Elms College Bioblitz Encourages Citizen Scientists

Biodiversity in Your Neighborhood

Elms College is throwing a Bioblitz on Saturday, April 30, 9am-3pm at Chicopee Memorial State Park. Teachers, students, parents and friends of all ages are invited to team up with scientists to identify as many of the park’s living creatures as possible in a single day. This is a wonderful opportunity to meet people working in scientific fields and ask them questions about science in general or about their careers specifically. Participation can get community members interested in the biodiversity of their local lands, and as a result make them more invested in conservation efforts. Documenting of local species can give scientists clues for further research. You never know what you’re going to find until you look! Please register online at the Elms College website. 570 Burnett Road, Chicopee, MA. (FREE)

In the past twenty years, childhood in the United States has moved indoors. The average American child spends about thirty minutes of their day in unstructured, outdoor play, and more than seven hours in front of a screen (see this report for more information). Most people intuitively understand the connection between time spent in nature and positive well-being. Fresh air and exercise keep our bodies in shape and our minds focused. But did you know that time spent outdoors in childhood also is correlated with better distance vision? If you and your child pair your time spent outdoors with species identification, this may sharpen your visual skills even further as you try to spot birds, plants, insects, and mammals which may be small, or may dart away at the sight of you. This kind of activity also teaches patience and focus.

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Watershed Blitz: Support the Conservation Efforts of the Westfield River

Nature Hike Offers Community Based Crash Course on Environmental Science

It’s easy to see how the turkey tail mushroom got its name. These are just a sample of the biodiversity you’ll discover in the Westfield River watershed during the Westfield River Committee’s Watershed Blitz on Sept 27!

What do green frogs, turkey tail mushrooms, and poison ivy all have in common? They’re all things that can be found in and around the Westfield River – and they’re all things that volunteers will likely encounter at the Westfield River Committee’s Watershed Blitz! Held on Saturday, September 27, 2014,  from 9am-2:30pm, the event is being held in order to honor the 20 years of conservation that the committee has accomplished. More importantly, however, the event will gather important information about the Westfield River watershed’s biodiversity general health.

Participation in the event doesn’t necessarily require extensive knowledge of local plant and animal species, but it does require certain physical abilities. Volunteers should be prepared to hike 1.5 to 2 miles of the river corridor – territory that is challenging, but can make for a great adventure. Alongside nature-loving volunteers will be experts on all kinds of biology and environmental science topics – everything from salamanders to culverts! Armed with the knowledge of experts and some good field guides, participants will be able to help discover and identify all sorts of species to whom the Westfield’s banks are a happy home. Read the rest of this entry »

Parenting Green: Make Yourself Re-useful

Lead by example and develop new habits in reusing materials

Hydrate. Hydrate. Hydrate. But do it from reusable water bottles.

I know this to be true about water bottles… They make you drink more water; especially when they’re new, and you’re a kid. It’s worth it to me for our kids to get excited about the purchase of a new one, especially now that summer is finally here. I often forget in those first weeks about switching gears into full-hydration mode, and making sure that everyone is drinking enough water. Without fail, getting a new containment method for liquids provides enough entertainment that even I have fun drinking more.

There are so many choices of BPA free plastic ones and gloriously colored stainless steel ones, you’ll be sure to find your muse. In the $15-30 sticker price, you might convince yourself you’ll be done buying them because they last forever, but they also get lost so easily. (Maybe they’re all where I left my reusable bags.) Then I think about all those moments when I want a cold drink when I’m out and about: an iced coffee, or chai, or a smoothie from the cafe. These are ALL moments we can hand our reusable container over the counter and have it filled up. Read the rest of this entry »

Earth Day Feature: Unique Recycling Programs

Recycle T-Shirt Sign

Three Unique Recycling Programs

Unidentified keys, trophies from the early 80’s & broken crayons… these three things can clutter up your junk drawer, attics, and art supplies. Here are three unique recycling programs that recycle all three of these items for good causes. Gather items together with your kids, ask your neighbors if they have any to contribute too, then package up and ship off. These teaching moments can spark conversations with your kids about the importance of recycling and help others: Earth Day Feature: Unique Recycling Programs.

Christmas Morning Clean-up: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle!

It’s a Wrap!  Time to Recycle!

Gift wrap IS recyclable! Reuse what you can and toss the ripped up stuff into your paper recycling bin (Do not include gift wrap with metallic ink, glitter, or foil). When opening gifts, use a brown paper bag to capture gift wrap, tissue paper, greeting cards, envelopes and boxes.

Unwrapping gifts this morning?  Have a mini-mountain of wrapping paper, or pieces strewn across your living room? Did you know that all wrapping paper is recyclable (except wrapping paper with foil)? Recycle your wrapping paper this year with your other paper.

Also, keep in mind that all cardboard gift boxes, tissue paper, gift cards and paper shopping bags are recyclable (just no foil or glitter), and you might be able to bring Styrofoam packing peanuts to the UPS store for reuse.

On the other hand, ribbons, bows and tinsel cannot be recycled are not. Next year (or for any other special gift giving occasion), try making your own gift bows from old magazine pages.  Check out this tutorial from How About Orange.

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The Ripple: Engaging as Citizen Scientists Along the 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).

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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!

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Citizen Scientists Wanted to Monitor Plants as the Seasons Change

Project BudBurst
Citizen Scientist Opportunity for Families & Students

For younger children, BudBurst Buddies is a companion to Project BudBurst that encourages young learners to follow the seasons by making simple botanical observations. Check it out at www.budburstbuddies.org – (Photo credit: Dennis Ward)

Students can learn so much by following the seasonal patterns of plants found here in New England. Each plant’s cycle is different, and varies depending on factors like location and weather patterns.  Tracking a plant through its seasonal changes can help us to better understand the subtle changes that take place in our environment, and says a lot about where we live.

This spring, families can track these plant cycles by volunteering as Citizen Scientists for Project BudBurst, a national project that tracks buds, blooms, and leaves as the seasons change.  The project is used to generate useful ecological data that can be used in studies of the environment and to track annual changes of seasons and climate.  The project is open to families and educators living in any of the 50 states, and participation can be a one time project or a year-long educational expedition.

Working together to gather information to submit to Project BudBurst is a great way for youth to develop useful nature-related skills and to gain knowledge and experience in plant identification, while volunteering as citizen scientists.  Students will need to learn the anatomy of plants in order to check for specific growth patterns, and they will gain practice using field guides while working to identify the plants that they find.  They will also begin to understand the biodiversity present in the area, and will examine the relationship that changes in the sky bring to their environment.  Recording data will help with development of basic data analysis, and presenting data in a useful format is excellent practice for nonfiction writing.  Students of all ages can learn by participating in Project BudBurst, and it could be used by homeschoolers, K-12 classrooms, and higher education.

For more information on the project or to sign up to contribute, visit http://budburst.org/getstarted.php.

Call to Artists: Travel the Watershed

Westfield River Wild & Scenic Call for Hilltown Artists

Michele Beemer of Heartwood and volunteers have been working away in the beautiful Washington, MA shop, designing and building watershed suit cases. (Submitted photo)

The Westfield River Wild & Scenic advisory committee invites local artists of all ages to paint wooden suitcases that will “Travel the Watershed” this summer!

