Annual Event: Berkshire Bioblitz

Annual Event Support Interests in Ecology, Zoology, Biology, and More!

Calling all amateur biologists: Mid-September is the time for the annual Berkshire Bioblitz! During a 24 hour period, teams of participants accompanied by an expert scientist will explore Springside Park, the largest municipal park in Pittsfield, MA, and see how many species they can find from a list. This is a great way to learn about local biology and get hands-on experience assisting with real scientific research. You’ll be amazed how much wildlife there is right under your nose. All ages welcome. Springside Park Conservancy. 413-499-7505. 58 Oak Hill Road. Pittsfield, MA.

Want to host your very own bioblitz? Resources for blitz-planning are available on the National Geographic website – the organization has provided everything from instructions for early planning to a suggested materials list!  A bioblitz can offer students a unique hands-on learning experience that will make them more aware of the amount of biodiversity in their neighborhood and will teach them to identify new species. Communities will benefit from the events as well – neighbors can gain a greater awareness of what’s in their backyards, and perhaps even become better connected to the natural world that surrounds them! For Western MA teachers, educators, and parents who are interested in learning more about using the outdoors as a living classroom, check out the Berkshire Museums Living Landscapes curriculum. Living Landscapes focuses on natural science but also includes connections to math, language arts, and visual arts, and is a terrific local resource.

Living Rivers: Live with a Conservation Ethic

This month we welcome Dr. Boyd Kynard, one the world’s most respected fish behaviorists, who has an urgent message for the people of Connecticut River watershed:

“If I can get anything over to you that is of value, it’s to have a conservation ethic. We must live with a conservation ethic. If we don’t, we have no chance at all for survival. None. Not for (the fish) and not for us.” 

Read the rest of this entry »

Living Rivers: Hometown Rivers

Living Rivers: Stories About Rivers, Stories About Life.

The Ripple, the Hilltown Families column that builds community appreciation for our life-giving rivers, streams, brooks and wetlands is hereby re-inaugurated! After a two-year hiatus, let it flow from hidden sources back into view.

The Ripple.2 will feature the voices and views of many river-lovers, while remaining faithful to the purpose of helping us to orient our ways to flowing water instead of pavement.

Ripple.2 begins as did the first.

Close your eyes and look inward. Visualize the front door of your dwelling, and make your way to the road. Follow the road to the school, the shopping center, the pizza place, the library, CVS. Drive around in there, inside your head. Challenge yourself. Drive all the way to Boston or NYC. (I can visualize most of I-91 through the Merritt Parkway all the way into Manhattan. You too?)

Pavement grafted in our memory forms a foundation of our inner lives. We can see it when we close our eyes! It’s in us. This is to be expected, this internalization, for memory is essential to identity, but it’s not good. Pavement is classified as hazardous waste. Not healthy to hold inside.  Read the rest of this entry »

Suggested Events for September 23rd-29th, 2017

Hilltown Families List of Weekly Suggested Events

Click HERE to discover classes. Click HERE to find out about other community events. Click HERE to leave a comment about upcoming events.

Suggest EventIf you have a community event, educational program, or service-learning opportunity 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.

JOIN OUR TEAM! Hilltown Families is currently recruiting our newest Interpretive Writer and Development & Sales Officer. Click on the banner above to see the full job descriptions, as well as a slew of other available volunteer and intern positions. We look forward to hearing from our community!

Bulletin Board

Sep 23

Get ready for a new Elephant & Piggie adventure! Join The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst on Saturday, Sept 23 for Elephant & Piggie Art-ventures with Mo Willems & Tom Warburton! In We Are in an ART-ivity Book!, Mo Willems & Tom Warburton have created the first-ever Elephant & Piggie activity book, full of drawing, coloring, gaming, & other hands-on fun! Meet Mo & Tom. Get books signed. Take your photo with Elephant & Piggie, watch films, & create art in the Art Studio! Book signing from 12:30-2:30pm. Limit 1 book from home/unlimited books from The Carle Bookshop. No personalization nor signing of board books or stuffed animals. Can’t make it to event? Reserve signed books online, call 413-559-6333, or shop@carlemuseum.org.

