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Interpreting the New England Landscape

31 Jan

This the second in a series of posts written by students in LSS110: Interpreting the New England Landscape, which takes place at the MacLeish Field Station each January. 

01/16/19 Wednesday

Morgan Pierce, Camille Butera, and Camille Butterfield

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We began the morning with Naila Moreira, a visiting professor who helped us define the term creative nonfiction, as a mode of writing that places a narrative upon the events of life as they are experienced, and draws on background knowledge to supplement these stories. We discussed the components of creative nonfiction, which included a plot, character development, voice, emotion, and sensory imagery, and also discussed the importance of relating to the reader, and allowing the reader to see themselves in the author. We then discussed the Arts Afield program, which aims to create a 200-year archive of artists’ work at and inspired by locations within the field station.

Then, we were prompted to call out words that we associated with the field station. Naila prompted and guided us toward various types of words we hadn’t yet explored, such as ones with intense emotional or negative connotations, or multiple layers of meaning. We came up with an extensive list that ranged from animal and tree names, to emotions and feelings. Some that stood out to us were ghosts, invasive, traces, abandonment/ed. Keeping these words in mind, we then went out to the porch swing, which is one of the Arts Afield locations, to observe, sketch, write, and collect objects to suspend within ice suncatchers. The electric fence was off (which was lucky, since all of us rolled or crawled under it to get to the swing!), and there were cows in the pasture, but they got spooked soon after we arrived. We all spread out and began engaging with the landscape as individuals. Rays of sunlight broke through the clouds as we all sat in the quiet to reflect and observe.

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After about 30-40 minutes of writing and reflecting, we walked back to the building. Naila prompted us to come up with a metaphor, a character, a feeling or emotion, and a question we had following that experience, and invited everyone to share one of those things. Then we spent some time crafting a more polished narrative, but Naila assured us that they didn’t have to be good, which was liberating.

After that, she asked us how we felt about the writing process and whether anyone wanted to share. It was a friendly audience, and everyone had beautiful and insightful thoughts to share. Here are some quotations selected from some of our creative writing essays:

“Maybe these lumps of rock that have formed like wrinkles at the corners of my smile seem immense to you. Maybe my sense of calm today has cast a blue, grey haze over your sky. Maybe the delicate, intricate lines the trees form over the hills seem beautiful to you. But I take no ownership over my features. Even as you stand awestruck gazing over this landscape, I can not say that I shaped myself for your appreciation. How I formed was both random and mathematical all at once. My core, arteries, bones, flesh all created by outside forces. I have no will, I have no desire. I am simply the material evidence of the forces of physics. I am not like you. You can understand what you are and investigate your world. Your powers of interpretation are not mine to possess. But in so many ways, I am you. Broken pieces of my body make up your being. Carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, magnesium, these were formed in me before ever appearing in you. In a period of time, the difference between us will diminish further as the organic material of your body is reclaimed in the cycle of life. As you sit here observing on that rock, you ask me “how do you know to put these colors together to be seen as beautiful to me? Or is it that I have evolved to appreciate these colors and interpret them as beautiful?” Maybe the answer is yes, I am beautiful. Maybe the answer is no, I am only beautiful to you. But maybe I can not answer your question. You and I are both too similar and too different to attempt to make that distinction.”

“Though they may not be the tree which lingered here, hundreds of years, they still strike us, still remind us of the grandeur of the land. We changed them, they changed themselves, they change us. And is this lack of “authenticity” so terrible? We ourselves alter, whether by personal choice to change or through the simple fact that every seven years we regenerate (or so I’ve been told), our old cells falling away to be replaced with the new, sloughing off old skin, old hair, the lost becoming dust on the wind or specks in the sunlight. What matters now is that the trees are here. That through the rushing of the wind and the occasional thrum of cars on the drive up to and along the field station, the cries of birds and drilling of woodpeckers persists. It is faint, but it lingers here in the landscape. Here, the trees are erect, the bushes flourish, dead leaves fall to the ground, replenishing the soil as their bent, orange-brown forms are subsumed into the off-yellow grass. The landscape survives. It alters, becoming new and bent and changed, but it survives. No person, no place, no object can exist outside of a bubble without inducing or experiencing change, so why would we pretend this space could ever be different: all it can do it persist and march on.”

