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Interterm at MacLeish, Day 3

12 Jan

Caroline Eyman ’18 and Regina Wu ’18, students in the Interterm class Landscape Interpretation: Get to know and learn to share your New England landscape, are today’s guest bloggers.

Today was fortunately a warmer day with a high of 49°F–a nice change compared to 18°F on Monday. We started off the day with an introduction to the Ada and Archibald MacLeish Field Station. The field station was named after the MacLeishes who were good friends with Smith College’s first woman president, Jill Ker Conway. The field station itself is 240-acres of forest and farmland located in West Whately, Massachusetts. Smith College first purchased the land for an observatory. The college wanted to protect the observatory from light pollution and West Whately seemed to be the perfect location.


It was fascinating to hear about the development of the MacLeish Field Station which began in the fall of 2008. In addition to the college’s faculty and staff, many Smith students were part of the design process of the liberal arts field station. Students came together from different disciplines (landscape studies, architecture, engineering) and worked with each other to create things such as recreational trails, a solar-powered electric fence, and a fire pit.


After the introduction to the field station, we made our way outside to the ropes course for some adventure education. In our first challenge, Full House, we had to silently choose a woodland creature to pretend to be. We then stepped onto the wooden balance beams. The challenge was to figure out who was what creature, without talking, and to order ourselves from smallest to largest without falling off. It’s always a fun time to play silent charades while trying to balance on wood beams! On our way from the first challenge course to the next, we divided into groups where one person lead three people who were blindfolded. We all made it safe and sound to our next destination. The next challenge was a low ropes course called the Whale Watch. We were on a large wooden platform seesaw and our goal was to balance the platform while completing different tasks, such as two people switching from one side of the platform to the other or the entire group forming a circle and shuffling in one direction–all while the platform was balanced. It is not as simple as it may seem!


The afternoon portion of the class was spent mostly inside learning more about the Bechtel Environmental Classroom and the different aspects of the Living Building Challenge. We began by discussing Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certifications for buildings. We discussed how members of the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) wanted to make it more difficult to achieve a certification similar to LEED. The members of the USGBC created the Living Building Challenge. The Living Building Challenge has seven main components: water, energy, site, material, health, beauty and equity. We analyzed how each component was used in the building process and use of the classroom.

Before we debriefed at the end of the day, we received a lesson about composting toilets. We went down to the basement and saw where all of the human waste is deposited. We even opened up the chamber where the waste was held, and some of us were brave enough to look inside. The wood shavings covered up the smell!

After our composting lesson, we ended our day by continuing to plan for the sixth graders on Friday. We are excited for them to come experience the magical place that is the MacLeish Field Station.

Interterm at MacLeish, Day 2

11 Jan

As part of the Interterm class Landscape Interpretation: Get to know and learn to share your New England landscape, students are writing blog posts about their class activities. Today’s guest bloggers are Rhiannon Nolan ’19, Sarah Netsky ’17, and Caitlyn Perrotta ’20.


We started our day by tromping off into the snow with Jesse Bellemare, a Smith bio professor, who talked to us about how humans have impacted this area since the post-glacial period–changing the landscape by lighting fires, hunting larger game animals, and changing the natural ecological balance.

In the 1600s and 1700s there was a lot of tension in the hilly area that is now MacLeish as the French, British and indigenous people violently argued over the land. This caused the valley, where Northampton is now located, to become more populated until the hills were deemed safe to inhabit.

Jesse took us to see the stone walls around the field station which, at first, one might overlook, but he explained that the walls were evidence of property boundaries from the 1600 to 1700s. Walls with large rocks indicated that the land had been used as a sheep pasture. Walls with rocks off all sizes indicated that the land had been used as a vegetable garden because people more meticulously removed small stones from the soil.

Next Jesse showed us a depression that was once the cellar of a farm home in the 1790s, where a family of 10 to 12 lived and farmed. This home, and much of the surrounding land, was only inhabited for about a generation. The numerous children of these farm families needed their own land to cultivate and moved westward toward more fertile, flatter land on which to farm. The lack of continuous cultivation caused the forest to reclaim the land, giving us the woody area that we see today. These forests are young, causing them to lack a lot of the features that older forests have, such as large pieces of dead wood.

We went in to the Bechtel Environmental Classroom to eat lunch (and nuts!) and then went outdoors individually to hang our weathergrams from yesterday. Some people used the time to reflect and observe the landscape, similar to our sensory exercise from yesterday, and others used it to go sledding down the slopes.

