What Are You Doing for the Holidays?

by Barbara Walvoord

“Mid ox and ass,” sings Mary to the baby Jesus in one Christian hymn, “Sleep, sleep thou little one.”

I don’t know how animals figure in the Jewish or Muslim winter holidays, but I would expect that animals do figure in those stories, as animals figured in the lives of the people who originally lived the stories.

In the Christmas story, animals have kind of a hard time. The ox and ass watch the baby Jesus fall asleep in THEIR manger, and the sheep are abandoned to their own devices while THEIR shepherds run off to Bethlehem. No “happy happy holiday” for them. Winter in the Holy Land is warmer than here, but in our neck of the woods, not only Christmas, but winter weather, can be tough for animals.

So I thought we might ask our Lathrop animals, as we ask each other, “What are you doing for the holiday?”

A bear mom gives birth to cubs every other year, so if it’s the year of birth, she stays in her den, hibernating and gestating. The cubs will be having milk. The mom has no dinner and loses up to 1/3 of her Continue reading What Are You Doing for the Holidays?


Our Amazingly Successful Lathrop Cardinals

by Barbara Walvoord

The St. Louis Cardinals this fall accumulated their 100th straight win, plus titles and accolades. They are amazingly successful. So are our Lathrop cardinals. Unlike many other birds, cardinals have increased their numbers in the U.S. since the 1800’s. How come?

For one thing, cardinals have learned to use bird feeders; the ones in my photo were hanging around by Nancy and Herb Steeper’s feeder. And cardinals eat many different foods–seeds, fruit, and insects.

Cardinals like combinations of open and wooded areas, with shrubs and thickets as well as trees. That would be us. We have lots of brush piles and thickets where you can see cardinals flitting about this time of the year, sheltering from cold and snow.

Cardinals are fierce. A male will aggressively chase away other Continue reading Our Amazingly Successful Lathrop Cardinals

Building New Homes at Lathrop

by Barbara Walvoord

During summer and fall, Lathrop’s human residents have been planning new residences, holding long meetings, hiring architects and contractors, flagging jurisdictional wetlands, and conferring with town land planners, all without putting a single shovel in the ground.

Meanwhile, Lathrop’s squirrel residents just went ahead and built a bunch of homes. Now that the leaves have fallen, you can see them everywhere in our trees on both campuses–dark, messy blobs against the sky.

To biologists, this mess is a “drey.” To our squirrels, it’s home.

Squirrel construction gives “stick built” a new meaning. Last summer, or early fall, our squirrel chewed off well-leafed branches before the tree told the branches to drop the leaves. So the leaves have stayed on the branches. Picking a spot about thirty feet off the Continue reading Building New Homes at Lathrop

A Great Idea

by Barbara Walvoord

So here’s the problem: In the press of competing demands on community tax money, four areas tend to get short shrift–open space preservation, historic preservation, affordable housing, and recreational facilities. Yet these aspects are critical to the long-term flourishing of the community.

So how about a state law that allows communities to vote to levy a real-estate tax surcharge to provide money for these four areas, and how about giving the communities some state matching funds for encouragement?

In 2000, the Massachusetts legislature did just that, with the Community Preservation Act (CPA). And the towns of Northampton and Easthampton voted to set aside CPA funds. You get the money by writing a grant proposal, which is then evaluated by a town CPA Committee and approved by the City Council.

And how about this idea–since the regular grant proposal process is long and complex, how about establishing an easier process for Continue reading A Great Idea

Tree Holes at Lathrop, #1

You can see lots of holes in Lathrop trees, living or dead. Who made them? Who uses them? For what?

The holes in this dead tree on the east campus were made by pileated woodpeckers (Dryocopus pileatus) Sharon and I heard a pileated woodpecker’s loud cry in the Mulberry Lane Meadow on the east campus just a few days ago. You can hear it online at http://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=pileated+woodpecker+call&FORM=VIRE2#view=detail&mid=75CB93435AC7DC61F71C75CB93435AC7DC61F71C

The pileated woodpecker is about the size of a crow. It’s black, with white stripes down its neck, and a bold red crest.


When you were trying to sell your big old frame house in the country, finding carpenter ants and termites meant a big, big headache. Pileated woodpeckers go after these critters like a prospective buyer’s building inspector. What the birds are finding is Continue reading Tree Holes at Lathrop, #1