Hilltown Families


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

This month, Kurt presents an essay by Rika Tsuji from Osaka Japan, who river-walked two summers ago with Western MA youth. Rika is a Fulbright Ph.D. candidate at the University of North Texas finishing her dissertation on Environmental Philosophy for Children. 

Before wagons, cars, trains, and airplanes appeared, rivers were main transportation routes for our species and attracted and circulated the biotic abundance of plants and creatures through all four seasons. Imagine a road that is also a food source. That’s a living river.

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

Rivers, as flowing water, can be soothing to the ear, or overpowering with noise, depending on the river’s bed or soundscape. Protruding rocks may be the only visible evidence of what creates the sounds a river or stream makes as water tumbles over and around boulders and pebbles. As water levels often drop this time of year, during the summer, the sounds of moving water may become softened and even silent, to be restored by rain storms. Even in winter, the muted voice of a stream can be heard flowing under the ice…

Rivers flow through our lives both metaphorically and realistically – sources of drinking water, energy and transportation, but also as symbols of life “flowing like a river.” Rivers have been dammed, turned into lakes, or redirected into irrigation channels, among other human uses for them. We, as a species, tend to take them for granted, using them as a way to rid ourselves of our waste – out of sight, out of mind – with little regard for the other animals and plants which live within their banks.

Phoebe Gelbard debuts as Hilltown Families newest Contributing Writer, taking over “The Ripple: Stories About Western MA Rivers,” a monthly column previous written by Kurt Heidinger. For her debut post, Phoebe writes, “We are not the movers and shakers of the earth, for that would be far too appraising of how we have laid claim to a home that was never rightfully ours; rather, we are the Takers of all things wild and free and the Leavers* of a world whose light dims a little more each day.

“With all of our advancements, we have not progressed to the point of living in ways that will allow us to continue to inhabit the earth. We are simply atoms that are arranged to form beings capable of comprehending arrangements of atoms, and we have not yet mastered the art of awareness – or so we pretend.”

The Lessons of Drought In the one hundred and twenty years that flow records have been kept for the Westfield River, never has it been as low as it is today. Drought is a phenomena we are going to experience more now and in the future because our climate is warming. How we learn about and deal with this planetary change will mean everything: the success or failure of our own species’… Read More

When Rivers Talk, They Speak River, Not English

When I started writing this column in 2011, I did so hoping to inspire readers to “make the world of rivers bigger than the world of pavement inside of you!” Rivers are all around us, but they don’t form as much a part of ourselves as roads do. Close your eyes again: can you see a river? How far can you follow it? Does it lead anywhere?

We carry the ocean inside of ourselves. This is a fact; but, due to our cultural make-up, it is a fact that is not connected presently to a larger intelligence. What I mean is: is this fact ever taught in school? Does it form a part of any day-to-day mode of consciousness? Read more in this month’s column, “The Ripple: Stories About Western MA Rivers.”

Freshwater Sponges: A Most Ancient and Wonderful River Friend

Connect to where you live by learning about invasive species and how they impact biodiversity. Then take action to eradicate! —

Japanese knotweed is one such species. This month in “The Ripple,” Kurt’s poetic approach to understanding the influence this invasive species has on our ecology and what you can do about it will leave you thinking and feeling more connected to the creatures that call the banks of our local rivers home.

Our watersheds are fractal and living patterns. In “The Ripple: Stories About Western MA Rivers” this month, Kurt encourages families to discover how nested we are in our watersheds this summer and to treat yourself to an adventure or two in the Westfield River watershed!

No Substitute for Health, Our Own and Our Rivers’ Last month, I wrote about how our native trout survive, miniaturized, in the plunge pools of our chilly mountain brooks, while in the main courses of our rivers, big fat factory-raised trout are set loose by the Department of Energy and Environmental Affairs so folks who want to catch big fat native trout out in the wild can pretend. They have to pretend because,… Read More

Stocking a river with fish life sounds like a good thing, right? While it can be an excellent learning opportunity when working as a volunteer to stock rivers, in “The Ripple” this month, Kurt brings up a serious river-life issue that emerge when we combine river mismanagement with the stocking of factory-raised trout. These nonnative trout press heavily on the natural evolution and breeding of the native trout- and that strains our river-life and ecology. Pushed to the brink, this is a serious issue… but there is hope for the natural restoration of native trout through proper management and education! Read on to learn more and to find how your family can learn more about our rivers by helping out.