“In the act of drawing and writing what you sense, your relationship with the space around you becomes both intensified and muted. Looking from notebook page to mountains and sky, your eyes become intent on the contours of a rocky slope, a stone, a bank of clouds. You take them in, together and individually, feeling the shapes and textures of the world travel from your eyes to your brain to the muscles of your hands. Putting pencil to page is an act of hope. Belief that you may create something that constructs this location in your mind long after you have left it behind. Your eyes and fingers move quickly, traveling around landscape and paperscape, birds fluttering through the sky. The wind hums in your ears and the cold threatens to still your fingers, as it seems to still all life, but there is so much more to record, so much feeling to convey with numbing hands and watering eyes. Winter does not still all life. You see life all around you. Your eyes seize on fragments of green in this tawny landscape. Blades of grass retain their hue, and conifers loom, taunting the cold that strips their deciduous counterparts of their dignity, leaving them in a state of careless, lonely beauty. Barren branches grasp for the hints of sunlight that only just manage to penetrate the slate-gray clouds that keep rolling by. You feel a fog roll through your mind in much the same way, yet this fog heightens your perception of these glorious sights, while preventing you from feeling your nose drip or your hands burning with cold. There is still motion. You remain in touch with bits of world, lichens blooming over stone, hazy blue mountain skyline, the trees in between. You are breathless, pencil moving more quickly now, as your hands attempt the futile task of describing the taste of air, the movement of stillness, the traces of lives and deaths this land has felt. Your eyes widen and you stare fixedly into the distance, willing your senses outward toward the horizon. A single leaf floats in mid air, drifting just as you are.”

To finish Naila’s visit, we all wrote a poem together, with each person contributing one word as we went around the room. It went as follows:

within the trees, time

stops. ghosts linger there

aching for hazy bittersweet;

sweet memories interrupt

shapeless events. dream spill.

ash dusts rhythms of life.

 

Then we ate lunch and made suncatchers out of some plants we found outside! To do that, we filled bowls with water, inserted a piece of string, and the plants we had found earlier, and set them outside to freeze.

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After lunch, we went outside again to look at Dan Ladd’s artwork, and discuss strategies for a seeing exercise that is useful for students of all ages. The three questions to ask are:

  1. What’s going on here?
  2. What makes you say that?
  3. What more can you find?

Using these questions, we talked about various reactions to the artwork, and learned about the history of Dan’s work and presence at the field station. We discussed the beauty of his work, but also the elements of torture and interference with nature. His work directly tackles questions of the natural and unnatural, and the ethics behind it are mystifying; however, if we consider human beings as part of the landscape rather than separate from it, perhaps his work is quite natural after all. His reach across the space was broader than most of us realized, as he seemed to tinker with every bit of property he could get his hands on! We discovered much of his work on our walks through the woods. Next time we hike through the field station, we’ll be sure to keep our eyes open for new creations. Some flurries began, and we headed back inside.

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We then began planning for Friday’s activities with the sixth graders, by first brainstorming about examples of effective teaching we remember from our preteen years, and then brainstorming about how we wanted the morning to be broken up. Since there are three main areas we’ve been working with, we decided to create three stations, one about science, one about history, and one about art. We students were in charge of coming up with the three activities, and breaking ourselves into groups. Then, we worked more closely with our group members to narrow down our ideas and consider logistics. Everything seemed to come together really well, and everyone seemed excited about their different roles in helping the plan for the day take shape.

To finish, we all gave one word that we felt was connected to our experience of the day, and then wrote blue post-it notes to stick on the map.

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It was a beautiful day of exploring, together and individually. Our words of the day were authenticity, liminality, ghosts, individuality, presence, hybrid, long term, contorted, expansion, observation, being, structure, and creativity.

