Sap rising and spring stars can spark curiosity


Sheep Hill

Beneath the earth, the roots of trees are beginning to stir as they get ready to provide the nutritional energy that lets leaf buds burst forth from branches in the spring. And the first sign of all this impending vernal activity is the sweet watery sap running through the veins of maple trees throughout the region, ready to be transformed through heat, sweat and above all patience into that most delicious of seasonal treats, maple syrup.

On Saturday, from 1 to 3 p.m., the Williamstown Rural Lands Foundation will welcome all to a Winter Open House at its Sheep Hill headquarters with syrupy theme. Maple ice cream sundaes and maple oatmeal cookies are on the menu, with plenty of outdoor and indoor activities to keep everyone active.

WRLF executive director Leslie Reed-Evans will lead a guided ecology hike to explore how the land and nature adapts to the coldest season, and to search for and identify tracks left by those hardy, wakeful creatures that populate the winter landscape. Inside the farmhouse, winter-themed crafts, storybooks will ensure that everyone can warm to the occasion.

If the weather cooperates, the slopes of Sheep Hill will offer some of the best sleddingin the neighborhood.

Admission to the Open House is by suggested donation of $3. Information:, (413) 458-2494.

Williams College Museum of Art

Children often display a natural curiosity as they encounter and explore the world around them. Williams College Museum of Art (WCMA) invites them to with its latest exhibit, "Artistic Curiosity" -- part of the Kidspace collaboration that includes a dedicated gallery space at Mass MoCA and an exhibit at the Clark Art Institute -- which encourages a thought-provoking look at both finished artworks and the art-making process itself.

On Saturday from 1 to 4 p.m., kids are invited to take their inquiring natures to new levels at a special Curiosity Family Day designed to invite questions and let the young artistic explorers create art for themselves. Activities will include mask making and painting with food dyes, inspired by such exhibits as a towering rabbit-headed sculpture, words printed with organic inks made from vegetables and chocolate pudding, and intricate shadow boxes filled with enigmatic images and artifacts.

Kids can make puppets with local puppeteer David Lane, devise secret messages with invisible ink, and help create a fingerprint collage. An interactive computer station that explores emotional expression adds a high-tech component to the creative mix.

Admission is free, and all ages are welcome. Information: (413) 597-2429.

Hopkins Observatory

The Old Hopkins Observatory at Williams College is something of an enigma. Housed in an elegant, diminutive structure sporting classical architectural lines, and perched on a small hill overlooking Williamstown's Main Street, the oldest extant observatory in the US is by far the smallest building in a neighborhood filled with crowded dormitories, a museum and busy student center, a lofty chapel towering over the scene from just across the street. Yet its purvey is perhaps the most expansive of all the offerings at Williams College, as it spans the heavens and stretches across the farthest reaches of the universe.

Most Fridays evenings at 7:30 p.m., through May 3, in the observatory's circular Milham Planetarium, astronomy students will lead a 50-minute guided tour of distant galaxies with the visual assistance of a high-precision Zeiss Skymaster projector. The computer-guided mechanical device displays the night sky on the domed ceiling as seen from around the planet, showing the phases of the moon and the paths of planets through the solar system. Mythological figures and zodiac signs are superimposed over the starscape, accompanied by explanations from the knowledgeable student tour guides.

Admission is free, and advance reservations are recommended as seating is limited. Arrive early to view a display of historic astronomical artifacts in the compact adjoining museum. Information: (413) 597-2188.


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