Tag Archives: landscape studies

Learning to Interpret the Landscape

13 Jan

Today was the first day of our class, of Exploring the New England Landscape, where we learn details about and history of the MacLeish Field Station and Western Massachusetts.

headed out

For the first half of our session Professor Jesse Bellemare led us on a tour of the field station. During our trek he would occasionally stop to tell us a historical or ecological tidbit, pointing out a physical artifact or other object of significance. For example, humans have lived in the valley and had an impact on what is now Field Station land for approximately 13,000 years. Native Americans originally resided on the land; years later, Europeans traded with them to obtain ownership and settled there. Geologic digs in the area have turned up arrows of various lengths. The settlers’ influence on the land can still be seen by the stone walls that they built to keep their sheep from wandering. It was truly amazing to see evidence of this and other centuries old history all throughout MacLeish.

wall and snow  2015-01-12 10.52.58

After spending hours learning outside, we spent most of the latter half of our class session indoors. We began by creating our own journals, even down to the pages and binding.

2015-01-12 14.30.36  journal

 These journals will be used for taking notes and writing reflections throughout the duration of this course. They proved extremely helpful when we ventured back outside to compose a short note about our surroundings. We then calligraphed these notes onto strips of paper, creating weathergrams, and hung them along the trail and on the bridge leading to the Bechtel Classroom. On Friday, we will be able to check and see what nature wrote back!

-Michele Handy, ’15 and Jessica Morgan, ’17

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 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)

Day 2- Land Use Past and Present

15 Jan

Today’s class began with an extended drive to the Field Station.  Professor Jesse Bellemare led us to a “secret” spot in East Whately (the Whately Industrial Park!).  There we talked about what had taken place on that land and in the area historically. The Industrial Park is situated on the Connecticut River Flood Plain, and we had views of tobacco barns and Mount Sugarloaf. Jesse described the local human history from 12,000 years ago to the present day.  It was exciting to think about Native peoples hunting mega fauna like woolly mammoths in our little Valley.

As we arrived at MacLeish, Jesse explained that the Field Station land was settled by Europeans later than the river valley as a result of conflicts between the Native peoples (and their French allies) and the English settlers. The need to wall off their communities made the hills inhospitable for the settlers. We walked to an abandoned farmhouse foundation where we talked about the challenges the Europeans faced after they had forced the Natives back and began settling in the hills.



After a lunch of chocolate, we shared our learnings and wonderings that arose from the morning. Our discussion centered on how we could use the microcosm of the Field Station to talk about historic and contemporary shifts in land use and the ways in which the burdens of industrial food production are currently distributed. We then did a map-making activity and realized the perspectives in map making.




We finished the afternoon with a discussion of our plans for Friday. After another day of exploring different ways of seeing the world around us we are getting more and more excited to share the Field Station with the 6th-graders!

– Claire Adams, ’16 (American studies major; landscape studies minor) and Julia Graham ’16, (Latin American studies major; sustainable food concentrator)

Interpreting the Landscape at MacLeish

14 Jan

We had a great first day at the Ada & Archibald MacLeish Field Station with this January’s “Interpreting the New England Landscape” class yesterday.  Eight students from Smith and Amherst College worked with local naturalist and Smith alumna, Laurie Sanders, to begin exploring connections within and surrounding the forest.  We learned about Yellow-bellied Sap Suckers and their preference for American basswood;  we began to recognize some significant tree species; and we were introduced to the ways in which human activity influence the composition of our forests.





After lunch in the Bechtel Environmental Classroom to warm up from the persistent cold wind, we ventured back out to “meet” some trees, create sound maps, to sketch and reflect on our experiences.  We wrapped up our first day writing “weather-grams” – cold wind was a dominant theme – to hang on a tree for others to have a glimpse into our day. 

 We are looking forward to working with each other all week and eagerly anticipate the arrival of the 6th grade classes from the Smith College Campus School on Friday.  We’ll be working on activities that will allow them a glimpse into the wondrous New England Landscape.
-Reid Bertone-Johnson
Lecturer, Landscape Studies Program
Manager, MacLeish Field Station, CEEDS

Notes From the Field Station: Student Involvement in MacLeish Site Design

22 Dec

This past semester two Smith classes, Jim Middlebrook’s advanced architecture studio and Reid Bertone-Johnson’s LSS studio “Landscape and Narrative”, have undertaken several design projects at the MacLeish Field Station.

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Middlebrook’s students, Lara Hamsher, Yura Kim, and Katie Wisniewski, first researched aspects of the Living Building Challenge in order to create interpretational signage for the challenge imperative of biophilia, focusing on reuse (LaraYura, and Katie). The students created miniature mock-ups of their signs for evaluation, and Professor Middlebrook plans to construct the signs at the Center for Design and Fabrication over J-term. CEEDS is helping to support this effort by financing the purchase of the materials necessary to construct the three signs, which will be displayed within the building upon its completion.

Additionally, students were given three weeks to design inexpensive, light wood-framed structures to serve as auxiliary 3-4 season gathering spaces. Structures were at max 300 sq. ft. and completely off the gird. These projects allowed students to explore some of the aspects of salvage, reuse, and biophilic design farther than was practical in the new building. The first design, playfully coined “Nature’s Garage” would serve as a gathering space, garden potting shed, and collect rainwater for irrigation. Another design proposed a biological observatory and multi-use space linking together two disparate habitats, the forest and the field. The structure also contains a yoga or dance studio and seating area. A third design also aimed to provide a space for a biological observatory; its elevated location at the top of a steep slope and multi-story design allow access to another layer of field station habitat.Throughout the design process students were able to meet with the project’s architect, Bruce Coldham, via office visits and skype-facilitatied discussions during studio time.

The “Landscape and Narrative” Landscape Studies studio cumaltively produced three proposals for different areas of the field station. Students Jen Krain, Xayida Troche, and Emil Evans designed aspects of a gathering space near the newly installed porch swing, featuring a curved bench to capture the best views of the valley, a fire pit and seating area in the tobacco barn foundation, and an interactive sundial.

Another group, consisting of students Sophie Geller, Gayelan Tietje-Ulrich, Mila Devenport, Twyla Marr, and Catherine Ruggiero, divided and conquered the design of trail to lead from the parking area to the new building. Students individually addressed the entrance experience, the bridge over the brook, the seating area overlooking the pasture, the linear portion of the path parallel to the pasture’s edge, and the arrival at the building. The trail design was well received and will be constructed this coming summer. An Engineering special studies is being organized to take on the task of designing a solar, LED lighting system for along the trail. The third group, including student Jennifer Kaplan, crafted a highly abstract environmental art installation for another region of the field station.

Throughout the semester, Landscape Architect Harry Dodson met with LSS students in studio and on-site, providing valuable feedback and critique during the design process. Smith is excited to have found a design team so enthusiastic about student involvement.

I hope everyone has a great holiday, more to come about the BEC in the New Year!

Jessa Finch (’12)

CEEDS MacLeish Intern