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The water is warmer and the ponds, lakes, and rivers are often swelling with water from summer thunderstorms. Whether it’s in a kayak or a canoe, paddling on the open water offers a unique perspective to witness wildlife, get exercise, and recreate outdoors.

Summer is camping season! Campgrounds are open, tents are aired out, and the makings for s’mores are ready for starry nights surrounding the campfire telling stories and enjoying each other’s company. The smell of campfire and early morning rises in the woods during the cooler hours of the morning define the spirit of summer outside in New England.

Season of Summer Wildflowers & Gardens

Summer is the season of flower-studded meadows and blossoms on the wayside or at home in our gardens. Nothing says summer like a freshly picked bouquet of Oxeye Daises or New England Asters. Summer is also the time of year when public gardens are open to visitors wanting to learn about botany or just enjoy the beauty of cultivated flowers. These public gathering places connect community to the growing season, these senses in the form of color and scent, and to the incredible beauty and diversity nature has to offer. In Western Massachusetts there are a few public gardens to explore and enjoy that may offer inspiration to the artist, writer, or botanist inside:

When visiting, take your camera, sketchpad, colored pencils, and identification book. See if you can capture the structural differences in different species by considering their leaf shape and petal variations. Later in the season, once the bloom has passed, how does it go to seed? What are the shapes of the seeds? Can you capture this with your camera? How about through illustration? All gardens and flowers to be your study as you attempt to create a botanical illustration.

Botanical illustrations were once a common practice, dating back to the 16th century in Europe. Before cameras, botanical illustrations were particularly useful for the recording of medicinal herbs. Botanical illustrators of gardens were also employed by royal courts to paint the royal gardens.

In the 19th century, many women illustrators produced books showcasing their watercolors and paintings of different flowers and plant specimens. Women were active botanical artists, often painting in their spare time as a hobby, or some that were serious illustrators and writing literature on the topic. In fact, many important horticultural journals often included the illustrations created by women artists. Learn more about these well-known female illustrators of the Victorian era at www.lib.udel.edu/ud/spec/exhibits/hort/women.htm.

Interested in becoming a botanical illustrator? The New England Society of Botanical Illustrators often host juried shows open to the public. Attending one of their shows is an opportunity to see the kind of contemporary botanical illustrations being done in New England and to give a curious artist a chance to see what kind of media are used and techniques utilized to create botanical works.

Additionally, taking a class with an artist that specializes in botanical illustration provides the scientific and artistic instruction needed to learn how to create botanical drawings. Botanical illustrations are not just limited to painting flowers, but also include sketching trees and other plant specimens. Not only is botanical illustration a creative outlet, but also a scientific one that lets you explore a plant species at an observational and focused level!

The American Society of Botanical Illustrators provides different resources and tools to help students locate classes in their area or informational books on doing an individual study of botanical illustration.

Gardens and wayside growing flowers offer an opportunity to engage with the landscape through art, literature, and community. Whether it’s botanical watercolors, illustrations, photography, or a relaxed visit to your local public garden, flowers blooming in a community support interests and connect residents to their public parks and the patterns of the seasons.

[Photo credits: (cc) Don Burkett; (cc) tanakawho; (cc) Richard West]


Think about this:

  • How does botanical illustration bridge art and science?
  • How are public gardens places of connection, not only to the nature cultivated there, but also to local community and people?
  • Why do you think botanical illustration flourished in the Victorian era?

Download our July/August edition of Learning Ahead: Cultural Itinerary for Western Massachusetts for embedded learning opportunities found in cultural resources that exist within the geography, history, and cultural traditions of Western Massachusetts.

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The summer time is the season for fishing! There are many places to go fishing in Western Massachusetts as a way to connect with the local landscape while spending time outdoors. There are different types of fishing, such as saltwater fishing, freshwater fishing, fly fishing, and ice fishing. Fishing, or angling, is a sport that provides a direct interaction with our rivers and lakes as well as a meditative and tranquil way to relax and enjoy nature quietly.

Learning Ahead: Vacation Destination

Season of Berries Summer is the season of berry picking and canning! It’s the time of year when pies are baked and fruit is canned to enjoy during the colder months. During the months of July and August, blueberries become ready for picking. There are many farms in Western MA where you can pick your own berries, or farm stands and markets to purchase local berries to enjoy at home. At http://www.poets.org,… Read More

While winter in New England brings Nor’easters and blizzards that cover Western Massachusetts in deep snow, summer brings thunderstorms that soak the soil and bring a deep intensity to the summer’s verdant landscape. There is something humbling about a strong thunderstorm as it approaches with it’s dark clouds, bolts of lightning, and claps of thunder that exemplify nature’s unpredictability and larger-than-life personality.