After lunch, Maggie Newey, a museum educator at Smith, came to discuss visual learning strategies that we could employ both in our own lives and when thinking about how to teach sixth graders about the field station. She had us take a couple of minutes to examine our view of MacLeish from indoors and then do the same with a photograph she provided of Scotland. We did a similar activity again after breaking into groups to look at small objects from nature that we had collected while out with Jesse.

We closed by starting to plan how we would structure our Friday with the sixth graders. We can’t wait to meet them in a few days!

LEED Gold certification for new apartments

21 Dec


The Friedman Complex, Smith College’s first new student residence in a decade, was recently awarded LEED Gold certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. The certification program evaluates buildings on categories such as sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection and indoor environmental quality.

The buildings in the complex, located on Paradise Road and designed by the Seattle-based architecture firm of Olson Kundig, are named for five pioneering Smith alumnae: Cromwell House, after Otelia Cromwell, class of 1900, Smith’s first African American graduate; DeCora House, after Angel DeCora, class of 1896, Smith’s first Native American student; Hashimy House, after Sabiha Yassin Hashimy, class of 1937, Smith’s first Middle Eastern student; Machado House, after Salomé Amelia Machado, class of 1883, Smith’s first Latina student; and Ninomiya House, after Tei Ninomiya, class of 1910, the first Asian student to graduate from Smith.


The Friedman Complex is the most recent green building project on campus. Ford Hall, a science and engineering facility, is also LEED Gold; Conway House, a residence for Ada Comstock students with families, received the highest ENERGYSTAR rating possible; and the Bechtel Environmental Classroom at MacLeish Field Station is the world’s fifth fully certified Living Building.


Fiddles and Folks at the Field Station

16 Jun
— Somehow this post got hung up and never published. We decided to go ahead and share it belatedly anyway!
 Music at MacLeish_students_2016
On Saturday, April 2 there was a convergence of bluegrass music, dance, faculty, students, and local community members at the MacLeish Field Station. A friendly collection of musicians came together with their guitars, banjos, fiddles, mandolin, and stand-up bass, and jammed together (the acoustics in there – amazing) while folks scattered around the cozy Bechtel Classroom sipped tea, sang along, waltzed, and even taught each other some clogging steps!
Music at MacLeish_with students and Max_2016
  A favorite song was “You are my Sunshine”. The energy was simultaneously gentle and ecstatic. The only question now is, when can we have an event like this again??
-Shelby Kim ’18 is a CEEDS Field Station intern with a love of folk dancing and driving 11-passenger vans.

Interpreting – Reflections on Day 2

14 Jan

Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification is fairly widely known throughout both the Smith Community and the greater population. Ford Hall, opened in 2010, was Smith’s first LEED Gold certified building. After our discussions today I learned a lot more about what exactly this means. In Smith’s case ​ LEED Certification led to water recycling mechanisms, green roofs, and computer monitored air and light systems. Through today’s discussions about the Bechtel Environmental Classroom at the Ada and Archibald MacLeish Field Station I began to understand how LEED certification, while wonderful, is also limited.  We can do much better. The Living Building Challenge, set forth by the International Living Futures Institute, incorporates seven petals that promote change in public policies ​and ​change in industry that will encourage more sustainable architecture in the future.​

2015-01-13 14.20.50

One of the things that was the most mind-boggling to me was the requirement ​to exclude thirteen chemicals on the “red” list from the building.  That required generating a material ingredients list for every component that is needed for the building, somewhat like an ingredients list for a cereal. We look forward to teaching the 6th Graders about the Bechtel Classroom and the Field Station on Friday!

-April Birnie, ’15

2015-01-13 13.36.29

After lunch and a quick sledding break, Maggie Lind, director of education at the Smith College Museum of Art, came to the Field Station to discuss Visual Thinking Strategies with us. She began her presentation by asking us to look outside the classroom’s large picture window and describe what we noticed in the landscape. After each observation, Maggie reflected what we said, helping build the conversation. She never interjected with any specific facts or tried to lead us to a “correct” answer; rather, she allowed us to draw our conclusions based on what we saw. After that exercise, she explained that this was a facilitation technique called Visual Thinking Strategies, which allows the viewer to interpret the landscape without feeling pushed to notice or focus on any specific thing, but rather what interests them the most. Maggie also introduced us to the ideas of Freeman Tilden, who worked for the National Park Service in the 1950s and first brought the idea of landscape interpretation to the forefront. It was great to have Maggie come and discuss this method of presenting and acquiring knowledge about the field station, and left us thinking about how we could use Visual Thinking Strategies to teach the Campus School sixth graders who will be joining us on Friday.