This month’s Ripple focuses on the ecological fact that land is a living organism that we are part of—explaining how it is, and offering some imaginative riverside play to shake up and revive perceptual abilities.

The great thaw is coming! With the thaw means migrating fish will start to return to our rivers too. “The Ripple” is always an enthralling read with a new installment will make you smell Spring, and think deeper about our rivers and waterways.

Outdoor recreation should give us the opportunity to recreate ourselves. “The Ripple: Stories About Western MA Rivers” this month suggests how our rivers are the place we can go to get a new sense of ourselves.

You will be counting the zeros…so look at it this way: the sea lampreys have been around since BEFORE there was an Atlantic Ocean! Survival is an amazing concept because it requires a lot of moving parts to move in synch. This month in “The Ripple: Stories About Western MA Rivers,” read Kurt’s appreciative piece about this enduring and crafty species.

In this month’s edition of “The Ripple: Stories About Western MA Rivers,” Kurt walks us through the visualization of rivers flying… and they do! Flowing and flying rivers are here in Western MA, supporting our local community of food growers and local ecosystems here in our little slice of paradise. Our vibrant surroundings are nature’s gift to us to produce wonderful local food. This edition of “The Ripple,” covers the magical flying rivers…or as Kurt coins them: “dragon’s breath,” which spreads life through its moist movements. As ever Kurt is as lyrical as the dancing brooks that surrounds us. Let yourself drift as you read about our flying rivers.

It’s getting cold now, and soon you’ll find yourself and your kids getting cozy indoors and thinking “movie night!” Movies that feature rivers are expressions of our culture’s relationship with, and attitude towards, them; and a few of these movies are fine entertainment. Here’s a list of Kurt’s favorite river movies.

Before the leaves come down—or better yet, while they’re coming down—get your family to the river. If they can’t make it, make sure YOU do! This month in “The Ripple,” Kurt shares special places on the Connecticut River you can visit as Summer turns to Fall, and things to observe when you get there.

Sometimes It happens that you have to get your feet wet to REALLY experience nature. The Westfield River Dead Branch State Forest preserves one of the more lively ecosystems, and is one of those places that could sort the fair-weather nature walkers from the more hardcore nature explorers! It provides the prize of a dry boulder in a swampy storm at the end of a slow but fulfilling nature walk (or waddle!)

The wetlands are amazing with their multi-service mandate. It’s a home to so many species, it takes the quickness out of our step so we can regard and absorb the many movements of this wonderful reserve, and it is a sponge that heads off flooding. Read on in “The Ripple” this month as Kurt offers many excellent reasons why you should visit, and say ‘thank you’ to the wetlands for keeping those floods at bay!

Throughout the banks of western Massachusetts rivers and waterways, there is an abundance of life. For instance, in “The Ripple” this week, Kurt describes rivers as a mess hall- a provider of food for all kinds of creatures. As always, reading this posting puts you on the riverbanks of the various waterways, and reminds us that for most of us they are mere steps away, and where they are…nature flourishes.

Samuel Beckett spoke of the river Seine: “How in joyous eddies its two arms conflowed and flowed united on.” But “The Ripple” brings us to Western MA waterways and invites us to lose ourselves in the flow, through tubing for instance. Western Massachusetts is so lucky to have so many sparking streams spread wonder and intrigue through our very own communities. Explore? Yes please.

Once upon a time, people knew their places from the perspective of the river; and what is so wonderful is that this perspective is still available to those who pine for a way of seeing, and being, that is not pavement-based! The East Branch river valley a cure for all things pavement—and it awaits your spring migration. Read this month’s “The Ripple” and be inspired once again!

Our Friend, the Shortnose Sturgeon Spring equinox has passed and the great thaw is underway, turning greys into green and silence to chansons. Have you enjoyed the cold (as much as the otters, who fished the icy pools)? The ice it brought let us walk rivers and tributaries as if they were sidewalks, and grand boulevards. What a wonderful feeling! The perspective gained by walking above the river was as rare as… Read More

“In melting time, our rivers rise, taking with them what we put in their way,” writes Kurt this month in “The Ripple: Stories About Western MA Rivers.” Kurt invites families to visit the Chesterfield Gorge and to witness the twenty-foot tall stone tower across the way – the remains of an old Colonial bridge built in the mid 1700’s. Is it permanent or will the river, in time, wash it away?

Ice-Walking Bugs, and the Lessons They Teach Us.