Category Archives: Observing Our Land

Depending on Pussy Willows

By Barbara Walvoord

First published in the Lathrop Lamp Post, March 23-29, 2019

The Indie/Alternative Rock group of Carly Gibson and Hannah Zale advertise their “Pussywillow” duo as “not just a flowering plant.”

But the native pussywillows at Lathrop ARE a flowering plant, and many Lathrop residents depend on them.   The plant itself depends on those silky catkins we bring indoors in spring.  The buds of the plant have been protected by a hard shell all winter.  About now, however, the shell splits and the bud is ready to open.  But it’s still pretty cold.  So the silky hairs trap heat to warm the flower’s reproductive parts at the center of the catkin.

We humans depend on pussy willows as a welcome sign of spring.  They’re so popular you can buy the branches at your local nursery, or you can buy the shrubs for your garden.  Chinese relatives of our Continue reading Depending on Pussy Willows

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Trees Down! Call Out the Workers!

By Barbara Walvoord

Originally published in the Lathrop Lamp Post of March 9-15, 2019

When some trees fell across Lathrop trails in the recent wind storm, resident volunteers went out assessing and clearing, resident Roger Howe got out his big bowed tree saw, and eventually Mike will send workers with chain saws.

But off trail, Mother Nature is also calling up her workers.   If all these trees didn’t decay, we would have miles-high lumber piles that would store all the carbon and nutrients and crush all other life.  So here’s what Mother Nature does to a fallen tree.  If you read this story to a young grandchild, you’ll get a nice, satisfying EEEEW! Continue reading Trees Down! Call Out the Workers!

There IS Hunting at Lathrop

By Barbara Walvoord

First published in Lathrop Lamp Post for Jan. 12-18, 2019

Never mind Lathrop’s new “No hunting” signs. There’s LOTS of hunting going on. Resident Betty Schaffer, on east campus Huckleberry Lane, reported on Jan. 3: “A hawk killed a mourning dove on my porch, and my daughter took this picture. It stayed this way awhile and we didn’t know what it would do. It pecked sometimes at the bird under it, which was still moving a little. Then it surprised us by flying off with the dove.” It’s a Cooper’s hawk.

Continue reading There IS Hunting at Lathrop

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