2014 at 9:00 am (Contributing Writer, Ecology, Kurt Heidinger)
Tags: Chesterfield Gorge, Hilltowns, Massachusetts, outdoors, Pioneer Valley, Rivers, rivers and streams, Trustees of Reservation, western massachusetts
The River Will Rise
Bridge remains at Chesterfield Gorge. (Photo credit (c) Sienna Wildfield)
This shivery month of melt, please bring your family to the upper neck of the Chesterfield Gorge and look across the Westfield River. You’ll see a twenty-foot tall stone wall tower— the remains of an old colonial bridge, a massive abutment built in 1769 by meticulous stackers of dark granite schist.
I remember looking at it a few years ago, marveling at the brawn and artistry of the backwoods engineers who made it. They must have believed their incredible backaches were worth it, that their bridge would stand for centuries, and they and their progeny would make a living collecting tolls where hemlocks now cluster and choke.
Over two hundred years have gone by, the bridge is long gone and the road it extended is a deer and porcupine highway. Another two more centuries will go by, I imagined then, and the abutment will remain unstaggered, a gratifying, even beautiful, example of our manipulation of the biome to achieve economic goals. And aside from this, I thought, the imperturbability of the stacked stone next to the swift and crashing rapids is, itself, a story that offers a lesson… Read the rest of this entry »
January 27, 2014 at 12:00 pm (Contributing Writer, Ecology, Kurt Heidinger)
Tags: benthic invertebrate, Ecology, Hilltowns, Massachusetts, Nature, outdoors, Pioneer Valley, Rivers, rivers and streams, western massachusetts
Ice-Walking Bugs, and the Lessons They Teach Us
(Photo credit: (c) Sienna Wildfield)
For the next two months or so, if the weather isn’t too bizarre, we’ll be knee deep in snow, and our rivers and streams will be flowing beneath their softest, whitest blankets, like restless kids dreaming of bodysurfing at the beach. When it’s really really cold outside, the river becomes the warmest part of the biome—kinda like our beds become the warmest part of the house when the frost creeps over the windows.
A few weeks ago, when the temp was in single digits, I saw bathtub steam rising off the Westfield River. In the squeaky-snow brilliance of the unclouded morning, more vitality in a deep breath than a whole pot of coffee, I had a flashback of some Rocky Mountain hotsprings, arrived at after two days of backcountry snowshoeing and skiing. Like a chrome grasshopper off the top of an ear, a gleaming sliver of myself leapt to that river steam, magnetized by the delicious feeling drifting in the wavering mist: of the coincidence of opposites, wet/dry hot/cold, manifesting as a high country hottub, as exclusive and elegant as they come. I wanted to jump into this fantasy, but didn’t—because I knew that water was so cold that it burns… Read the rest of this entry »
December 23, 2013 at 10:00 am (Contributing Writer, Ecology, Kurt Heidinger)
Tags: Ecology, Experiential Learning, Massachusetts, Nature, outdoors, Rivers, rivers and streams, western massachusetts
Gift to Receive by Being Present
For the next few months, the deep chills of winter will freeze our higher elevation watercourses—and invite us to wander in a winter wonderland.
Few places are more “Christmas-y” than our snow-laden hemlock forests; and since hemlocks love shallow wet soils and grow near bouldery brooks and streams, they beckon us, who yearn to be present when and where our biome most clearly expresses its unique vivacity. Snow settles on their dark green needles, very “zen” if you see it that way, and Currier and Ives, if that’s what you’re looking for. Snow settles on needles anyway it wants, of course—and being with those we love when the crow lands and shakes the hemlock and spills the sprinkles that glisten in sun above the brook is magical. Most of the holiday advertising we are deluged by tries to convey what is freely offered by our own hills—receive the gift, by wrapping up and presenting yourself to the hemlocks and their hidden icy grottoes… Read the rest of this entry »
December 3, 2013 at 12:00 pm (Ecology)
Tags: Christmas Tree Farm, Christmas trees, conifers, evergreens, Tree farming
Do You Know Where Your Christmas Tree Comes From?
