Hilltown Families


What Is a River? approaches the inquiry at its heart from all sides and angles, creating a richly imagined story woven of many answers, rather than a single explanation. A river is a thread, a home, a mystery, a name. This beautifully illustrated nonfiction picture book gives space to answers both conceptual and factual.

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.

Hilltown Family Variety Show

Listen to Podcast:

Water, Boats, and Sailing Episode with Guest DJ, Wendy & DB

Chicago duo Wendy and DB are back guest DJing HFVS! In this episode, Wendy and DB will take you on an aquatic adventure, as they dive deeply into the rivers, lakes, and oceans of our planet and explore some of the creatures that live there. We’ll learn a little bit about Wendy’s experience on Pete Seegar’s Hudson River sloop and then sail away until next time!
Wendy & DB work with an organization called A Better Life for Kids, which helps children and families in Ghana. Learn more here: abetterlifeforkids.org

Saturday from 9-10am & Sunday from 7-8am
October 7th & 8th, 2017
WXOJ LP – 103.3 FM – Valley Free Radio
Northampton, MA


Featured Video: Water Song

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.”

“Follow the water and you’ll never be lost. That maxim has a zen-ish, new-agey ring to it, even a poetry. But it is based on the hard physical fact that all places on the terrestrial earth are composed of watersheds….”

The Importance of Ice Every time there’s a big storm in Miami, the ocean fountains up through the storm-drains and swamps the streets. This happens regularly now, not just in Florida but all the way to Virginia. The earth has warmed and is warming.

This month the Ripple takes us to the riverside, to witness a life larger than we imagine, older and stronger than the mountains and the sky, and as immediate as we are.

Imagine the long course of evolution that took our species out of the trees of Northeastern Africa, led us on the great tribal migrations that dispersed us across the globe, and left us to settle on the banks of rivers. Kurt shares his thoughts this month in “The Ripple.”

Focused on the search for patterns in nature, this month’s nature table encourages families to consider their place in the local landscape – and the universe. From twigs to entire watersheds, nature’s patterns share a common theme; by recognizing this pattern, families can place themselves within these patterns and gain a deeper awareness of the interconnectedness of the world.

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?

Sustainability: the River Knows the Way Biology tells us that water is life. Religion tells us that life is sacred. Biology does not want to admit that life is sacred (because that would not be “objective,” but it would not exist without water.  Think of any biologist and name one not totally dependent upon water for life. Einstein’s brain was 75% water, and so are ours. Think of how you are reading… Read More

A River Is Always In Synch Like tiny submariners bursting up and out of the bottom of the brook, breaking into wings and soaring for a short time above the world they once knew, the stoneflies are here, molting from crab-shells they lived in. On the back of my neck, computer keyboard, every boulder around me: they multiply, skitter all directions, avoiding the rushing water they recently called home. The frenzy begins. 

Living the life riparian—what does it mean? What could it mean? How can we live it? The best place to consider these questions is by the river side. Every river drains a unique watershed, collects unique nutrients, which in turn become habitat and food for unique creatures, which eventually become nutrients themselves, again. And all tumble down to the sea from mountain heights, carried by streams, brooks and rivers. — Read more in The Ripple!

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

Kurt takes us on an adventure to Rock Dam in Turners Falls, connecting us to our landscape and broadening our awareness of place… this month in “The Ripple: Stories About Western MA Rivers.”

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.