Sep 23 & 24

The 19th Annual North Quabbin Garlic and Arts Festival is September 23 & 24 from 10am-5pm in Orange, MA. There’s something for everyone at this fabulous family destination. Over 100 booths are vibrant with local artists, farmers, fabulous food, chef demos and skills for local living. Enjoy amazing music, performance, spoken word and dance on three stages. New! ‘The World We Love,’ a giant handcrafted globe in the kid’s activity tent- add your vision and join the celebratory parade at the end of each festival day. Plus hula-hooping, horse-drawn hayrides, and garlic games all weekend. Only $5.00 adults, Kids 12 & under are free! More for travel/parking info and program visit www.garlicandarts.org; Follow festival updates daily on Facebook.

Sep 25

Monday, September 25, 2017, 10am-3pm: Soar into spring with Homeschool Day at the New England Air Museum in Windsor Locks, CT. Open exclusively for homeschoolers and their families, and featured activities include: hands-on build & fly challenge activities, interactive flight science demonstrations, open cockpit experiences in historic aircraft, aircraft quests, fight simulators, and more! Virtual Flight Center access available for additional $5 per person. Tickets available for purchase on the day of your visit on a first come first served basis. Pre-registration required. Children ages 3 and under admitted free. www.neam.org for an online registration form. Please call 860-623-3305 x313 for questions.

Add your class

Hilltown Families has put together an After-School Classes & Enrichment Programs Directory of classes and programs happening across Western Massachusetts throughout the school year.  Our community is rich in learning opportunities to supplement the interests of children, teens, and life-long learners and our directory makes it easier to find these gems while connecting families with resources that support their interests and education. — Have a class or program you’d like to include in our directory? Click here to find out how to have it added. New and updated opportunities are added throughout the year.

Add your school

Hilltown Families Preschool Directory: Are you looking for a preschool that fits your child’s personality and reflects your family’s values? Check out our growing Preschool Directory, covering all four counties in Western Massachusetts, and find the perfect place for your young one! — Have a school you’d like to include in this list? Click here to find out how to have it added.

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 Eventsand 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 at sales@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
September 23rd-29th, 2017

SaturdaySunday
MondayTuesdayWednesdayThursdayFriday

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 »

Suggested Events for September 16th-22nd, 2017

Hilltown Families List of Weekly Suggested Events

To find out about more event, be sure to visit our Suggest an Event Bulletin Board to see what our readers have recently shared! Have an event to share? Feel encouraged to self-post community events here at any time!

Suggest EventIf you have a community event, educational program, or service-learning opportunity 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.

Bulletin Board

Learn in Motion gets kids playing and learning through enrichment programming for schools, libraries and museums, educational introductory sports classes, and special events. Programs get children off screens, active, learning and having a ball. They encourage children to socialize and practice important life skills such as sharing, listening, following directions, working as a team, and overcoming obstacles. Through their programming, Learn in Motion also teaches traditional academic content such as letters, numbers, shapes, colors and more. For more information about their schedule, programs and offerings, visit www.learninmotionma.com, email learninmotionma@gmail.com or call 413-244-2073.

Trial Class Sept 20

A delightful music class for children age 0-5 and their grown-ups, created and taught by national recording artist, Katryna Nields. All songs are hand-selected by Katryna and Nerissa Nields. In HooteNanny, participants sing, play, and dance and make wonderful friendships. Come spend playful, enriching, connected time with your child and be part of the wonderful HooteNanny community. Fall session begins September 27/28, 2017. Free trial class on Wednesday, September 20, 2017 at 10am. For more information go to www.hootenannyfamily.com or write to hootenannymusicclass@gmail.com.

Sep 23 & 24

The 19th Annual North Quabbin Garlic and Arts Festival is September 23 & 24 from 10am-5pm in Orange MA. There’s something for everyone at this fabulous family destination. Over 100 booths are vibrant with local artists, farmers, fabulous food, chef demos and skills for local living. Enjoy amazing music, performance, spoken word and dance on three stages. New! ‘The World We Love,’ a giant handcrafted globe in the kid’s activity tent- add your vision and join the celebratory parade at the end of each festival day. Plus hula-hooping, horse-drawn hayrides, and garlic games all weekend. Only $5.00 adults, Kids 12 & under are free! More for travel/parking info and program visit www.garlicandarts.org; Follow festival updates daily on Facebook.