-Catherine Bradley, ’17

After Maggie Lind (from the Smith College Museum of Art) taught us about Visual Thinking Strategies, we tested our newly acquired knowledge by going outside and finding our own artifacts for our group members to “interpret” and to apply the strategies. People chose a wide variety of artifacts ranging from gathering a cup of snow to finding a piece of bark, to taking a photograph of an artifact too big to bring indoors.


Once we each found (or photographed) our artifact, each person presented theirs to a small group and used the strategies we’d learned to allow their fellow group members to interpret the object in their own way. We went into this activity knowing that when it comes to interpretation, everything is valid and therefore many viewpoints were voiced which enriched the experience for everyone.

-Maia Erslev, ’18

Meet this summer’s CEEDS Interns

6 Jun

My name is Jen Rioux and I am a rising senior at Smith College majoring in Environmental Science and Policy and minoring in Landscape Studies. I am one of the two CEEDS interns working with Reid Bertone-Johnson at the Ada and Archibald MacLeish Field Station this summer through Smith’s Summer Research Fellows program (SURF). SURF facilitates formal summer research opportunities with Smith College faculty. I am excited to explore the field station and learn more about its history and envision ways it will be used in the future. I am especially interested in the effects of oriental bittersweet, an invasive, non-native vine that is taking over parts of the forest. I hope to create some sort of management plan for keeping the vine from spreading further. I will keep you updated.


I’m Jo Harvey and I just completed my first year here at Smith as an Ada Comstock Scholar after transferring from Southern Maine Community College in Portland. I hope to apply my science background from previous biotechnology studies toward my current major of Environmental Science and Policy. Since my job immediately prior to coming to Smith required sitting at a desk in front of a computer, I’m thrilled that this internship at MacLeish will allow me to be outside for the summer. I expect to learn a lot from this experience, and now that we’re midway through our second week working at the field station, I’m excited to help find ways to increase the use of the property by Smith students, faculty, and staff.

Jen and Jo (l. to r.) at MacLeish.

During the first two weeks of our internship we’ve been working on maintenance projects that have allowed us to become more familiar with the property. We have wrapped up many school-year projects, repaired an all-terrain wheelchair as well as the solar panel for an electric fence, done general trail maintenance, begun taking steps to sheet mulch the Fruit Orchard (established with a generous gift from former College President Carol Christ), and we have completed a large portion of a new connector trail from the building to the fire pavilion. Through this work we have come in contact with a variety of invasive species. Check back next week for a post about invasive species at the MacLeish Field Station.

-Jen Rioux (‘15) and Jo Harvey (‘AC)

To Meet a Tree

21 Jan

“How old is the oldest tree in the world?” one of the children asked me, as soon as they arrived at the MacLeish Field Station on Friday morning. I panicked, doubting my memory—was it 2,000 years, or 5,000? But even though I didn’t quite remember, there was still enough to talk about as we sat on the cushioned bench in the environmental classroom and waited for the morning’s activities to begin.

 Our conversation prompted me to do some more research. One of the oldest individual trees in the world is a bristle-cone pine tree (Pinus longaeva) dated to be 4,845 years old, in the White Mountains of California. And if you expand your definition of a tree to include a clonal colony of trees connected by an interlocking root network, the oldest colony is tens of thousands of years old, surpassing the lifespan of any individual.

OldestTree Methuselah, a California bristle-cone pine, and one of the oldest living individual trees in the world.

On Friday morning, when students in the “Landscape Interpretation” interterm class were joined by two 6th grade classes from the Smith College Campus School, we had the exciting opportunity to share with the children some of the knowledge we had gained throughout the week. Through a blindfolded ‘meet a tree’ activity, I led the students through an exercise of experiencing a tree without their eyesight.tree1


It was fascinating to watch how each of the students interacted with the trees in front of them, noticing differences in texture and diameter, and touching, smelling, (and even tasting) their trees. We discussed anything that surprised them about experiencing their tree, any expectations they had, or questions they were wondering about.


The morning was a great success, despite the cold. And as the students were leaving the classroom, I was talking to one of the boys about how cool the field station was. “That’s a really good pun,” he said, “because I’m freezing.”

-Ellena Baum, ’14 is an engineering B.A. major and an environmental science & policy minor. 

