Category Archives: Observing Our Land

Our Meadows are STILL Full of Butterflies

By Barbara Walvoord

Originally published in the Lathrop Lamp Post of Oct. 27-Nov. 2, 2018

Our monarch butterflies have left for Mexico, but many butterflies will stay all winter. They survive in an astonishing variety of life stages—as caterpillars, as adults, or in cocoons–tucked into crevices, resting on the ground, rolled up in leaves, or attached to twigs.

The pearl crescent caterpillar stops eating its usual aster plants and spends the winter resting at the base of the plant until spring.  The adult arctic skipper crawls into a crevice or tree bark and goes into a dormant state.

Some butterflies, like this black swallowtail, overwinter in a cocoon.  In summer, it will stay in the cocoon only 2 weeks, but if the chrysalis forms in Fall, it will go into a hibernating state called “diapause” until warmer spring weather.

At Lathrop, we save our overwintering butterflies by mowing only 1/3 of our meadows and fields each year, so that 2/3 of the overwintering butterflies survive.

In a garden, the more plant material you can leave over the winter, the more butterflies you will save.  Leave fallen leaves on the ground. Continue reading Our Meadows are STILL Full of Butterflies


The Critical Importance of Old Trees

by Barbara Walvoord

First published in the Lathrop Lamp Post, Oct. 20-26, 218

Why we need old trees was the subject of an Oct. 16 talk by renowned expert on old-growth forests Bob Leverett. An engineer by training, he showed Lathrop residents how he measures the volume of old trees and the amount of carbon they sequester.  His research has shown that, contrary to popular misconception, old trees sequester the most carbon, compared to young trees, and old trees keep on sequestering more, as they get even older.  The protection of our western Massachusetts forests, as they age, Continue reading The Critical Importance of Old Trees

How to Walk Safely in our Woods and Fields this Hunting Season

By Barbara Walvoord

First published in the Lathrop Lamp Post, Oct. 13-19, 2018

Oct. 15 – Dec. 31 is the season for hunting deer and turkey, both of which are plentiful on our land.

But our critters can live in peace this fall, because, on the east campus, Lathrop has ended its longstanding agreement with a hunter,  that he and a few of his friends could hunt on our land in exchange for his mowing our trails and fields.  On the north campus, and the adjacent Fitzgerald Lake Conservation Area, no hunting has ever been allowed.

However, we can’t completely guarantee that no hunters will trespass on our land.  So when walking our trails, wear orange or pink on your torso and head. Facilities Director  Mike Strycharz notes that orange clothing is a good idea anytime, because it’s easier to find you in the Continue reading How to Walk Safely in our Woods and Fields this Hunting Season

The House that Jack Built

By Barbara Walvoord

Most living things in our woods have either green leaves or mouths.  The ones with green leaves—the trees, shrubs, and wildflowers—practice photosynthesis–using sunlight to make food out of water and carbon dioxide.

The ones with mouths are creatures like insects and rabbits who eat the plants that have made food out of water and carbon dioxide, and then creatures like the bobcat, coyote, and hawk, who eat the creatures that have eaten the food that the plants have made.  This is the house that Jack built, otherwise called a food web. Continue reading The House that Jack Built

Loners Go A-Courtiin’ at Lathrop

Loners Go a-Courtin’ at Lathrop

By Barbara Walvoord

Originally published in the Lathrop Lamp Post for March 24-31, 2018

Woodcocks are loners.  The dads mate with multiple females and take no responsibility for child rearing. The moms lay their eggs on the ground.  If the eggs are threatened, mom may feign injury to draw away the intruder, but is quite quick to abandon the eggs. Mom feeds the babies for a week, and then it’s out on your own, kids.  During the summer, woodcocks mostly stay to themselves, walking along the forest ground, eating a paleo diet—meat (from worms, spiders, beetles, ants, and thousand-leggers), with a few salad greens on the side.  When disturbed, woodcocks remain still, their mottled coloring making them almost invisible. Continue reading Loners Go A-Courtiin’ at Lathrop

Farming Lathrop Land: A Long History

Seeds are for sale now at our local stores. Our community gardeners are planning their spinach, beans, peas, tomatoes, and squash.  We’re part of a very old farming tradition.  The old barbed wire on our land, as well as an old manure spreader abandoned in an east campus field, reminds us that European colonists farmed our Lathrop land for several centuries.

But in fact, agriculture on Lathrop land goes back even farther. Early European settlers tended to see the land they found as a wilderness, because it did not look like the farms they left behind in Europe.  But they were wrong.  The land they found in the Connecticut Valley was actually an extensive and well-regulated agricultural system that provided the basis of the diet of the native American tribes who lived here.

European settlers did not see the native American farms because women did the farming, and because the fields looked messy to European eyes.  English settlers assumed that only men farmed, and that the work of men was much more important, so they were blind to the fact that an Indian woman might be working up to 2 acres, raising 25-60 bushels of corn. Farming contributed up to three-fourths of total calories consumed. Continue reading Farming Lathrop Land: A Long History

Water, Water, Everywhere

By Barbara Walvoord

Originally published in the Lathrop Lamp Post, February 17-23, 2018

“Water, water, everywhere,” part of a line from Coleridge’s 18th-century “Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” is undoubtedly quoted (perhaps unwittingly) by our architects and planners at Lathrop’s east campus these days, as they plan new buildings that must avoid our land’s extensive web of streams and wetlands.

But our water is much more than an irritating limit on our building plans.  Like Coleridge’s mariner, we face a much more complicated paradox.  He and his fellow sailors, becalmed at sea and out of drinking water, have “water, water, everywhere, nor any drop to drink.” The mariner has killed an albatross, and the poem explores the disastrous outcome of this violation of nature and of life.  To be redeemed, the mariner must come to a deeper, more reverent view of his world, its water, and its creatures. Continue reading Water, Water, Everywhere