“Many artists choose to live in the Hilltowns because of the inspiring landscape and the pristine river that runs through it,” writes the Westfield River Wild & Scenic advisory committee. “The idea for a call to artists is to invite local artists to paint six handcrafted wooden suitcases that will ‘Travel the Watershed,’ inspiring others to soak up the beauty and protect the watershed.”

These suitcases will be on exhibit as works of art throughout the summer as display cases with information about Westfield River Wild & Scenic.  Local artists of all ages are invited to apply by midnight, March 1st, 2013… a great opportunity for youth artists to integrate art with environmental studies!

Selected Artists will be announced at the Westfield River Watershed Symposium held at Westfield University on March 23rd, 2013.  A $500 honorarium will be given to each of the selected artists and their work will be shown throughout the summer as the cases “Travel the Watershed.”

“We are looking for local artists of all ages, four of the selected artist must have an address in one of the ten towns with Wild & Scenic designation,” writes Wild & Scenic.  Towns include Becket, Chester, Chesterfield, Cummington, Huntington, Middlefield, Savoy, Washington, Windsor, and Worthington. To apply visit: becketartscenter.org.

Westfield River Wild & Scenic advisory committee serves to preserve, protect and enhance the special qualities and outstanding resources of the Westfield River Watershed in concert with local communities. Find out more at westfieldriverwildscenic.org.

Citizen Scientists Wanted for Mass Audubon Winter Bird Count

Focus on Feeders
Mass Audubon Winter Bird Count
February 2nd & 3rd, 2013

People can help their feathered friends in the coldest season by joining Mass Audubon’s annual Focus on Feeders winter bird count on the weekend of February 2-3. The volunteer survey invites participants to list individual bird species and the greatest number of each seen at one time at their feeders and in their yards during that Saturday and Sunday.   Anyone can participate—including families, first timers, and veteran bird enthusiasts. Participants will be able to learn and share information about the birds that visit their yards and feeders in winter. They will also be contributing knowledge to more than 40 years of winter bird feeder sighting information.

Does your family enjoy watching birds at your feeder during the winter?  Backyard feeders provide a consistent, easily accessible source of food for a wide variety of bird species during the winter, and feeder-watching is a great way for families to learn about the many different species who live in their neighborhood.

This weekend, Mass Audubon is offering a chance for families to put feeder-watching to good use!  Focus on Feeders – the great winter bird count – will take place on Saturday, February 2nd and Sunday, February 3rd, and is an annual event held to collect data on bird species and populations.  All that families need to do to participate is to keep a list of the types of birds seen at the feeder during the weekend, as well as the number of each type of bird seen at a time.  Then, families can submit their data for use in an actual scientific study by either entering it in online or completing a form and mailing it.  The data collected will be used to assess bird populations and habits across the state – information that can be analyzed in order to understand the effects of changes in climate and landscape.

In order to identify birds, families will need to use a good field guide.  Using a field guide to identify species allows kids to develop and practice reference skills while discovering bird characteristics of different species needed to properly identify them.  Learning about the species living in their backyard will help students nurture a sense of place while drawing closer to the natural world around them!

Deadline for submissions is Thursday, February 28, 2013.  More information at www.massaudubon.org/focus.

[Photo credit: (ccl) senoracak]

Federal Fish and Wildlife Services’ Junior Duck Stamp Program

Supplement Habitat Studies with the Junior Duck Stamp Program

The Junior Duck Stamp Program offers an educational arts and science curriculum which educators can use for incorporating science, art, math and technology into habitat conservation studies. (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

Western Massachusetts is home to a wide variety of duck species.  These beautiful birds make their homes in wetland areas, a habitat in need of conservation.  Students can learn about duck species and help to promote wetland conservation by participating in the Federal Fish and Wildlife Services’ Junior Duck Stamp Program!  This contest calls for students to create their own stamps, featuring a specific duck species portrayed in its habitat.  Students should learn about their species of choice, so as to make the best and most accurate depiction possible!  Their design should reflect the group’s goal in creating the stamp – to share the beauty and importance of the species of the duck depicted.

Students should learn to understand the relationship between the duck and its specific environment, and should understand why the duck has such specific habitat requirements.  Students can also study other stamp designs to learn what makes a good stamp!

Entries in the contest will be judged in four different age groups, and the winning entry will be made into a stamp and released in June.  The contest is an opportunity for students to learn about local biodiversity, and to work on their understanding of the interrelatedness of species and their habitat.  Students can also work on their art skills, working carefully to clearly portray their duck.  The contest deadline is March 15th. For more information visit www.fws.gov/juniorduck.

Online resources for educators:

14 Community Highlights: Winter Trail Days to Chasing Ice. Preschool Fair to Teen Social Justice.

This week there are a few events to inspire and education on ways individuals and communities have in the past and can in the future bring about positive change. 

Winter Trail Days to Chasing Ice. Preschool Fair to Teen Social Justice. Worksongs to Work of 1000… These are just a few of the learning highlights we’re featuring this week! Get out into your community and learn while you play! And be sure to check our list of supporting book titles to supplement the learning on the different topics highlighted each week. Purchase them for your family library, or check them out from the public library!


Teens interested in exploring the history of social justice movements (and/or Jewish history) can learn about the Kosher Meat Boycott and its place in the American Labor Movement on Sunday afternoon, Jan. 6th in Greenfield at Temple Israel. Participants will focus on learning about the key ideas of the movement (related to work and time), Jewish ethics, and relevant Jewish cultural history. This free workshop is designed for Jewish teens, but is open to those of any religious or cultural background interested in supplement their learning.

The Trustees of Reservations will host a free screening of “The Work of 1000” at the Wistariahurst Museum on Thursday evening, Jan. 10th in Holyoke. The film is about environmental pioneer Marion Stoddart’s work to restore the Nashua River after years of pollution from industrial manufacturing. Stoddart, along with communities along the river and the Trustees of Reservations, helped to lobby successfully for the Massachusetts Clean Water Act, and helped to set a standard for treatment and respect of bodies of water. Stoddart will be in attendance to share her experiences firsthand and answer questions. Great for older students (grades 4+) learning about conservation and community organizing. Pair with a family reading of Lynne Cherry’s book, A River Ran Wild, which tells the natural and human-impacted history of the river alongside beautiful illustrations.


The Berkshire Museum Little Cinema will screen “Chasing Ice,” Sat.-Mon. evenings and Mon. afternoon in Pittsfield. This award-winning film is National Geographic photographer James Balog’s documentary of the Arctic with breathtaking imagery that tells of the Earth’s changing climate. Balog’s videos compress years into seconds and capture ancient mountains of ice in motion as they disappear at a breathtaking rate. A beautiful film to supplement environmental science studies.


Sing along to traditional southern worksongs with Max Godfrey and Friends at Williams College on Wednesday evening, Jan. 9th in Williamstown. The collection of songs included were originally created by prisoners, but have been rediscovered by agricultural workers and are sung to make hard labor more bearable. Most follow a simple call-and-repeat format, and are, as a result, quite easy to participate in and learn quickly. Godfrey works to search through recordings in order to share them with people in order to keep up the musical tradition. The free event will include dinner, and lots of music! Students of any age will love singing along, and the event can be tied in with studies of the history of rural America and American agriculture.