 

LSS 110 Reflections – Exploring the Landscape

28 Jan

You might think the MacLeish Field Station would go quiet in the winter, but each year students spend one week of interterm there in a unique class called LSS 110: Interpreting New England Landscape. In this course students experience the natural cultural history of the New England landscape, and develop educational activities that explore ways of sharing the significance of MacLeish (and the broader New England landscape) with a variety of audiences. The week concludes with a visit by local 6th graders who learn from the students. The following series of posts were written by students in LSS 110 this year over the course of their class.

 

Exploring Otherworlds 1.14.19 by Clarity Phillips

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Our first day in LSS 110 took us through the woods with Jesse Bellemare to identify some trees and investigate an 18th century homestead site. I found the deductive analysis of the site fascinating; though I’ve studied some archaeological digs from pictures, I’ve never been on the ground exploring a historical site like this before, after nature has reabsorbed most of it. The site reminded me of my work at Old Sturbridge Village this past summer, so I could vividly imagine the house standing new, the pathways to the well and the barns, the vegetable garden alive with beans and turnips and carrots, and the Waite family going about their constant daily work. Because I’ve been immersed in such scenes recreated at OSV, it was sobering to pass through it as a visitor from the future. I felt reality shimmering, like the layers of time between our present and the period of active use of the site were superimposed. It made me think of a book I’m currently reading called Haunted Landscapes: Super-Nature and the Environment, which is about what makes landscapes “haunted” and what “haunting” entails; it reads, “A haunted landscape deconstructs itself. Boundaries, borders and spaces themselves dissolve in fluid reconfiguration as that which haunts, movies in and out, here and there, in-between and nowhere (6).” Essentially, a haunted space is a liminal space between worlds that evokes a visceral, emotional reaction. At the homestead site I felt such a reaction, and I knew that ghostly forms were slithering all around me. Not only had the house fallen apart, but the edges of reality also dissipated. It was a place where time and space were broken down.

I felt that liminality twice on Monday; the first was in the morning at the homestead site, and the second was in the afternoon, when I wandered down the field past the swing, through a little gateway in the stone wall. I’m always looking out for gateways in nature–I’m not sure what I think built them, but I feel strongly that they mark doors into otherworlds, sacred spaces, and haunted sites. I looked up at a tall white birch that resembled a long femur, and got a distinct sense that my eyes were not showing me what was really there. In British folklore, this is called glamor, a trick of the fairies to hide their world from human eyes. Often in nature I feel that my eyes are filled with glamor, and that if the glamor were removed I would be able to see something magical. This birch seemed to shimmer with glamor, and I suspected it might be an elemental being taking the form of a tree (I know this sounds very odd, especially in an academic context, but I believe everyone builds their own reality and I see no reason not to build mine to be enchanted). The gateway was a liminal space into a landscape populated by fairies, externally resembling our everyday landscape, but a shade different. I got the feeling I was coolly tolerated there. I checked the time and was surprised to see that it was almost 3, and I had to hurry back to the building. That makes sense–time is loose in fairy country. It’s easy to forget that you need to leave. I wanted to stay out and wander far away, as though in a trance or a dream. I enjoyed making my event map because I could illustrate these feelings and ground them in the landscape, like with that birch tree. I could mark the moments of passing through, the entrances to different realities. I will definitely employ this activity in the future.

 

Event Map 1.14.19 by Hannah Gates

I venture away from the innate security of the warm Bechtel Environmental Classroom and out into the brisk midwinter afternoon. The sun may shine down on my path, but the air stubbornly chills my body regardless. As I walk I allow my steps to carry me wherever they see fit. A recent conversation about the moon sticks in my mind as I glance up to study her waxing form, nearly halfway through the process of returning to a complete orb in our sky. What causes the moon to appear in the daytime sky as she does right now? Is she always there? Have I simply taken her for granted and failed to notice her other days? Whatever the case, she is here now and I sketch a picture in my fieldbook we had made a few short minutes ago. I continue my path away from the warmth of the building and tromp through fierce bristles and dogwood, noticing the intricate weave of slim branches as they dance across my path and intertwine with their neighbors in tight nets. Some bundles comply politely with my footsteps and generously slip to the side. Others, however, persistently swoop in front of my destination, thorns catching my jeans as I pass through. While these bundles of inconvenience are not an inherently pleasant addition to my adventure, I respect and appreciate their place in nature’s world and mark their forms into my book.