Summertime in Western Massachusetts brims with opportunities to spend time outdoors and gather in community spaces to listen to live music, discover new musical genres, and share musical interests while supporting local musicians. Given all of the beautiful parks and outdoor spaces in Western Massachusetts, there are many summertime concerts and music festivals for all ages to attend. Pack a picnic and share the experience with family, neighbors, and friends.

While visitors to Eastern Massachusetts can walk the Freedom Trail, learn about the Boston Tea Party, or tour the home of Paul Revere, folks in Western Massachusetts can explore the history of the American Revolution by witnessing historical reenactments of major battles, visit memorials to the cause’s courageous soldiers, and commemorate the war for American Independence through community celebrations such as fireworks, parades, annual events, and local resources.

Learning Ahead: Cultural Itinerary for
Western Massachusetts
Seasons: July & August

Who am I? Where am I? These are the fundamental questions proposed by the humanities. Inquiries related to local history, literature, and education, inspire us to think deeply about the places where we live and how our identity fits into the context of our community and the seasons.

Learning Ahead: Cultural Itinerary for Western Massachusetts is a bimonthly publication produced by Hilltown Families that sheds light on embedded learning opportunities found in cultural resources that exist within the geography, history, and cultural traditions of Western Massachusetts.

With these downloadable seasonal itineraries, self-directed teens, lifelong learners, and families are encouraged to engage together in cultural opportunities that support similar interests, resulting in a shared history, strengthening sense of place.

Looking through a seasonal lens, a July and August cultural itinerary for Western Massachusetts includes:

  • An American holiday as a CATALYST for learning: Independence Day
  • PLACEMAKING at parks and community spaces through music: Outdoor Concerts
  • Resources that are ubiquitous and NATUREBASED: Summer Storms
  • Sweet fruits that celebrate FOOD TRADITIONS: Berries
  • Western MA as a CULTURAL destination for relaxation: Vacation
  • Outdoor activities that are INTEREST-BASED: Fishing
  • Ephemeral seasonal HABITAT: Flower Gardens
  • INTERGENERATIONAL outdoor living: Camping
  • Learning LENS that connects us to the season: Boating

Click here to download free pdf (32 pages).


Mass Humanities This program is funded in part by Mass Humanities, which receives support from the Massachusetts Cultural Council and is an affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Special thank you to sponsors of this issue, including: New England Air Museum.

“The Berkshires” refers to the highland region of Western Massachusetts west of the Connecticut River and lower Westfield River. The region is bordered by the Taconic Mountains, the valleys of the Hoosic River and Housatonic River and by the Hudson Highlands. Culturally, the region is a popular area for exploring art, learning about history and discovering the local, natural landscape. Particularly during the summer, the various Berkshire towns feature festivals, art shows, and events to enjoy.

Think about this:

The local woods and trails in Western Massachusetts were common destinations for 19th-century hikers and fueled the creative genius of many writers. Engage with local history and experience the landscape from a literary perspective by reading some of these writers’ works before embarking on your next outdoor adventure. To get you started, read the poetry of William Cullen Bryant or writings of Henry David Thoreau.

Think about this:

How has the Western Massachusetts natural landscape inspired writers and artists of the past?
Why do you think nature writing was so prevalent in the early-mid 19th century?
How did nature writing in the United States inspire American conservation in the 19th century?
What is the Western Massachusetts hiking trail that inspires you the most?

This Father’s Day, explore our scenic byways here in Western MA while reflecting on family stories. Capture moments with images and keepsakes while traveling around the region then capturing your stories by pulling together a multimedia family tree!

Think about this: Unlike major highways, how do our scenic byways foster a sense of place and allow us to discover new and hidden places in our communities? What Father’s Day traditions do you celebrate?

In New England, spring ephemerals and beautiful woodland wildflowers appear throughout the spring, lasting only a short while during this fleeting season. During this time of year, our fields and forests are community-based resources that can support our interests in botany, ecology, and even entomology, while connecting us to the seasons and the spaces that surround us.

Artist Georgia O’Keeffe was inspired by spring wildflowers. Poet John Greenleaf Whittier was inspired by the traditions associated with keeping honeybees. The honeybee and the wildflower inspire one another! And around and around it goes!