The MIFA Theater screens the documentary, “After the Factory,” in the Great Banking Hall at the South Hadley Falls Bank and Trust Building in Holyoke on Friday evening, Jan. 11th. The documentary examines how the cities of Detroit, Michigan and Lodz, Poland have dealt with sustaining their populations and re-strengthening their post-industrial economies. Both cities have rich and interesting histories, and the film fits well with studies of American and European history. The film is also relevant for studies of local history, as the city of Holyoke is facing similar issues.


Lubavitcher Yeshiva Academy in Longmeadow is hosting Cooking With Parents and Grandparents on Monday afternoon, Jan. 7th – a free workshop where kids and their grown-ups can learn traditional shabbat recipes. Families can learn to make challah, potato knishes, and other treats. All are welcome to come learn how to make these traditional recipes in kid-friendly ways.


Winter Trails Day happens at Northfield Mountain on Saturday afternoon, Jan. 5th. Families with older children can learn to snowshoe and/or cross country ski during free workshops hosted throughout the afternoon. Gear provided.

On Sunday afternoon, Jan. 6th, celebrate the opening of Community Field in Holyoke with Winter Fun! Skate for free on the refrigerated ice patch (skate rentals available), go for a snowshoeing adventure, and warm up with some hot cocoa!


The Jones Library in Amherst hosts a free Chess Club for youth ages 7yo and older with Andy Morris-Friedman on Saturday afternoon in the Amherst Room.

The Westfield Athenaeum is offering a special Nook petting zoo on Wednesday evening, Jan. 9th. Families can try out the devices for free and learn about some of their features – trying out a Nook can be helpful if you’re thinking about investing in on.


On Tuesday evening, Jan. 8th, Frank Grindrod of Earthwork Programs will share strategies for preparing your family for an emergency at River Valley Market Co-op during a free workshop in Northampton. Participants will learn what things are best to have on hand, and what strategies to have prepared for a variety of emergencies, including a power outage, extreme weather, being lost in the wilderness, etc.

Learn more about the Brain Gym program with Childcare of the Berkshires on Wednesday evening, Jan. 9th at Abbott Memorial School in Florida. This free program focuses on utilizing movement to promote brain stimulation, and parents will learn about the basic principles that the program focuses on.

On Thursday morning, Jan. 10th, the Northampton Parents Center is hosting its annual free Preschool Fair at the Parents Center in the lower level of Edwards Church. Representatives from local Northampton based preschools (and a few from neighboring towns) will be on hand to answer questions.

In the evening on Thursday in Florence, the Valley CDC is hosting a free four-part workshop series for first-time homebuyers at Florence Savings Bank. There are a lot of benefits to participating if you’re about to buy your family’s first home – the certified class will help families get access to special loan programs, will teach participants how to access money for down payments and closing costs, and will share information about many other parts of home shopping and the legal processes that come with home-buying.

List of Weekly Suggested EventsFind out about these events and over 100 other events & activities happening all next week in our List of Weekly Suggested Events. All of our listed events are “suggested.” Please take a moment to confirm that these events are happening as scheduled, along with time, place, age appropriateness and costs before heading out.


Christmas Morning Clean-up: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle!

It’s a Wrap!  Time to Recycle!

Gift wrap IS recyclable! Reuse what you can and toss the ripped up stuff into your paper recycling bin (Do not include gift wrap with metallic ink, glitter, or foil). When opening gifts, use a brown paper bag to capture gift wrap, tissue paper, greeting cards, envelopes and boxes.

Unwrapping gifts this morning?  Have a mini-mountain of wrapping paper, or pieces strewn across your living room? Did you know that all wrapping paper is recyclable (except wrapping paper with foil)? Recycle your wrapping paper this year with your other paper.

Also, keep in mind that all cardboard gift boxes, tissue paper, gift cards and paper shopping bags are recyclable (just no foil or glitter), and you might be able to bring Styrofoam packing peanuts to the UPS store for reuse.

On the other hand, ribbons, bows and tinsel cannot be recycled are not. Next year (or for any other special gift giving occasion), try making your own gift bows from old magazine pages.  Check out this tutorial from How About Orange.

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Citizen Scientists Wanted for Annual Christmas Bird Count

Christmas Bird Count: An Annual Citizen Scientist
24 Hour Hunt for Bird Species

This beautiful Cedar Waxwing is a year-round resident and a commonly seen during the Christmas Bird Count. (Photo credit: Leslie Reed-Evans)

Leslie Reed-Evans writes:

Imagine standing at the edge of a frosty field on a chill December morning.  Out of the corner of your eye you see an electric flash of blue- a male Eastern Bluebird flying to a wild rose bush to munch on its fruit1 – This is a scene played out all over New England, and indeed the country, as bird enthusiasts get out to find, identify and count as many individual birds and species as possible as members of the annual Christmas Bird Count.

According to the National Audubon, prior to the turn of the century people engaged in a holiday tradition known as the Christmas “Side Hunt.” They would choose sides and go afield with their guns; whoever brought in the biggest pile of feathered (and furred) quarry won. Conservation was in its beginning stages around the turn of the 20th century, and many observers and scientists were becoming concerned about declining bird populations. Beginning on Christmas Day 1900, ornithologist Frank Chapman, an early officer in the then budding Audubon Society, proposed a new holiday tradition -a “Christmas Bird Census”-that would count birds in the holidays rather than hunt them. One hundred and thirteen years later, hundreds of citizen scientists head for the woodlands, fields, ponds and rivers to compete with fellow participants and find the most number of birds, building on the tradition started so long ago.  Everyone is looking for the most exciting and unusual species, but every bird sighted is a special one.

Counts may take place anytime between December 14 and January 5, and each count area is a circle extending from a center point with a 15-mile diameter, taking in as many habitats as possible.  The count period is 24 hours.  The north Berkshire count averages  between 45 and 55 species, depending on the weather of the day, and the weather leading up to the count day.  This year there have been many reports of winter finches, such as Pine Grosbeaks and crossbills, which in some years come from the north when cones or other food is in short supply.

Each of the citizen scientists who annually braves snow, wind, or rain to take part in the Christmas Bird Count makes an enormous contribution to conservation. Audubon and other organizations use data collected in this longest-running wildlife census to assess the health of bird populations – and to help guide conservation action.  Everyone who takes part in the Christmas Bird Count does it for love of birds and the excitement of friendly competition — and with the knowledge that their efforts are making a difference for science and bird conservation.

If you are interested in finding a Christmas Bird Count to take part in, visit birds.audubon.org (or contact the organizers below).

You will be participating in a tradition that you just might adopt as your own!

Western MA Area Christmas Bird Count Dates & Organizers:

  • Springfield Area Christmas Count: Saturday, December 15th, 2012. Contact: George Kingston. 413-525-6742. gcking@yahoo.com
  • North Berkshire Christmas Bird Count: Saturday, December 15th, 2012. Contact: Leslie Reed-Evans. 413-458-5150. lre@wrlf.org.
  • Central Berkshire Christmas Bird Count: Saturday, December 15th, 2012. Contact: Tom Collins. tcbirder@nycap.rr.com.
  • Westfield Area Christmas Count: Saturday, December 22nd, 2012. Contact: Seth Kellogg. 413-569-3335. skhawk@comcast.net.
  • South Berkshire Christmas Bird Count: Tuesday, January 1st, 2013. Contact: Rene Laubach. rlaubach@massaudubon.org.