Sep 25

Monday, September 25, 2017, 10am-3pm: Soar into spring with Homeschool Day at the New England Air Museum in Windsor Locks, CT. Open exclusively for homeschoolers and their families, and featured activities include: hands-on build & fly challenge activities, interactive flight science demonstrations, open cockpit experiences in historic aircraft, aircraft quests, fight simulators, and more! Virtual Flight Center access available for additional $5 per person. Tickets available for purchase on the day of your visit on a first come first served basis. Pre-registration required. Children ages 3 and under admitted free. www.neam.org for an online registration form. Please call 860-623-3305 x313 for questions.

Add your class

Hilltown Families has put together an After-School Classes & Enrichment Programs Directory of classes and programs happening across Western Massachusetts throughout the school year.  Our community is rich in learning opportunities to supplement the interests of children, teens, and life-long learners and our directory makes it easier to find these gems while connecting families with resources that support their interests and education. — Have a class or program you’d like to include in our directory? Click here to find out how to have it added. New and updated opportunities are added throughout the year.

Add your school

Hilltown Families Preschool Directory: Are you looking for a preschool that fits your child’s personality and reflects your family’s values? Check out our growing Preschool Directory, covering all four counties in Western Massachusetts, and find the perfect place for your young one! — Have a school you’d like to include in this list? Click here to find out how to have it added.

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 at sales@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
September 16th-22nd, 2017

SaturdaySunday
MondayTuesdayWednesdayThursdayFriday

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: Rivers & Roads

Rivers & Roads

Imagine a world without roads. No highways, interstates, traffic lights, or roundabouts. For most of us, the only way of life we’ve ever known is shaped by our roads and the technologies that transport us – and what we consume – from place to place. Of course, many defining characteristics of modern life would be completely different or nonexistent without our modern road systems, but perhaps for now, we’ll focus on the implications that roads have on nonhuman entities.

Roads provide corridors for wildlife to move and feed along, but all too often are fraught with danger and death due to our mode of transportation: the car. A road might be likened to a river, providing a means to travel from place to place, but a true river is also a source of life and sustenance to all the creatures which depend on it. We have learned that cleaning up rivers benefits both humans and other species, and as is often mentioned, rivers are a crucial part of the proverbial web of life.  Read the rest of this entry »

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 »

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 »

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! Read the rest of this entry »

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 »

Invasive Species an Unlikely Catalyst for Community-Based Learning

Invasive Species an Unlikely Catalyst for Community-Based Learning

We’re unfortunately quite familiar with invasive species here in western Massachusetts. From the dreaded Emerald Ash Borer gnawing its way through every tasty tree in sight to Japanese knotweed crowding nearly every riverbank for miles around, invasive species have made our place their home… but how is it that this happens?

Though quite unwanted and dangerous to our fragile ecosystems, the numerous invasive species that have become part of the local landscape can serve as a community-based resource for learning. Through studies of local habitat, opportunities for citizen science, and targeted community service efforts, local families can use invasive species as a catalyst for building knowledge and cohesiveness both at home and in the community at large.

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 »

6 Ways to Mix Service-Based Learning with Nature Studies

Service Learning & Nature Studies

By Andrea Caluori-Rivera
MassLIFT AmeriCorps Member at Hilltown Land Trust & Kestrel Land Trust

Learn about different bird species and habitat! Building a birdhouse is a great activity to do on a rainy afternoon that incorporates many skills and interests (woodworking, building, design, citizen science). There are many things to consider before building a birdhouse so take a look at Mass Audubon’s informational site on birdhouses to get started.

Service learning is a great way to encourage active citizenship and a strong environmental ethic.  Last weekend, I sat down with fellow MassLIFT AmeriCorps member, Nick Atherton, to talk about his role as the Service Learning Coordinator at Mount Grace Land Trust and to learn how to incorporate service learning into nature studies projects.

Nick’s primary role is to partner with local schools by creating service-learning opportunities for students that connect them to the outdoors and cultivate environmental awareness. His recent collaborations include interpretive sign making for local trails and research projects on the socio-economic benefits associated with having access to pristine and healthy eco-systems.  He also assists classes with property monitoring of local town trails, and is in the process of helping a middle school class create and care for a classroom garden.  Based on his experiences, Nick explains, “Service-learning empowers young people. It connects them to the community and to their work. It fosters a connection to the land, and makes people stakeholders in their environment.”