Farther along the woods a moss-laden stone wall interrupts my path. As we had learned earlier in the morning, this orderly wall and all of its companions formed from the scattered hillsides when English invaders demolished the ancient forests and cleared these same rocks from their plough fields and pastures. These settlers needed boundaries for their farm animals, and Mother Nature provided as she always does. I walk over the stretching row of stone and consider the generation that engineered this structure. Whose hands carried these rocks? How long did the stones live in solidarity before man interrupted and united them with hundreds of companions in a single row? How long will it be before nature truly takes over and erases the evidence of such intentional reconstruction? Who will walk this path long after I have gone? I cannot know the answers to these questions, but I can note my time and experience with these rocks. I sketch the wall in my book and continue down my path, stepping on red berries and listening to the birds flying above who have no doubt enjoyed their sweetness. My field book welcomes these additions and I continue.

As I hop a modern wire fence which attempts to block my path, I note the cow patties that now greet me on my path. I sketch these remnants of a living creature and wonder how long it’s creator has been away. A day? A week? When will this animal return? Will it come with its friends to leave additional impressions on their land? I leave these animals’ home and climb through the fence back toward the classroom.

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I take a final turn and am on route back to the promise of heat and chocolate that awaits me, but before I get too close I take a final detour. I find a stretching log on the ground and sit, watching the movement of leaves in the wind, listening to the babble of the frozen creek, smelling the dirt and decaying leaves surrounding me, and feeling the cool bark under my jeans. Growing on this collapsed log to my left is fungus, stubbornly perpendicular to the log, defying gravity and refusing to fall. On my left, a creature has torn the bark away and drilled holes into the side. Was this the work of a woodpecker? Perhaps another bird or hungry insects? How many animals seek food or even shelter in these crevices? I know only that I am a visitor in their world, a brief inconvenience at most. Nature and her life will be here after I go. She has always been and always will be. After all of us temporary visitors have gone, some of us wounding her and some of us trying to help her, she will continue on her way. This dead and decaying log may seem dead, but it is full of life. It supports the other creatures of the forest even after it could no longer support itself. I mark its shape and growing companions in my book and take the last steps back to our man-made building. How long will this building itself remain here? Will nature’s eternal impact ever erase the presence of anything other than trees and rocks and animals and other growth? I may never know the answers to any of my questions, but I do know that this land has no regard for what I wonder, and the stretching time of this environment humbles my perspective on how I interact with the natural world around me.

 

Meet the Intern

23 Mar

 

Breanna

Hi! I’m Breanna Parker ’18 and am an intern in campus sustainability at Smith College. I came to Smith from a small town in Iowa. I chose to study Environmental Science and Policy because I want to work toward a future that supports the economy, the environment and society as a whole.

Smith College is committed to the ambitious goal of being carbon neutral by 2030. To accomplish this goal, the college must reduce its carbon emissions by mitigating the direct use of fossil fuels and by increasing efficiency on campus. However, other sources of carbon emissions, such as travel by students, staff and faculty, cannot feasibly be eliminated, which is why Smith is exploring the option of carbon offsets. A carbon offset is a way to invest in renewable energy, clean technology and efficiency and receive a carbon credit toward achieving full carbon neutrality.

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Currently, I’m working to develop guidelines for Smith’s innovative carbon offset program, the Community Climate Fund. The program is a collaboration with Amherst, Hampshire and Williams Colleges and the Center for EcoTechnology. The goal of the fund is to generate carbon offsets locally in western Massachusetts with co-benefits for the community and the colleges. The research phase was launched in 2015 and now the Community Climate Fund is implementing its first project to assist local businesses and institutions invest in high-efficiency heating systems by providing funding to lower the cost of the units. The additional funding provides an incentive to those organizations to invest in new heating systems. The reduction in energy use from these high-efficiency heating systems does three things: it helps the businesses save money and be more energy efficient, and it generates a carbon offset for the Community Climate Fund, which will help Smith reach its goal of being of being carbon neutral by 2030. It is very exciting to see Smith take action both on campus and in the community to support a sustainable future.