The Ripple: Families Work as Citizen Scientists for the Westfield River

Families Learn about the Relationship Between
Benthic Invertebrates and River Ecology
with Hilltown Families & Biocitizen

Halloween’s upon us and the leaves are almost down—and for river lovers that means it’s time to do Rapid Biotic Assessments (RBA), which involves capturing and cataloging the bugs—benthic invertebrates —that live on the riverbed. Certain bugs like stonefly-nymphs need lots of oxygen to survive, and when you find a bunch of them, it’s a sign that the river water is fresh and clean and that aquatic habitat is unimpaired. Given that in the last two years we’ve endured the yin and yang of weather extremes—hurricane last year, drought this year—we’ve been especially concerned that our river bugs are reeling from the stress.

A few days ago, on a lucky afternoon when the clouds parted and the sun warmed our shoulders, Hilltown Families conducted its yearly RBA in West Chesterfield. We forged into the bracing current of the East Branch of the Westfield River and at 3 sites where the water churned white we reached down into the numbing cold and scrubbed bugs off rocks and the riverbed; dislodged, they floated into our EPA approved net. On shore, we emptied the nets into basins and “oohed” and “ahhed” at the first signs of buggy abundance. I could see after our 1st sampling that the river was healthy; the drought had not decimated the bugs.

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How to Plan a Bioblitz

Organize a Bioblitz in Your Community!

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.

Are your kids curious about all of the many different plants and animals that they find while exploring outside?  Have you ever been curious about the amount of biodiversity in your community?  Would your students benefit from a hands-on species identification project?  Do a bioblitz!

A bioblitz is a community event designed to quickly compile information on biodiversity in a relatively small area.  Community members of all ages participate in the events alongside trained naturalists and scientists to find and identify as many species of plants and animals as possible in, generally, a period of 24 hours.  A shorter bioblitz (one the length of a school day or even just an afternoon) can be organized, though – if a smaller area of land is explored, a classroom of students or even just a few families together can work their way through the identification process.

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!

[Photo credit: (ccl) Katja Schulz]

The Ripple: Finding the Heart of the Watershed

Thinking Like A Watershed

Have you ever thrilled at a sunset—tried to take pictures of it so you could later return to the expansive glowing feeling-thoughts that came with it? Your identity magnified, your experience of life  intensified, a part of a larger magnificence… The fractal-ness of that experience of being a tiny shiny diamond in a vast galaxy of larger shiny diamonds, or of being a raindrop that becomes the ocean the moment it touches it, is also evident when we think like a watershed.

One of the funnier thoughts I’ve heard goes like this: “I want to be one with nature.” You might have heard of this thought, or a variation of it, too. The reason I find it funny is that it’s actually impossible not to be “one with nature,” if being “one” means directly, physically and existentially connected to the vital sources of being.

If, by any chance, you are worried you aren’t one with nature, here’s a simple way to find out: don’t take another breath. If you can do that, then perhaps you aren’t one with nature (or, you’re dead, and the issue is no longer of consequence). If, on the other hand, you hold your breath & feel that growing discomfort that finally consumes all other thoughts, and gasp and open your mouth and vacuum the atmosphere deep into your lungs, then you have empirical proof that you are air. For, without it, you are not you.

If you and I and our friends and family are air, then why does this fact—”Hi! I am an amalgam of air named Kurt”—seem so weird? Why isn’t the airy-ness of every moment as much a part of our surface consciousness as our cellphone # is? The answer: we take for granted, and then forget, that we are air because there are so many other things we are forced, or want, to think about. It’s these other business/family/social/daydream thoughts that remove our attention from what actually is (i.e., that we are always “one with nature”). We (over)emphasize these kinds of thoughts and they become the construction materials we hammer together to create that cell phone #-side of ourselves, that gets all the attention. Our airy side gets forgotten.This funny thought of wanting to be “one with nature” is caused by a way of thinking that presumes we are not already natural. My job (here at The Ripple) is to help you, and your family, emphasize the ways that you are perfectly “one with nature.” And one of my favorite ways to do this is to stimulate our imaginations by thinking like a watershed.

Before I do that, though, allow me to suggest a great read for Fall: The Sand County Almanac. It is one of the foundational statements of ecological philosophy, and it is written in a folksy, grandpa-ish style that camoflages its profoundly passionate explanations of how we are “one with nature.” There is a chapter in it entitled, Thinking Like a Mountain that changed, and continues to change, my life for the better. What is so wonderful about the chapter is that it explains that humans are gifted with an ability to think non-human thoughts; for example, through observation and deduction, we can think like the sky—which is another way of saying that we can forecast the weather. What is even more amazing is that thinking like the sky has a practical value (ask any farmer, sailor or pilot) but it also has other values, including aesthetic. Have you ever thrilled at a sunset—tried to take pictures of it so you could later return to the expansive glowing feeling-thoughts that came with it? What happened was your identity was magnified, your experience of life was intensified in a wonderful and glorious way not just by the image you beheld, but also by the fact that you—by witnessing and thinking it—real-ized you are part of a larger magnificence.

The fractal-ness of the experience of glorying in a gorgeous sunset, that feeling of being a tiny shiny diamond in a vast galaxy of larger shiny diamonds, or of being a raindrop that becomes the ocean the moment it touches it, is also evident when we think like a watershed (A fractal is form like a circle that retains its identity whether it is perceived on micro- or macro- scopic level.).

A watershed is a geological form that looks like, and is often called, a basin, the rim of which is defined by ridge tops. All rain that falls within the basin is pulled by gravity to the lowest altitudes, where it coalesces to form streams and rivers. Many Hilltown Families readers live in or near the Connecticut River watershed, which is one of the largest in the eastern USA.

As you can see from the map on the Connecticut River Watershed Council website, the CT River watershed is an amalgam of many smaller watersheds. Here is an example of the fractal-ness of nature—of the tiny worlds within bigger worlds within even bigger worlds reality that makes nature so fascinating and resilient. The Westfield River watershed is comprised of (at least) three smaller watersheds, all nested within the whole; and this whole is one of many smaller watersheds that make up the CT River watershed.

Notice, too, that the watershed form resembles a leaf. The streams are leaf veins, and they lead to the midrib which is a brook. The midrib leads to tree branch, in the same way a brook leads to a river; and a river, like the Westfield, leads to a larger river, like the CT, the way a branch leads to a tree trunk. From there, it flows back to the ocean from whence it came; like the trunk that returns to the roots and the earth, from whence it emerged. Aren’t fractals fun?  Read the rest of this entry »

Community Service: Source-to-Sea River Clean-Up with The Trustees

Source-to-Sea Clean-Up in Hampden County
Sunday, Sept. 30th

Ellie Lobovits, Holyoke Education Coordinator for the Trustees writes, “The river is such a spectacular resource in Holyoke. From restoring ecological habitat along its banks to leading kayaking trips we really want to keep it healthy and make sure people are enjoying it.” (Photo source: CT River Watershed Council)

The Trustees of Reservations (The Trustees), United Water, and Holyoke Friends of the River have joined forces this fall to organize a river clean-up volunteer day on the banks of the Connecticut River. On Sunday, September 30th, from 9am-Noon, folks of all ages and abilities are invited to meet at the American Legion next to Pulaski Park (50 St. Kolbe Dr., Holyoke, MA) to walk down to the river, picking up trash and debris along the way. The trash will then be organized into categories (metal, wood, etc.) and picked up by the Holyoke DPW. Much of the trash will be recycled… even tires get recycle! This clean-up is part of a larger effort organized by the Connecticut River Watershed Council (CRWC) called “Source-to-Sea,” a clean-up that will run all weekend and will span all four states through which the Connecticut River runs.