An examination of evergreen tree farming can help children learn about a non-food related form of sustainable farming. Tree farming contributes to oxygen production, provides food and habitat for variety of animal species, and doesn’t have a huge impact on the location in which it takes place.
As the weather gets colder and snow starts to enter the forecast, the holiday season is filled with opportunities for learning about all kinds of topics. The change of weather can support learning with activities like searching for nests and animal tracks in the snow, and participating as citizen scientists counting raptors and song birds.
Families can also explore the cultural roots of winter holidays, like Santa Lucia Day during Welcome Yule or reading about Solstice, Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa while snuggled up before a long winter’s nap!
Most holiday-related learning has to do with history, culture, religion, literature, art, and music. Math can even be integrated with some creativity, but it’s harder to find a natural connection between the holidays and science – especially environmental science.
There is a link between the holidays and environmental science, though – and it’s a good one! Do your children know where your Christmas tree comes from? Here in rural Western MA, it’s possible that one of your annual holiday traditions involves a tromp out into your own woodlot to chop down a vaguely Charlie Brown-ish trunk to add to your living room, but it’s more likely that your tree came from a tree farm. Whether that farm was nearby or far away, a look at how your tree was grown provides a myriad of learning opportunities!
Read on to discover more…
November 25, 2013 at 3:00 pm (Contributing Writer, Ecology, Kurt Heidinger)
Tags: Ecology, Experiential Learning, Massachusetts, Nature, outdoors, Rivers, rivers and streams, western massachusetts
Biophilia: Love of Life
When I walked with my children along and in Stonehouse Brook, I let them play, for it was crucial that they engage the brook at their own pace and comfort level. My job was simply to ensure they didn’t get hurt—but I let them slip and fall in, so they would learn how not to do that. I let them wade a little too deep so they could feel the muscular strength of water flow, and allowed them to get carried away so they would learn how to recover their feet, balance and stance.
When my daughters (now 15 and 17) were little, their most magical place was Stonehouse Brook, a lively watercourse that tumbled down from pine and oak headlands. From the age they could walk by themselves until the era of afterschool sports, they were all mine and I used our time together to live halfway indoors and halfway outdoors. I, and my wife, did this because we were concerned that their cognitive development would be shunted if their senses and their consciousness were not stimulated and challenged. For this purpose, Stonehouse Brook was perfect; it was intimate and not overwhelming, and it was very alive.
Biophilia is a word that means love of life and the person who coined it, evolutionary biologist Edward O. Wilson, did so because he noticed that we have an innate attraction to other living beings… Read the rest of this entry »
October 28, 2013 at 6:00 am (Contributing Writer, Ecology, Kurt Heidinger, Nature Based Education)
Tags: Massachusetts, Nature, outdoors, Pioneer Valley, Rivers, rivers and streams, Watershed, western massachusetts, Westfield River
Take Me To The River
(Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)
I really love looking at pictures of people enjoying rivers. Lakes, ponds, pools and the ocean: these are great, but (with the exceptions of oceans) they are stagnant. I do love oceans, yet they’re too big to get a handle on and—dare I say it—beaches get boring.
Rivers, on the other hand, are dynamic and have tons of personality (Our rapid biotic assessments show us how different they are.). When we get near them after escaping buildings and cars, we experience a liberating emotional release—as Ray Davies so perfectly captures in the song, “Sitting by the Riverside” by The Kinks.
Whether it’s a leap of joy and dash to the edge, or a stoical surrender of complex thoughts to the onward round-the-bend flow, or a bright flash of sensory expansion as one is enveloped in a fresh kaleidoscope of sights, sounds and smells…People like to take pictures of themselves and their friends when they are next to rivers, and these kinds of emotional states are recorded…
September 23, 2013 at 9:00 am (Citizen Scientist, Community Based Education, Contributing Writer, Ecology, Kurt Heidinger, Nature Based Education)
Tags: Adopt a River, Benthic Invertebrates, Citizen Scientists, community engagement, Connecticut River, Ecology, Environment, Environmental Steward, Massachusetts, Nature, outdoors, Pioneer Valley, Rapid Biotic Assessments, rba, Rivers, rivers and streams, Watershed, western massachusetts, Westfield River
Hilltown Families Citizen Scientists
4th Annual Assessment of the Westfield River
A few days ago a friend of mine, the talented Northfield potter Tom White, posted a Facebook picture of himself holding a wild King Salmon he caught in Pulaski, NY, on the Salmon River near Lake Erie.
