Nature Table for November: Deer Hunting

Nature Table for November

Every month, Hilltown Families features a new nature table whose contents inspire learning along a common theme easily spotted in our surroundings that month. A tradition carried out by teachers, environmental educators, and nature-curious families, nature tables bring a little bit of the outdoors inside for inspection, dissection, identification, creative play, art projects, and lots of other educational activities. The idea behind a nature table is to help open up children’s eyes to the unique attributes of each season, and to help them learn how to see these things in nature for themselves. A nature table can include a variety of items, and is often accompanied by a set of books and/or field guides so that children can take part in further learning at their own will.

With fall’s chilly air and crisp, frosty mornings, have come changes in the ways in which local creatures interact with the landscape. Frogs and salamanders have buried themselves in blankets of thick mud, birds have started to migrate south (leaving space for their Canadian neighbors to stop by), and mammals have embarked on the final push to collect goodies to tide them over through the winter. Fall brings about a change in the ways in which humans interact with the landscape, too. Just as creatures sense the coming winter, humans also brace themselves for the changes that lie ahead. These days, we humans have most of our overwintering needs met by the marvels of modern technology which bring us ripe tomatoes in December and other unseasonable joys. Despite the ease with which we can find fresh sustenance during these modern winters, many folks still stock up for the off-season by preserving and preparing foods they’ve grown or gathered themselves. The agrarian elements of our ingrained need to stock up for winter have held out. This month, our nature table focuses on an element of the fall season that, despite its usefulness in preparing families for winter, has waned significantly in popularity over the course of the past two generations.

Deer hunting was once commonplace amongst the hills and valleys of western Massachusetts. Deer (and their elk cousins), were hunted long, long before European settlers even dreamed of coming to North America, and the seasonal hunt of deer was important in the diets of New Englanders for centuries. Read the rest of this entry »

Holiday Traditions: Old & New

The Good Life: A Year of Thoughtful Seasons by Sarah Mattison Buhl

Something For Your Pocket

My mother was a Christmas magician. She made every holiday candy and cookie known to humankind. She did not shy away from butter, or a good laugh. She wrapped what seemed like mountains of gifts in sparkling paper, and every package had a bow. Sometimes the bows were made by hand. During my mother’s most seriously invested Christmases, she prayed over a candle-lit Advent wreath. Every year my dad located and cut down the perfect tree for her. This was not an easy task (the perfection nor the cutting), and my father took his appointment seriously. He laid old-fashioned tinsel on the tree, branch by painstaking branch. It was a labor of love. A ball of mistletoe hung over their entry door. They forgot to pack it away one year, and it is still up twenty years later never having moved. Maybe the best tradition is to just leave the mistletoe up? My brother Charlie and I kept advent calendars, left rough-looking cookies for Santa, and even left carrots for his reindeer. We read the beautifully illustrated book “Jolly Old Santa Claus” together every Christmas Eve until we were nearly grown-ups.

There is a sadness that sometimes comes with the holidays. Maybe it is the onset of winter, the end of a difficult year, or an unnamed longing that hangs in the air near the rafters. It seems nocturnal, though there is no scientific evidence. This sadness didn’t make its first visit to me until I was seventeen, when by brother Charlie missed his first Christmas home… Read the rest of this entry »

Berkshire Family Fun: 16 Ways to Weave Family and Community Holiday Traditions Together in the Berkshires

Keeping Holiday Traditions Alive in the Berkshires

Currently my living room looks as if Christmas threw up all over it. Boxes of old decorations, more stockings than we have family members and pets combined (and that includes the three fish, cat and new puppy, Murphy), tree ornaments, Christmas villages, holiday-themed books, empty cookie tins and more lay strewn on top of couches, countertops, hardwood floors and coffee tables making it difficult to concentrate on the task at hand — writing this column. But as all three of my children have continued to remind me since the first day of December, it’s all about tradition!



The first holiday tradition I attempted to tackle this month was our unique (or maybe not so unique) way of counting down the days until Santa Claus arrives. Each year (preferably prior to Dec.1, but often occurring sometime within the first week of December) my husband drags the bags of nearly 50 holiday-themed books from the attic for me to peruse and wrap. I browse the titles, rescuing our favorites from the piles until I have 24 in front of me.

This year, I separated the books into two piles: one for my niece, Kylee, and one for us. Yearly favorites such as Olivier Dunrea’s Bear Noel, Elise Primavera’s Auntie Claus series, a version of E.E. Cummings Little Tree written and illustrated by Chris Raschka, and Patricia Rae Wolff’s A New Improved Santa made it into our pile, while extra copies of The Polar Express, The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, and Twas the Night Before Christmas were tossed into Kylee’s, along with other 2-year-old appropriate stories that had long since been abandoned by my kids.

Then I wrapped each present in Christmas wrapping, each dated with the day of the month Dec. 1-24, each one ready to be unwrapped on its given day and read at bedtime. This tradition used to require my husband and I to take turns reading. Now McKenna, Max and Shea (ages 12, 12, and 10) alternate with Mark and I, either reading a page at a time and then passing it to the next family member, or claiming an entire book for themselves.

On Christmas Eve, the last book is always the same, though the version and illustrations may change. Twas the Night Before Christmas completes our holiday advent, and as the kids sit in their holiday pajamas, just opened a few hours earlier, all five of us (and at times it has been 20 of us, depending on which friends and family members join us for the evening) sit around the fire, candles burning and tree lights sparkling, where we recite the book (known almost by heart at this point), before sprinkling reindeer food in the backyard and heading off to bed where “visions of sugarplums dance in our heads.”

The Sheffield Historical Society will be sharing in a storytime tradition of its own this year with residents of the town on Saturday, Dec. 17, at 10:30 a.m. when Mrs. Santa Claus will read stories by local authors to visitors at the Old Stone Store on Route 7 in Sheffield. For more information visit

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