This volunteer day is a great opportunity for youth groups, student groups, and other local organizations to come together to help clean-up the river and to make this precious resource safer for all. The river is used for all sorts of recreational activities, including boating and fishing, and is an important ecological resource, providing habitat for bald eagles, turtles, herons, and various fish. Last year, 1,500 Source-to Sea volunteers pulled over 51 tons of trash from 60 miles of shoreline throughout Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Connecticut!

Looking for an existing group in your area to join? Check the CRWC website for groups still looking for volunteers, including the Friends of the Green River for the 9th Annual Green River Clean-Up on Saturday, Sept 29th from 9am-3pm.

Become a Friend of the River:

The Ripple: Adopt Your Local Stream or River

Adopt Your Local Stream or River

If you and your family love streams and rivers, and would like to develop a deep and meaningful relationship with them, this is what I invite you to do: Adopt your local stream or river; make a commitment to care for and watch over it like a parent cares for a child.

Rivers and streams are beautiful. That’s why we are drawn to them, deeply and elementally. The first colonists in Western Massachusetts hugged close to the rivers because of the abundance of life that issued from and through them, and our (or at least my) favorite town of all—Northampton—still retains much of the vibrancy of its original biocultural character: an idealistic, community-oriented and caring character generated by the serendipitous confluence of river, fertile alluvial fields and small but striking volcanic mountains. Take away the river, and there would be no “Paradise City.”

Rivers and streams are creative. They speak to us of permanence amidst ceaseless change, and when we feel drained of energy and crazed by the myriad burdens of these crazy days, a trip to the river can ease our bodies, minds and souls. “In the woods is perpetual youth,” said the sage of Concord, and there are few other places adults can go in this world, and in our woods, to reflect upon existence and to return to the simplicities and sufficiencies that delight the child, both real (as in our kids) and metaphorical (as in that sacred part of us that never gets jaded).

Rivers and streams, our rivers and streams of the Connecticut and Westfield watersheds, are alive—and once you are initiated into the ways of perceiving that life (also known as biome), you pass through the portals of knowing them as “scenic” and begin to develop a relationship with them as intimate and fulfilling as that of a child to a parent. For they are actually the circulatory system of an otherwise listless geology; (ask any desert, and you’ll find they agree). Mid to late summer is the perfect time, for example, to see and touch the wild flowering plants such as Cardinal Flower and Joe Pye Weed our rivers “express.” Go—find some! Compare them, their supple composure and light presence, to the rowdy new “invasives” called Japanese Knot Weed and Purple Loosestrife that spread like the common cold and cram together along the banks, choking off all other knee-high plant life. What we see in the spread of invasives is the changing of our riparian landscapes from ancient reciprocal patterns of native plants and the creatures that depend upon them to a new and flashy pattern of chaos that starves and exiles our native creatures. Wherever Loosestrife takes over, Cardinal Flowers disappear—and that’s why Mass DEP recommends eradicating invasives wherever you find them .

Rivers and streams need us to love them, and it is actually possible to do this, out of gratitude (for the life, health and beauty they generously share) and out of concern (that their integrity is disrupted by our present way of living).

If you and your family love streams and rivers, and would like to develop a deep and meaningful relationship with them, this is what I invite you to do. Adopt your local stream or river; make a commitment to care for and watch over it like a parent cares for a child. To care for it, you have to know it, and to know it you have to look deeply into it and understand how it works—where comes from, where it goes, what it’s connect to, whose water supply is derived from it, what kinds of specific creatures depend upon its living waters.

One of the best ways to perceive, and care for, the life of our rivers is to participate in the annual “citizen scientist” activity of Rapid Biotic Assessment (RBA). A RBA is done in the early Fall, takes about 2 or 3 hours to do, and involves collecting the bugs (called benthic invertebrates) that live in the stream bed. The health of the river can be understood by the amount, and type, of bugs that you collect. A RBA is an annual health check up, actually, and when done year after year, you can find out if your river is getting healthier or sicker.

Biocitizen, the non-profit school I work for, has been setting up an RBA program that “cares for” the rivers and streams in the Hilltown Families region; in fact, Hilltown Families has been conducting RBAs of the Westfield River in West Chesterfield for the past 2 years with us. I invite you to contact me at info@biocitizen.org if you would like to participate in our initiative, either by joining in an established RBA, or developing a program for your local stream or river. You can also log onto biocitizen.org, where I’ll be posting RBA events in coming weeks.


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!

[Photo credit: (ccl) Steve Guttman]

ReUse Rally for the Arts: A Call for Artisans

ReUse Rally for the Arts: A Call for Artisans

Deadline to apply: Aug. 24th, 2012.

What can you do with old clothes, leftover non-recyclable containers, bits of string, extra drops of paint, and seemingly useless utensils? Make art!

The Northampton DPW ReUse Committee is hosting an artisan show featuring work made from recycled, reused, and found materials – titled, “ReUse Rally for the Arts,” the event will both showcase interesting and radical work from local artisans, as well as bring light to the artistic potential of recycled and found materials and the non-necessity of brand new manufactured art supplies.

The show will take place on October 13th at JFK Middle School in Northampton, but the application deadline for artisans interested in participating in the show is August 24th.  The event will showcase the work of 20+ creative reuse artisans, and is an intergenerational opportunity for older students (teens) serious about art to participate using a non-traditional medium, and to experience the use of art as a tool for cultural change.  All work submitted should be made out of at least 75% post-consumer materials – pieces can be anything from collages or statues to jewelry or clothing!

Description of the event and application are available here.  For more information contact Deborah Slavitt, Arts ReUse Coordinator, at deborahjane26@artisttogo.net.

13 Suggestions on What to Do with Tattered & Torn Clothes

Wondering what to do with old clothing that is ripped, stained or otherwise unable to donate/wear?

Melissa Weinberger of Easthampton writes, “I am about to throw a huge bag of old clothing into the garbage and wondering if there’s another way. We already use a lot of old t-shirts, etc. as rags, but this is stuff that seems headed for the landfill unless there’s another option.”

Thanks to Riché for recommending the short documentary, Secondhand (Pepe). “In this documentary about used clothing, the historical memoir of a Jewish immigrant rag picker intertwines with the present-day story of ‘pepe’ — secondhand clothing that flows from North America to Haiti. Secondhand (Pepe) animates the materiality of recycled clothes — their secret afterlives and the unspoken connections among people in an era of globalization.”