That’s what 30 pounds of pure aquatic vitality looks like—and once upon a time our CT, Westfield and Deerfield rivers were teeming with their cousins, the Atlantic Salmon, that were declared extinct last year by the National Fish and Wildlife Service.
This past Friday, Hilltown Families Founder, Sienna Wildfield, and an energetic group of Hilltown Families citizen scientists and I conducted our fourth annual rapid biotic assessment of the Westfield River in West Chesterfield, and we marveled at how alive this beautiful watercourse is! Consistent with the two assessments we’ve done since hurricane Irene, we found that the populations of crab-like bugs has shrunken while the worm-types have increased (Compare assessments: 2011 & 2013).
Though we would like to find a wide variety of river bugs, because biodiversity is a sure sign of ecological health, we did catch five types of the “most wanted” cold-water oxygen-loving bugs. They signaled that the Westfield River continues to enjoy “exceptional water quality,” the highest of EPA rankings. YAY!
August 26, 2013 at 3:00 pm (Citizen Scientist, Community Based Education, Contributing Writer, Ecology, Kurt Heidinger, Nature Based Education)
Tags: Ecology, Massachusetts, Nature, outdoors, Pioneer Valley, Rivers, western massachusetts, Westfield River
Rivers as Circulatory Systems
Be a steward of the river! Join Hilltown Families and Biocitizen as we do our 4th annual rivers health check-ups, through the EPA approved method called Rapid Biotic Assessment or “RBA.”
It might sound like a stretch to say that rivers are the blood vessels of the earth, but ecologists (who understand that even empirical descriptions of nature are metaphorical) have no difficulty viewing rivers as circulatory systems. Start with the rain cycle, for example: the science of which tells us that there is a finite amount of water on earth that gets pumped around, over and over again—and, it’s the exact same water the dinosaurs drank and swam in! Move on to the fact that every dawning civilization began by developing agriculture in valleys, whose soils were annually replenished by spring floods—which means that even the letters I use to write this, first invented in the “fertile crescent,” are brought to us by the charitable trust and generous sponsorship of flowing waters.
Next, enjoy this exercise of your imagination, if you will: even now your own warm blood consists of water that, at one point or another, tumbled down mountains, splashed over rocks and spilled into basins. That connection is actual. What you are imagining is real. Not some new age fluff or sci-fi gobbedygook…
July 22, 2013 at 4:00 pm (Contributing Writer, Ecology, Kurt Heidinger)
Tags: Ecology, heat waves, Hilltowns, Massachusetts, Nature, outdoors, Pioneer Valley, River Walking, Rivers, rivers and streams, western massachusetts
This Land is Your Land
Check out these 5 pointers below on how to river walk, preventing a wipe out due to slippery rocks and strong currents.
Our floods are over for the time being, and the furnace heat of July is driving us to the water where we can find some relief from the breath of fire that surrounds us. We are such sensitive creatures, aren’t we? Below 60 and above 80 degrees, our life patterns get deranged—20 degrees is not a very wide spectrum of temperature, is it? Heat waves provide us with the best evidence that the maxim of classical environmentalism is true: where you are is who you are.
So get thee to a river! This is the best time of year to explore the river bed and the lush riparian growth that flourishes beside it.
The common law of the USA states that river courses are the property of all citizens. I say common law, because right to river access is considered to be an ancient and inherent right—but, depending on where you go, you might find this common law more or less respected.
You might find the history and reality of our common law right to access rivers to be interesting, so here’s a portion of the explanation that National Organization of Rivers provides us:
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