With all of these projects, Nick also relies on older generations to pass down their wisdom and skills. For example, in order to start the classroom garden, Nick consulted a community volunteer and master gardener to teach him basic gardening. “These experiences of growing your own food or monitoring properties, they are all best taught from a place of passion, which falls a lot on volunteers to pass down to younger generations.”  Passion is at the core of volunteerism. By donating time to share our skills and give back, we become more connected to our neighbors, family and community.  As Nick mentioned in our meeting, service learning is a great way to cultivate intergenerational skill sharing.  It highlights how we all are integral parts of our community and that everyone has something to teach, learn and share.

So, what are some ways you can combine service learning into your nature studies? Nick and I compiled a few service learning resources to get you started at home and in your community.  Read the rest of this entry »

Listen for Frogs, Become a Citizen Scientist!

Listen for Frogs, Become a Citizen Scientist!

Just in time for the awakening of amphibian species, Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary offers a training on the FrogWatch citizen science project! Using this and other resources, families can learn about local species of frogs and salamanders and can engage in important conservation work.

Not long from now, local ponds, wetlands, and vernal pools will be teeming with life. Teetering somewhere between ice-crusted and mucky as of late, these aquatic habitats are home to a variety of fascinating species – including many types of frogs! As the landscape awakens, families can prepare for the appearance of local amphibian species by learning to identify common species, exploring the life cycle of amphibians, and engaging in citizen science opportunities.

Hibernating amphibians rise from their icy winter sleep on the first rainy night when the temperature rises above 40 degrees. Known sometimes as “the big night,” this occasion is cause for celebration – and for science. Families can serve as salamander crossing guards, helping the creatures to reach their breeding pools and taking part in citizen science at the same time.

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!

Read the rest of this entry »

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 »

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.

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Citizen Scientists Opportunity: School of Ants

Western MA Families Can Help Scientists Learn About Diversity of Ants Across the United States While Discovering Local Ecology

Adventurous, bug-loving families can help to contribute to ongoing ant research and identification of species by participating in a project called School of Ants. Families are asked to collect ant samples from at least two locations near their home and mail their specimens to an entomology research center.

Ants are amazing…. and sometimes a nuisance – they’re attracted to food when you snack outside, they crawl on your feet when you sit in the grass, and sometimes they’re so brazen as to venture into our homes, snagging sweet treats from our floors, counters, and cupboards. Nuisance though they can be, ants are also fascinating: they can lift enormous amounts of weight, they create a very intricate social structure, and they can live in the most unlikely of places, like cracks in busy city sidewalks.

Ants are one of the least understood crawly critters found around us. There are numerous species of ants found all over North America (and the world!), yet the habits of many of these species have not been extensively researched. Of particular interest to researchers are invasive species of ants – types that have been brought in from other parts of the world and are adversely affecting other populations that they now share an environment with…

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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 »

Hilltown Families on Mass Appeal: Learning on the Watershed

Hilltown Families on Mass Appeal: June Segment
Habitat to Support Community-Based Education

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 host, Ashley Kohl, 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, June 25, 2015, this month looking at community-based education through the lens of habitat.  Sienna and Ashley talk about community-based events and resources that support an integrative approach to nature-based learning:

Summer months are a great time of year to get outside with your kids and allow nature to become their classroom.  During the warmer months, look through the lens of your local habitat to find ways for your families to engage in your community while supporting interests and education.  What you will find are opportunities and resources that integrate learning cross a variety of interests, including:

  • River ecology to support interests in insects.
  • Wetlands to support learning about the food chain.
  • Bogs for discovering unique native plants.

Points of entry to community engagement that not only support interest and education, but also support the values of many families include:

  • Outdoor adventures supporting intergenerational engagement while learning about the river.
  • Citizen scientist opportunities to engage families in the scientific process while learning about river ecology.
  • Family volunteering that support service-based learning while keeping our rivers clean and protected.

Discover information and ideas highlighted here in our post,
Learning Along the Watershed: Rivers, Wetlands & Bogs.


Mass Appeal is a live weekday program that airs at 11am on 22News (Springfield, MA).  Our next visit to the Mass Appeal studios will be Thursday, July 25!

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