  • Jennifer Shiao Page writes, “I have the same conundrum, so am looking forward to hearing the ideas!”
  • Diane Kanzler writes, “Well, pure cotton and linen textiles can be composted. It takes awhile to compost, but it can be done. I’ve found it can take up to two years for cotton knits to compost fully, and often the nylon thread used to sew a cotton garment won’t compost and has to be pulled out of the compost. – The EPA has an interesting page on the topic of textile recycling: Textiles Common Wastes & Materials.
  • Susan Countryman writes, “If you sew you can repurpose the clothes into doll clothes, cool patches for jeans, throw pillows, etc.”
  • Michelle Harris Dzialo writes, “Give it to a quilter! All my grandmothers old quilts were made out of old clothing!”
  • Gillian Daley writes, “The Northampton DPW has special tags that you use on bags of textiles to be recycled, and the Salvation Army will take them. I don’t know if other towns have them as well but contacting the Northampton DPW is a good start.”
  • Jennifer Shiao Page writes, “But, does the Salvation Army want clothing that are “ripped, stained or otherwise unable to donate/wear?” I know that the Northampton Survival Center does not. I donate what I think is suitable, but what to do with the stuff that is not donation worthy?”
  • Gillian Daley writes, “Jennifer, the specially tagged stuff is recycled into other materials. They ask for the special tags so they are sorted separately from the wearable clothes.”
  • Riché J. Daniel Barnes writes, “I donate to Salvation Army and others because I know they give or sell it to other companies that process it into other stuff. There is a documentary about “rags” called Secondhand (Pepe) by a professor at Harvard.”
  • Maryellen Smith Rousseau wrties, “Give them to the Salvation Army. They take the items that are not saleable and give them to companies that recycle them into shop towels. Please, please don’t throw them away! We need to do everything we can to reduce what we are putting in the landfill.”
  • Arianna Alexsandra Grindrod wrties, “Doesn’t the Bag Share group use rags? Check with the Old Creamery Co-op in Cummington.”
  • Robin Morgan Huntley writes, “Braided rugs! Make one (or a few) for a space your kids play/create in- if they spill paint or jam clay into the rug, it won’t matter because it’s recycled. You can also make pillows and/or a quilt out of old clothes… also particularly effective when there are spill-y kids around.”
  • Kara Kitchen writes, “You can rip/cut into strips, tie together to make long rope and either crochet or braid+stitch into braided rag rugs or baskets/bowls.”
  • Sarah M writes, “Quilt! Then donate the quilts to a shelter or hospital! I use old clothes to put in the dog’s crate!”
  • Melissa Flanders writes,Freecycle?”

The Ripple: A Call for Biotic Citizens!

What Are We Going to Do Now

I invite readers to join us at the beginning of Fall, as we help people become stewards of their local stream and river as biotic citizens. (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

Aldo Leopold was one of the shining lights of our long-awakening ecological movement; and he said that one of the drawbacks of seeing the world from the ecological perspective is that, at the same time you see the incredible beauty of the kinship of all living creatures, you also see the damage being done to our great shared life. He implored educational leaders to not only teach ecology, but to act on that bittersweet feeling of loss by getting involved in the “real world” of political activism to change the course of our collective destiny from that of the “conqueror of nature” to that of the “biotic citizen.” For this reason, he—a professor at the U. of Wisconsin—started the Wilderness Society.

I have always believed that, given the grim news coming from other parts of the world, our Happy Valley and Hilltowns were doing better ecologically than those parts. There are so many farmers concerned about soil and plant health, thought I, and so many nature lovers watching out for their favorite species and landscapes, and so many smart people acting rationally about energy and consumption issues hereabouts that we don’t need to worry about most of the grim things that are occurring elsewhere. It was a shock, therefore, to learn that our air quality gets a grade of “F” from the American Lung Association.  We aren’t making most of that air pollution; we inherit the wind from the cities and states out West. We are connected to everything else; that’s what ecology tells us; that’s how the world works.

If you’ve been following the news about what is happening to the Atlantic Salmon, you know the news isn’t good. Despite the best technology the state and federal government could muster, the salmon are not coming back again. Technology did not provide the solution. So what will—what can—prevent further extinctions of fish species in our rivers?

Read the rest of this entry »

Upcoming Educational and Community Service Highlights for Families

There are several opportunities for families you volunteer together this weekend, including Red Gate Farm’s family volunteer day in Buckland on Saturday. (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

Be sure to check our Best Bets for this weekend, Jun 9 & 10, for several fabulous community celebrations!  We’ve featured Riverfest in Shelburne Falls, the Children’s Book Festival Baseball Bonanza in Amherst, Bear Fest in Easthampton, Hilltown Bluegrass Festival in Goshen, and The Mount’s Family Day in Lenox. Aside from these homeruns, families can build upon their nature studies, explore local history, enjoy the outdoors and participate in community service with several community based educational and service learning opportunities, all week long!

Kids interested in insects can learn about dragonflies and damselfiles at the Millers River Environmental Center in Athol on Saturday or join in Northfield Town Forest BioBlitz, where kid volunteers can help identify the many different species of living things that are present in the forest with local experts. And later in the week, on Wednesday, Jun 13, at the Hitchcock Center for the Environment in Amherst, families can learn about the Boston Museum of Science’s Firefly Watch program and join in on a firefly walk.

Young ornithologists can meet birds of prey up close at the Ramsdell Library in Housatonic on Saturday, or take part in Northfield Town Forest BioBlitz early morning bird search by helping to identify bird species with local experts. Later in the week on Thursday, Jun 14, in Leverett, the library hosts “The World of Owls,” an event all about these feathered night creatures.

Cemeteries can offer families a glimpse into early New England life.  On Saturday, the Museum of Our Industrial Heritage will be giving a tour of the Green River Cemetery in Greenfield, and the Stockbridge Library will host a cemetery tour in Berkshire County where families can learn about important historical figures and their life stories.  And on Thursday, Jun 14, older students can learn about the art, history, and symbolism of burial practices in New England from colonial times until today with Gravestone Girls in Belchertown.

On Sunday, Jun 10, families can learn about the history of the canal in Turners Falls by taking a guided walk down the canal-side trail/bike path to inspect the skeletons of the cutlery and paper industries while learning about the history of the industries, what the canal was used for, and the history of the first dam built on the Connecticut River.  And on Tuesday, Jun 12, in West Springfield, families can take an interactive tour of Storrowton Village where visitors will encounter villagers and hear each of them tell their own unique tale of life in New England during the Civil War.

During the week there are a couple of local history learning opportunities for older students. On Monday, Jun 11, Hope Church – historically Amherst’s first all-black established church, is offering a presentation on its history tonight! The church’s history dates back to the early 1700’s, though it has been officially established for only a century. And in Northfield on Tuesday, Jun 12, the creation of the Quabbin Reservoir will be discussed at the Dickinson Memorial Library.  Learn about the making of Boston’s water source with a narrated slide presentation by Historian JR Greene.

If outdoor adventures is what your family craves, on Saturday, Jun 9, there will be a day of kayaking with the M. N. Spear Library  and “Adventures In Adventure Out” at the Shutesbury town beach, a nature sensory awareness hike at Olivia’s Outlook in Lenox, and an afternoon family hike at Mt. Greylock waterfalls in Lanesborough. If you can’t make it to Mt. Greylock on Saturday, try Sunday when there will be a guided medicinal plant walk or a guided wild edible/medicinal plant walk at Bug Hill Farm in Ashfield, also on Sunday.

