Hilltown Families


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.

Community-based educational opportunity available for all ages as fish lifts and ladders showcase a broad species of fish and the environmental challenges they face. Critical thinking is an essential by-product as children view the efforts made to maintain a river’s natural flow at the Turners Falls Fish Ladder and the Robert E. Barrett Fishway in Holyoke.

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.

Our hills are gemmed with gifts—receive them by being present! This month in “The Ripple,” Kurt poetically inspires us to get out along side our rivers that run through snow-laden hemlock forests to connect with our surroundings and to discover our animal neighbors…

The leaves are down, so now is the time to discover the geomorphic character of your brook: how its pools, rapids and boggy spots sit in the land. Soon enough, it will freeze and its character will change. And before we know it, the leaves will return and the quiet and empty places will be buzzing and brimming with life… Make the world of rivers bigger than the world of pavement inside of you!

Take thee to the river! This month in “The Ripple: Stories About Western MA Rivers,” Kurt challenges you to stop and look for the rivers and brooks nearest you, and to take a moment to experience the aromatherapy they possess during this time of transition from green to brown… you’ll be doing yourself (and your family) a favor! Oh, and be sure to bring your camera!

Last week an energetic group of Hilltown Families citizen scientists and Kurt Heidinger, Executive Director of Biocitizen, conducted our fourth annual rapid biotic assessment of the Westfield River in West Chesterfield. This month in Kurt’s post, “The Ripple,” hear all about it, what we found and images from the afternoon…

Kurt’s call to action this month in “The Ripple”… be stewards of the rivers! Take action in September as citizen scientists by joining Hilltown Families and Biocitizen for our 4th annual rivers health check-ups, through the EPA approved method called Rapid Biotic Assessment or “RBA” of the Westfield River upstream from the Chesterfield Gorge.

This month in “The Ripple: Stories About Western MA Rivers,” Hilltown Families Contributing Writer, Kurt Heidinger, writes about river access .Check out his 5 pointers on how to river walk, preventing a wipe out due to slippery rocks and strong currents…

An Invitation to Think Outside about Floods Floods, like weeds, are problems. Occupying places we don’t want them to, they ruin things we are growing. Weeds are plants in the wrong place. And what’s a wrong place, we decide. Floods are the return of ocean to mountain. They decide with the objectivity we (would) laud in our courts of justice. They’re not elitist; they are levelers. Floods would not be a problem… Read More

Before May Flies, Meet the Mayfly Imagine never getting swarmed and bit by mayflies as you revel in the vivacities unleashed by the ubiquitous green fountain of spring. Imagine gardening, or hiking, or simply sitting on a park bench without having to constantly swat and flinch and keep from going mad as the mayflies crawl on your neck and arms and ears, looking for a sweetspot to slice skin and lap blood…. Read More

How do spring peepers know when to start singing? How do spring peepers know when to start singing? They don’t have weather reports, or the ability to see the buds forming on trees, the snow melting, or teens walking around in shorts and T’s when it’s 40 degrees and climbing. Certainly, there are scientific reasons that explain how peepers know when to announce the return of the sun and the warmth; but… Read More

Spring Hunting Spring has a leap of the leprechaun in it; who can deny that?—but spring’s called spring not because of its leapiness.  Spring’s called spring because of the upwelling waters that appear as the frozen earth thaws. Right now is the best time to hunt for springs. We had a great ice winter, a record snow and some flood-causing rains, so the conditions are approaching perfect for finding the little springs… Read More

Winter Otters It’s the end of winter (almost), when months of frigid winds have whipped the bare hills and leafless trees into a freeze-dried state. The best loggers cut trees for firewood now, just before the March thaws, because the ground is frozen and the green wood is at its driest, all the sap stored underground (Think maple syrup!). How wonderful and wise and tough are the trees, an example for us… Read More

Clouds are Rivers Rains become rivers, so—if we think of the whole instead of the parts—clouds are rivers. How very unscientific is such a thought! If everybody thought clouds are rivers, how would we distinguish between them? Wouldn’t reality become an un-focus-able blur? Maybe! That could be a very healthy development, if it allowed us to reboot our way of categorizing, and comprehending, the parts that make up the whole of our… Read More

When Our Wetlands Become Icelands Perhaps you love to walk in the woods in winter because, when the leaves are down, the shape (or “geomorphic character”) of our biome is exposed. I do, too! Winter is possibly the most perfect time to get to know where you are. When you look up at the hills from down in the valley, or from hills to other hills, there is more to see of… Read More

What We Can Give to Our Rivers This summer I was lucky enough to visit the West Coast, and spent two days in Big Sur, that rugged part of the California coast where cliff and ocean try to work things out. The history of Jack Kerouac, the Beatniks and the Hippies, and of the collective yearning for freedom and spirituality and ecstasy that begins centuries earlier in Europe and in Plymouth and… Read More

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… Read More

Thinking 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… Read More

Adopt Your Local Stream or River 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… Read More

What Are We Going to Do Now 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… Read More

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