Day 5- Sharing

19 Jan
Today was the big day. We headed up to MacLeish early to set up: we wanted to be ready when the busload of sixth graders arrived. We cut and folded field journals, tied strings around trees, cleared branches off of the hole that marked a homestead site, and (for some reason) decided to tidy up the building.
After some unexpected delays, they finally arrived. We met them at the parking area, and they piled out of the school bus, and headed straight up to the building. It was mild chaos for a bit (especially when a couple dozen sixth graders eagerly lined up to try out our two composting toilets), but eventually we introduced ourselves, distributed field journals and pencils, divided the kids into groups, and headed outside.
The Campus School 6th graders got into it, followed our directions, and eagerly participated in the activities we had planned for them. They tromped around the woods with their field journals, observing trees and rocks and leaves, and happily shared their findings with us. They made connections easily, asked insightful questions, and shared knowledge I didn’t expect any sixth graders to have. They also put up with the chilly morning with minimal complaint. It was a delightful experience, and I only wish we had had more time with them. But in no time at all, we were switching groups, then heading back to the warmth of the building.
Before they left, we asked them to share some “learnings and wonderings” as we’d done ourselves all week. They happily shared what they’d learned and asked more about the Living Building Challenge and other things. Again, I was pleasantly surprised by just how bright they were.  Are they really 6th graders?  One student said, “I like how we connected learning about nature and observing it with learning about the family who lived here.”
I don’t think I could’ve summarized our week so concisely myself.
-EJ Wald ’15 is a CEEDS intern, a mathematics major, landscape studies minor, and sustainable food concentrator.

Day 4- Interpretation Strategies

17 Jan

On Thursday, we were joined for the day by Maggie Lind, Associate Educator for Academic Programs from the Smith College Museum of Art.  She engaged our group in observational exercises and demonstrated expert facilitation of interpreting our observations in a group setting.  We were introduced to Visual Thinking Strategies and ways in which interpretation can lead to deeper questions about a place – in our case the landscape of the MacLeish Field Station.4a

 We worked with Maggie and further developed our interpretation activities.  After lunch, we led each other through our activities in preparation for the Smith College Campus School sixth grade classes who are to join us on Friday.  Though we were nervous about whether or not we would be ready for them, we left Thursday feeling confident in our plans and eager to try them out. 4c
  4e-MOTION                                        Jumping for the Earthscope at MacLeish.
The weather looks like it is going to cooperate with us for our final day.  This has been a whirl-wind of a week learning about MacLeish and preparing for the Campus School’s field trip.  Professor Berner and I have had a wonderful time facilitating this week of activities and look forward to seeing it all come together on Day 5.
-Reid Bertone-Johnson
Landscape Studies Studio Instructor,
Manager, Ada and Archibald MacLeish Field Station, CEEDS

Day 3- Don’t take me for Granite because I’m Gneiss!

16 Jan

We started the day with a mini geology lesson by Professor Amy Rhodes. After examining samples of three rock types in the classroom, we headed out into the MacLeish landscape to further practice differentiating gneiss from granite.



While identifying two neighboring rock outcrops, we inferred which of the two rocks had formed first as well as the formation mechanism. We then shifted our focus to the stone wall bordering the backyard of the Waite family homestead remains. We found out that the small, local rocks piled on top of the stone wall were most likely rocks that had been removed during plowing, which means that the backyard had been a vegetable garden, though a difficult one to maintain—another piece to the puzzle of the abandoned homestead!




On our walk along the Porcupine Trail, Amy pointed out a small patch of the hemlock forest where a succession experiment has been taking place. The patch of the hemlock forest was cleared about thirty years ago and it now sees a rapid succession by black birch trees, although there has not been much change in the acidity of the soil. The experiment is ongoing, and its result will carry more significance now that MacLeish is losing hemlock trees faster than ever to the non-native woolly adelgid pest. We wish the best of luck to our hemlock-nibbling porcupines.

During the lunch break, Carol (Professor Berner) continued the tradition of sharing sweet treats by bringing out some delicious, adorably-packaged, (not to mention) award-winning goat milk caramels. We heard the story of the failing goat farm metamorphosing into a thriving confectionary operation, and we enjoyed the paper box featuring all the goats and shepherd dog, Elvis, in hand-drawn illustrations.  We began to wonder if more expense had gone into merchandizing than the actual production. Regardless, in the afternoon, we each shared our vision for the MacLeish Open-House for the sixth-grade students, and divided into two groups to continue planning for the two activity stations. While tomorrow will likely be busy as the last day for preparation, we can’t wait to share the things we’ve learned at the Field Station with our visitors!

– Fengsheng Zhu, ’14 (Economics and Sexuality, Women’s and Gender Studies double-major, Amherst College)