Community service learning opportunities happen all weekend too. Red Gate Farm in Buckland hosts a volunteer day on Saturday where families can help out with farm chores, and Stanley Park is raising community awareness on creating accessibility at their annual Wheel Walk in Westfield, and permablitz is happening in Amherst where folks can come work together on permaculture-related projects while sharing skills related to sustainable living.
Then on Sunday, families can help out at the Just Roots Food for All Garden in Greenfield (this Sunday, and every Sunday, during the growing/harvest season).

To find out about these events in Western MA and many others, check our list of Weekly Suggested Events.

3 Apps Aid Citizen Scientists & Nature Enthusiasts

3 Apps to Explore & Engage with Your Environment

While adventuring outdoors to enjoy local landscapes this summer, families can integrate their mobile devices into their trek to create environmental learning opportunities! Three applications – CreekWatch, Leafsnap, and the WildLab – are all designed to teach users about their environment and to help monitor and conserve natural resources.  All three applications provide ways for families to integrate technology into their outdoor adventures in a way that promotes learning and engagement with nature, rather than detracting from the experience. Try one (or all!) of them on your next outing.


CreekWatch allows families to monitor the health of their local watershed by using pictures of streams and creeks (taken by users and submitted via the app) to determine water level and amount of pollution and debris present in the water.


Leafsnap, called an “electronic field guide,” compares pictures of tree leaves using photorecognition software, and helps users identify trees  – allowing them to learn about the biodiversity present around them while sharing information with a public database, helping to aid scientists.


For bird identification, check out the WildLab – it uses GPS-tagged photos taken by users to monitor bird populations, and the user learns what bird(s) they’ve seen using information provided in the app.

Q&A: Should GMO Food Be Labeled?


Studies show that more than 90% of Americans support mandatory labeling of genetically engineered (GE) foods.

What are your thoughts on genetically engineered food? Are you comfortable feeding food that has been genetically modified to your kids? Do you think it should be labeled?

  • Faye Adamsyes writes, “GM food is synthetic, gross and not nutritious. Label it please.”
  • Robin Morgan Huntley writes, “I don’t have kids, but if/when I do, I will definitely avoid it – I try not to feed it to myself, either. I know little about the science behind it (unfortunately), but common sense tells me that real food is better for you. Why mess with something that already works so well?!
  • Jennifer Lee Wildermuth writes, “We do our best to not feed it, but because we’re just learning everything that has been GM’d it should be labeled. It would save us a lot of time researching what is safe.”
  • Heather Fletcher writes, “It should definitely be labeled! I avoid it at all costs. Bodies know how to digest real food, not food altered in a lab. Pollen from GMO foods can infect natural crops, effects the soil, water, meat that is fed it. I wonder if this is partially the reason for an increase in food allergies. Get rid of GMO-mother nature is perfect lets not mess with it!  Avoid non-organic corn & soy ad those are 2 big crops that are genetically modified.”
  • Kara Kitchen writes, “In truth, most of our foods have been modified at some point to bring out the best traits (taste, hardiness, etc..) going all the way back to Mendel and his pea gene experiments! Point being it is so hard to avoid… Grocery shopping has become a research project with conflicting data, poor funding, and high costs (to our pockets and our lives!). I know I spend much more time at the store now from reading almost every label in my cart!”
  • Carrie Cranston writes, “GMO. Fancy name for lab facilitated rapid selective breeding. No, don’t fear them. It took hundreds of years to get ears of corn with more than 20 Kernels. I’m glad to have eggs with higher Omega-3’s now instead of in another 100 years when selective breeding would have been able to bring it to fruition. GMO brought us insulin too. Ask any diabetic how they feel about that. Plus is had brought us and crops that are pest and disease resistant, reducing the use of pesticides and other crop treatments.”
  • Lilly Jeffs Lombard writes, “Wow, Carrie, what faith you place in profit-driven biotechnology and a government that is supposed to ensure food safety but that is massively controlled by agribusiness giants like Monsanto.”
  • Leah Nero Carrasquillo writes, “A lot of the pesticides and chemicals that GMO products are created to withstand are not so benign: How Chemicals Affect Us.
  • Jess Kuttner writes, “I want to find out more about GMO food. I am highly suspicious and think it definitely should be labeled.”

[Photo credit: (ccl) Tomer Arazy]

The Ripple: Reassuring Voice of the River

Get Into the Flow Like a Mayfly

We measure our lives in decades, which is fine; but what if we measured our lives like the mayfly, who reappears in the same place for tens of thousands of years, each individual a facet of single transgenerational being, each individual a carrier of the baton-of-life in the finish-line-less relay-race of the species in time?

“Rivers can take this—don’t worry!” said Jason Johnson, who works with Masswildlife’s Caleb Slater to stock our streams with trout and salmon, after hearing me whine about the drought.

“Most droughts occur in late summer. The fact that this one is happening as the leaves come out…” I’d worried.

“The tree species that are native to our area can handle this. It happened a few years ago—the buds dried and fell off, but new leaves appeared,” he retorted, determined to make me cheerful.

It’s good to know that; I don’t mind being reassured. Words are just words, though. Real assurance requires the real.

Reassurance can be found, for example, in the flocks of blackflies that greet you when you step into the woods. As a native species, they’re tough survivors—at least as old as the mammal species they’ve supped upon for plus or minus fifteen millenia. Ah, but this is just more blather! To the river we go, sure our blackflies will follow.

At the river, we find the aerial bobbings of the longtailed mayfly. Up and down they flit, yoyo-ing as if played with by kids. They are older as a native species than the blackfly, and form the basis of the aquatic food chain of which trout and salmon are the hungriest. biggest-mouthed predators. Find a boulder to sit on, exposed in mid-stream—a perch fit for a Zen monk or an osprey. Look closely: the twin tails of the mayfly straighten to parallel as they rocket upwards. They linger at zenith for a moment of motionless poise, then drop; their tails split and become V-shaped parachutes they sit on, like children on swings. Wings of chrome-fuzz in the sunlight, bodies slender and dark, they ride for seconds like William Blake’s cherubim: miraculous beyond the ken of science. How can the value of these lives be over-estimated as they do this, as their ancestors have done since before the Ice Age, and the arrival of mammals? We measure our lives in decades, which is fine; but what if we measured our lives like the mayfly, who reappears in the same place for tens of thousands of years, each individual a facet of single transgenerational being, each individual a carrier of the baton-of-life in the finish-line-less relay-race of the species in time?

This is what the river asks us through its tumbling hiss of water against stone, and answers with the yoyo-ing mayfly. In the same place the river speaks its soothing words of white water, the mayfly does its courtship dance, and lays its eggs from which next years dancers will emerge. The kinetic force that gives voice to white water also trebles the oxygen content, and mayfly nymphs—and hungry trout and salmon—need an oxygen-rich environment.

In this way, the voice of the river—even in drought—is voice that reassures. As long as there’s flow, there are the mayflies.


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!

[Photo credit: (ccl) Marko Kivelä]

Earth Day 2012 in Western MA

Recycle T-Shirt Sign

Earth Day Weekend 2012

Earth Day is this weekend and there are several ways families can be eco and community minded this weekend and next.