Interterm at MacLeish, Day 5

23 Jan

Students Zoey Sims ’19 and Rachael Drinker ’20 report on the final day of their Interterm class Landscape Interpretation: Get to know and learn to share your New England landscape.

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Today, after spending the week learning and preparing, we led the 6th graders from the Smith College Campus School around the field station for two hours. The day started with the students arriving earlier than expected, but this gave us and their teachers time to get them organized into groups. We collected our students and moved to our designated first activity. The groups rotated between the stations (weathergrams and the living building, Dan Ladd’s tree art sculpture, the blindfold tree game, the cellar hole and hike, and the orchard) so the students could see everything. 

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Playing the blindfolded get-to-know-a-tree game!

Zoey: Several students in my group found ways to bring humor to each of  our activities which helped get the other students more interested and involved. When we asked questions, the 6th graders usually responded with well-thought-out answers or guesses, which was encouraging. A few times, when they were done giving serious responses and ready for us to just tell them the answers, they gave sarcastic responses such as “aliens” as an explanation for the stone walls on the sides of the path. At some points while we were explaining things, it seemed like the students were just goofing off. I was happily surprised when they were able to answer questions and recall information that I thought they hadn’t paid attention to, such as how to differentiate between a white and a red pine by counting the needles in a bundle.

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A beautiful weathergram by one of the students

Rachael:  I was intrigued by the process of figuring out how to tailor the day to each of the students’ learning styles while also being on the move and teaching about multiple topics. My favorite times were when I could see something piqued the interest of a student who had previously seemed sarcastic and unenthusiastic. One such moments was at the cellar hole. I noticed one student liked to do hands-on things and so I hinted at the idea that, hidden under a big pile of leaves on one side of the hole, there might be bricks from the old collapsed chimney. The student almost immediately stopped goofing off and asked if they could try to find the bricks. It turned into a sort of treasure hunt during which they asked a flurry of questions and tried to date the pieces of brick they found. This made me curious about what I could do to interest the other students and I experimented with this throughout the day. Other highlights included the students teaching me how to whistle with an acorn cap, intentional yelling in the woods about nature, and discussing whether or not a track the students found was big enough to be from a bear (they eventually decided it was from a domesticated dog).

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Our debrief after the students left

After the 6th graders left, we regrouped to eat lunch, reflect, and debrief. There were a few experiences that several groups had in common, such as a struggle to get everyone involved during the first activity and a surprising enthusiasm for the blindfold tree game. Many of our classmates recounted specific challenges and successes; every group had a few things that went particularly well and a few which they would have changed if they had the chance to do this again. All in all, it seemed like we had mostly enjoyable experiences but we were also relieved when it was over.

Interterm at MacLeish, Day 4

13 Jan
Interterm students Ruby Kohn ’19 and Maya Salvio ’18, from the class Landscape Interpretation: Get to know and learn to share your New England landscape, are today’s guest bloggers.

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We began our day by continuing to brainstorm for the 6th grade field trip tomorrow. The 6th graders are coming for two hours and it is our job to encourage engagement with the field station.
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We had the help of Oakley, Carol’s adorable yellow lab, who was quite taken with Reid. They had some good bonding time.
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We decided to take the 6th graders, in small groups, to five stations around MacLeish where we will teach them how humans interact and intervene in the natural environment around us. One way we will engage with them is by making weathergrams. We went a little overboard in our preparations and prepped 200 for 37 students…we got a little excited.
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After planning our five stations, we did a dry run of the hike that we’ll do with the sixth graders. While each group will start in a different location, the groups will explore the Living Building, investigate the apple orchards and weather tower, examine the historic cellar of the Waite family, observe the art installation, and play the get-to-know-a-tree game as well as create weathergrams.
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Someone got snow in their boots…
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We then went back to the classroom and reflected on our day. There are so many post-it notes!
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We are so excited to meet the 6th graders tomorrow!!!
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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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!