How do these ephemeral woodland flowers inspire you? What traditions do you partake in that might be associated with honey or beekeeping? You might be surprised to learn how they inspired the traditions of early America…

Depending on the climate and local flora, the taste of honey changes based on which flowers in a region the honeybees have pollinated. Learn more an annual honey festival that takes place in the Pioneer Valley each year, or sign up for classes with a local beekeeper association to learn more about apiculture.

Think about this:

What were some early American uses for honey? What other sweeteners might have been present or absent from their diets?
How does Georgia O’Keefe choose to represent the Jack-in-the-Pulpit? How does she create a sense of drama and intensity that may often be overlooked when seeing the plant on a woodland walk?
Why is the health of bees important for our own food production?

Did you know that Western Massachusetts was once considered the “asparagus capital of the world?” Our region is known for this late spring harvest that still grows profusely in Western Massachusetts. Many of our local towns honor the asparagus harvest as a traditional part of spring through food celebrations and community meals, marking the season and connecting us to where we live through food traditions.

Interested in cooking up the spring harvest at home? Spring crops to include in your recipes this time of year include fiddleheads, ramps, rhubarb, strawberries, and asparagus. By keeping ourselves in tune with the seasons and the agricultural cycles, we can begin to cultivate a diet centered on sustainability, support local economies, and feel deeply connected to the community that cultivates the food we eat.

Think about this:

By eating seasonally, how do we keep ourselves in sync with nature?
Why do you think it is important to support local farmers and keep local agriculture healthy in our region?
What favorite recipe do you have for any of the spring crops?

For some, Memorial Day is a deeply personal holiday, a day for remembering those who have served the people of our country. Participating in these Memorial Day celebrations and ceremonies can also be a form of placemaking, strengthening ties to community spaces and encouraging social interaction between generations. These events also offer a chance to personally thank local veterans and recognize them for their bravery and service.

Think about this:

How does Walt Whitman’s poem “Ashes of Soldiers” attempt to honor those fallen soldiers who may no longer be remembered? Why did Whitman write this poem for them?
Does your town have a Memorial Day parade? When did it get started? Who started it? Check out your local history society or library for more information!
What Memorial Day traditions does your family celebrate?

The beauty of New England living is that each season offers a new way to learn and engage in our communities. Locally grown and produced food is a community-base resource that can help us understand how to connect to the seasons through local agriculture. Farmers’ markets bring farmer and neighbor together in placemaking events on town commons, plazas, and street corners. Each week, seasonal produce holds center stage while skills are shared and intergenerational engagement takes place. Sharing knowledge and skills is a type of collaborative consumption that not only connects neighbors but also expands our sense of place and connections with people of all ages. — Where are your local farmers’ markets or farm stands?

Community meals and family suppers connect us through the sharing of food and stories. Add a trip to the local farmers’ market to select seasonal produce grown locally and add another dimension your culinary adventures! When we authentically engage with that which sustains us (seasons, food, community) we expand our awareness of what it means to be in community and strengthens a sense of self within the context of the places we live and visit. Farmers’ markets are seasonal reminders of these connections and community-based educational resources that allow us to direct our learning through our senses.

The act of cooking calls upon centuries of cooking methods, ingredients, spices, and flavors that have shaped our distinct cultures and traditions. Within our families, recipes are passed down and certain dishes are often considered an important part of our unique family gatherings and holiday celebrations. What story do your recipes tell? Who will inherit the recipes you discover and invent this summer? What stories will they tell of the food that grows near you in Western Massachusetts? How will future generations 100-200 years from now understand the cultural and food traditions we practiced? The art of recipe collecting and writing is something that allows the generations to share their family’s culture through the legacy of food.

The act of growing food, the experience of living on a farm, and the process of cooking have all inspired writers to ponder how the cultivation of land has influenced the stories we tell and the moments we remember. Here is a short list of literature inspired by farming and food to add to your reading lists.

Think about this:

How do recipes unfold the stories of our ancestors? What do they say about our agricultural practices and the places from which our families came?
What if you were to do a 10-mile diet like Vicki Robin in her book Blessing the Hands that Feed Us? Where would you find your produce? What farms would provide you with your food? Imagine the extended community you would become familiar with!
How can the purchasing of food locally help build a stronger and more resilient community?
Have you ever thought of growing your own food? Container gardening is a great way to get started!

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