Volunteering in their community can help kids learn to appreciate the resources available to them, and spring clean-ups are a great way to get involved. Here are five community service clean-ups which families can take part in:

  1. In Plainfield the Historical Society will be planting sugar maples, a tree with great importance to our local culture and history. Join them in planting more of these important natural resources for generations to come.
  2. In Great Barrington families can volunteer to prepare the Housatonic Riverwalk for the summer (River walk tours follow the clean up).
  3. In Williamstown the Williamstown Rural Lands Foundation welcomes families to help them clear land and mark a new trail.
  4. And families can help clean up  downtown Westfield at one of many locations around town.
  5. Then next weekend the Springfield Museums invites families to come help them clean up their grounds.


Looking for an Earth Day community celebration? The annual Amherst Sustainability Festival happens on the town common this Saturday and on Sunday there will be an Earth Day Festival at the Springfield Museums! Both events will have live music, hands-on activities, and opportunities to discover the work of eco-friendly businesses and non-profits.


Other ways the community is marking Earth Day include a screening of The Lorax at the Western Gateway Heritage State Park in North Adams, a seed-planting activity at River Valley Market in Northampton, earth-friendly crafts made out of recycled bottles at the Amelia Park Children’s Museum in Westfield, and the Great Cloth Diaper Change happening simultaneously in both the Berkshires and Pioneer Valley.


Looking for ideas on how to participate in Earth Day, every day? Here are four recycling ideas:

  1. Trophy Recycling Program: Do you have old trophies cluttering up your attic from your days of glory? Did you know there is a Trophy Recycling Program you can donate those beauties to to support non-profit organizations? Find out how you can conduct a Trophy Recycling Drive and collect trophies to be passed along rather than ending up in a landfill or on the free table at your next tag sale!
  2. Keys for Kindness: How many old, unidentified keys can your kids find in your junk drawer? Have them take a look, pull them out, and mail them off to Keys for Kindness. Every key mailed in goes towards raising money for M.S., and is an excellent way to recycle keys from previous cars, unused locks and unknown origins!
  3. National Crayon Recycling Program: Did you know there is a National Crayon Recycling Program that families, schools, day cares, restaurants, etc. can send their unwanted, broken and rejected crayons to for recycling?  Find out how this program works and how you can set up a crayon collect in your local school, library, or community center.
  4. Recycling Shoes into Art: Wondering what to do with that single shoe(s) that is missing it’s matching pair? Donate it to the Art Garden in Shelburne Falls this Friday, April 20th! They are hosting a free shoe-decorating workshop for the village Art Walks and welcome the donation of shoes (single or paired). Drop by any time between 3-7pm this Friday to donate and/or decorate! Art Garden is located at 14 Depot St.

Looking for more ideas? Local families in Western Mass offer helpful tips showing that it IS easy being green. Here are over 10 suggestions on how to celebrate Earth Day and make each day a little greener. Get inspired and share your own idea and inspire others!

Youth Group in Hatfield Raising Money for Endangered Animals

Hatfield Youth Take Action!
Raising Funds to Save Panda and Polar Bears

Get your own kids involved too! Do some spring cleaning and donate toys and clothes (still in usable condition!) to the Youth Action Committee's fundraising tag sale on May 12th. Deadline to donate to the sale is April 28th. (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

Did you know that there are more people in Hatfield than there are pandas in the world?

The Youth Action Committee at the Hatfield Library is doing a group project to help save polar and panda bears from extinction, and they will be holding a yard sale to raise money to donate to the cause.  The sale will take place on Saturday, May 12th from 10am-2pm at the Hatfield Library, and donations are being received before the event through April 28th.  Get your own kids involved by inviting them to clean out their closets and gather toys and clothes (still in usable condition!) to donate for supporting endangered animals.

The Youth Action Committee is a kid-run group designed to empower young community members and help them develop both a sense of connection to their community as well as the skills necessary to voice their opinions and work to create change.  Help out the group’s project!  Money raised will be donated to organizations that work to support polar and panda bears, including Pandas International.  For more information, call the library at 413-247-9097.

Citizen Scientists Wanted for Vernal Pool Habitat

Western MA Youth  Can Help
Deerfield River Watershed Association Protect
Vernal Pools as Citizen Scientists

During springtime, our surroundings burst with new life!  One of the most interesting and least known about natural environments is the vernal pool- pools develop in the early spring while snow melts and the ground becomes softer, and pools of water gather becoming home to a laying ground for frogs and salamanders.


Vernal pool habitats are often accidentally destroyed or disturbed due to lack of knowledge about their existence.  This spring, older students have the opportunity to be citizen scientists and help report data about vernal pools in their neighborhoods!  Kids ages 10 and up are invited to monitor populations of vernal pool-breeding amphibians.

The project is coordinated by the Deerfield River Watershed Association, and requires that kids take part in two training sessions prior to assessing the pools; and also that kids visit a vernal pool twice during the month of April to check on their frogs and salamanders!  The project allows kids to become involved in the preservation of their local resources, and to learn about a unique habitat.  Taking part in the project can supplement studies of biology, ecology, environmental science, and species evolution (take a look at how species evolved to depend on vernal pools).  For more information, contact Pat Serrentino at 413-772-0520.

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Families in Western MA Offer Earth Day Eco-Tips

Earth Day Eco-Tips from Western MA Families

"Eat food from the earth not from a box to reduce the amount of packaging thrown into landfills." - Cheli Mennella of Colrain, MA (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

“Egg cartons make great seed starters! Windows sills are wonderful places to grow the tiny seeds! Kids love to watch life happen inside and outside their world!” – Elizabeth Jensen (Leeds, MA)

“Toilet paper rolls become trumpets in our house.” – Jessica Morris (Northampton, MA)

“My daughter Kacia, age 8, is fanatical about litter. We recently went to the Energy Park clean up and Kacia was very disappointed to be weeding instead of picking up trash! She grabs it everywhere we go; on the sidewalk, in the parking lot, on the grass. She tells people not to drop it on the ground and really notices when others do so. Give a hoot, don’t pollute!” – Pam and Kacia Kinsmith (Greenfield, MA)

“Stop buying bottled water! There are so many beautiful water bottles you can buy and re use. Our tap water is great, give it a try! Also, unplug your phone charger when you are not using it (all chargers). And don’t let the water run when you are brushing your teeth or doing dishes.” – Anna

“We unplug electronics when we are not using them. We also reuse plastic bags!” – Kristy Dyer (Hatfield, MA)

“Eat food from the earth not from a box to reduce the amount of packaging thrown into landfills.” – Cheli Mennella (Colrain, MA)

“Reuse bread bags and produce bags to wrap food items, everything from cheese to sandwiches to leftovers. no need to buy ziplocs, ever.” – Sandra Dias (Holyoke, MA)

“We line dry our clothes almost all year long. They smell great and the sun works as a natural sanitizer. This is especially useful for cloth diapers and towels.” – Robyn

“Recycling is a great thing, my son Joseph and I spread the word and help people learn what items go in what recycle bin. We have fun doing it .” – Lynda Medina

“We put our wireless router and all those miscellaneous computer appliances all on 2 easy to reach power strips. When we leave the house or go to bed, we turn the power off. There was a noticeable drop in our electric bills when we started this and we’re not wasting energy to power things we’re not using.” – Beth Caissi (Greenfield, MA)

“Here are my daughter Zoe’s environmental tips: No paper cups (she holds me to this one); No plastic spoons forks or knives; No plastic bags; Compost; Recycle; Repurpose; and Plant trees.” – Zoe and Tony(a) in Ashfield MA

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