Interterm at MacLeish, Day 1

10 Jan

January at Smith: the campus is coated in a blanket of snow, the students enrolled in interterm classes are dressed in hats and mittens, and professors are immersed in grading papers and exams from first semester.

This week, the interterm class Landscape Interpretation: Get to know and learn to share your New England landscape, is being held at MacLeish Field Station. As part of the course, students will be writing and sharing blog posts about their experience.

Today’s post is from Hannah Schneider ’18 and Marisa Douglas ‘AC.

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Day 1, Monday

Today was a busy day since we had a lot of ground to cover. After we arrived at the Field Station, we got to know one another and made our own sketchbooks. The first thing we used the books for was an individual exercise: observe the outdoors with as many of our senses as possible and record our observations through sketches, notes and sound maps. We each took about 15 minutes to simply be present in nature and then make our observations in the books. Upon returning to the classroom, we divided into two groups and shared a few highlights so we could construct a spoken poem.

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Using our sketchbooks and chosen words, we created weather-grams using weatherproof ink on recyclable paper to withstand the harsh New England elements. These weather-writings will be placed on tree branches in the places that inspired us or along trails for other visitors and neighbors to enjoy. The idea is that we write a note to nature and, in time, nature will write us a note back!

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After lunch, Paul Wetzel helped us brainstorm a list of possible animal tracks we could find around MacLeish, from field mice to moose. We learned that understanding the anatomy of an animal can help identify the marks they make (e.g. deer have jagged incisors located on the bottom of their mouth, whereas rabbits have slanted incisors, almost at a 45 degree angle, on the bottom and top of their mouth). We then used what we had learned to find fox, rabbit, deer, mouse and porcupine tracks as Paul lead us through the woods on a beautiful (and cold!) hike. We also looked at different types of trees and plants and even had a taste of one.

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On the way, Paul showed us other interesting things such as the weather station and woodland animal “highways.” Upon noticing some hemlock trees, the group also found a popular porcupine hang out spot.

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When we returned to the classroom, we used our new sketchbooks one last time to reflect on our day. To keep track of what we’ve done each day, we posted sticky notes on a map of the station. We’ll use a different color for each day, and at the end of the week we will be able to see our thoughts, questions and memories throughout the week.

LEED Gold certification for new apartments

21 Dec

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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.

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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.

 

A Look Inside Hopkins House

7 Dec

Eliana Gevelber ’19 and Ariana Banks ’18, students in ENV 311 Interpreting and Communicating Environmental Information, write about Hopkins House.

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The Hopkins House cooperative is a Smith house where students cook and do chores together. Because Hopkins residents are not on the meal plan, they have to make their own meals. Food is typically bought in bulk.

Hopkins co-op residents, also known as “Hopkids,” try to be conscious of where their food comes from. One way the co-op does this is by having people fill out a food survey just before each semester. Questions on the survey not only ask about people’s dietary restrictions, but also from where they want to buy vegetables, meat and other animal products. Hopkins gets produce from Hampshire College’s farm CSA in the fall and from various farms at the local farmers’ market in the winter. Also, the carnivores in the house weighed in about whether they wanted to only buy local, organic and humane meat or whether factory farmed would be okay. The survey results from the beginning of the semester showed people prioritized having local meat over having meat often; since local meat is more expensive, we only rarely consume meat. In fact, we’ve only had meat once or twice so far this semester. Hopkins gets bulk dried goods ordered and delivered by the Florence-based cooperative called Pedal People. Ordering large quantities of food reduces the packaging and emissions from shipping associated with food.

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Hopkins residents minimize food waste by utilizing excess and leftover goods. The extra food is stored in a pantry and refrigerated bins and cabinets. Excess produce is even chopped and canned into mason jars for later use. As shown in the picture at the top, Eliana, a resident of Hopkins, made chutney from the abundant green tomatoes that were rescued at the end of the growing season from the Smith Community Garden. There were two grocery bags full of green tomatoes that were not being used, so Eliana made them into a flavorful sauce. The house also relies on composting to ensure food scraps and other compostable items are not going to waste. Compost bins are emptied twice a week into a larger compost bin behind Chapin House.

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