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The Dirt - October
"Now Autumn's fire burns slowly along the woods."

                       -William Allingham

Ed's Corner


A time for every purpose

And the beginning of this month it was time for a mountain top wedding in our beloved Harriman State Park. 
Daniel Bieber (camp administrative director and my son) married Ayla Dunn (daughter of Scott Dunn, camp program director).
So we now have some extra 'titles' to add to our relationships: son-in law, daughter-in-law, fathers-in-law. Some people have joked that this was an arranged marriage, as in former dynasty days, to bring together two families (who have been close anyway from the time the 'kids' were young) in order to solidify and expand the 'empire'.
Those of you who have known us at The Nature Place over the last 30 years are probably smiling, knowing we say this with tongue very much in cheek. We are happy being who we are, nature-oriented and non-competitive. Those who have met us three bearded gentlemen - Ed, Scott, and Daniel - know that we appear more like the Smith brothers on the cough drop packages rather than the Koch brothers.

The day Ayla and Daniel chose for the wedding hike was unusual. For many weeks before and after the wedding date the weather was superb - sunny blue sky days, moderate temperatures, just perfect. But you can guess that day wasn't.

More from the mountain wedding, and a photo

Open House & Apple Cider

Saturday, October 24th.
Pressing Apples into Cider @ 1 pm, Open House anytime between 1 and 4 pm. 

Join us at camp on Saturday, October 24th, to learn more about The Nature Place, take a tour of where we play and learn during summer, meet us, and ask all sorts of questions about our program. 

We'll begin our open house with an autumn nature walk and apple pressing (and scrumptious tasting, of course!) at 1 pm, so be sure to arrive then if you're interested in attending this last apple pressing program of our fall cider season. 

I didn't see this before!

Ed Bieber

The trees have been dropping their leaves, sometimes a few at a time, gently; other times on windy days, like a leaf blizzard. 
When leaves have all fallen from a tree, and you can readily see the tree's branchy skeleton, look for surprises. I found one yesterday on the maple tree overhanging our deck, in a spot that I always sit under when I'm on the deck - a bird's nest that looked like it had snake skins interwoven through the sticks, weeds, and grass from which the nest was made. I wonder why during spring and summer I had not noticed birds chirping, parents flying in and out of the nest, droppings, mama and papa teaching the children about flying and the bigger world outside the nest. Maybe I can attribute it to 'being over my head'.

When you look up you may also find a squirrel's nest, big paper-like hornets' nest, woodpecker holes, the sky!
Following on the above thought, take a walk outdoors. Call it the Up/Down walk. As you and your child stroll along, occasionally one of you (take turns) will say "Stop". You both stop. The next word from the stopper person will be "Up" or "Down". And that's where you look, up or down. Take at least 3 minutes to just stay 'stopped' and to look, either up or down. What would you have missed if you had just walked on by?
'An odoreffic season of earthly smells'

This could be one way to describe autumn. Take a walk outdoors and smell:
* the outside air as you first step out the door
* a handful of crunched up fallen leaves
* the cool air; the night time air
* the earth itself - get down there!
* an apple orchard
* the last flowers of the year
* a frosty morning
* something that's been in the sunshine for a while
Follow your nose - you have to anyway!

Hall Pass

Hall Pass to a pretty how town

Chuck Stead offers us a seasonal story for this month of October

It was in my sophomore year at Albertus Magnus High School that I broke my knee - tearing cartilage in two places - and ended up missing a great deal of class time. I made it up at home reading endless boring textbooks about subjects I felt I would never need to know again in this lifetime. But I also spent hours reading Ernest Thompson Seton, John Burroughs, John Muir and Aldo Leopold as a vacation from the text books. I was familiar with Rachel Carson as a result of my Uncle Mal ranting that she was an anti-American Communist. So I found her wonderful and scary book Silent Spring and read that mostly so I could counter Mal’s opinions on Carson.

Come fall of my junior year I was fresh from knee surgery. Our Athletic, coach Mr. Tom Collins, exempted me from gym with a permanent study hall in the cafeteria, where I regularly picked up a Hall Pass and went to the library up on the second floor of the school.  I had developed something of a reputation for reading and writing poetry, which meant that upon arriving to the library I was escorted to the likes of Rod McKuen and Jonathan Livingston Seagull, neither of which could keep my attention. My older sister Muffin had left some of her Beat Generation material around and as a consequence I had found my way to Allan Ginsberg's "Howl". Then one day, thumbing through some more of Muffin's poetry books, I opened for the first time a collection by e. e. cummings and read these three lines:

Anyone lived in a pretty how town
(with up so floating many bells down)
spring summer autumn winter

I was amazed at the randomness of the writing, it felt to me like the way thinking happens. I put the book down on the table and staring at it I thought, “book of poetry on table of polished wood no need to hurry the hall pass is good”.  This word play reminded me of Bob Dylan’s lyrics. It was no doubt cumming’s refusal to use capital letters that first attracted me but soon I was following his drumming rhythm into places I didn’t know existed. I read everything I could get by cummings and then re-read it. I talked with teachers about his style but soon found I was talking to myself. I tried to write like cummings but failed at it.

It was October of 1969, and while Vietnam loomed at the edge of my world, I put off thoughts of war while in the school library, where cummings ranted a bit like a mad man and distracted me long enough to not worry about things. Back in Hillburn Cindy Maloney was shipped out to live with her grandmother; Cousin Buzzy was still around but he was attending Suffern High School and involved in a whole different society now; the Cramshaws moved down to Oakland, NJ, so seeing them was much less frequent.

Before I stepped off the school bus at the end of the day I yanked off my neck tie and shoved it into my book pack. The crisp, earthy-smelling world in the village embraced me as I walked up Second Street and encountered my Uncle Mal climbing out of his pick-up truck. Sometimes it is the little things that resonate most, and on this fall afternoon a small token of life passing by was about to land on the ground between us. Mal saw me and said, “The weary scholar come home from the academy.”

I said, “Anyone lived in a pretty how town with up so floating many bells down.”


Read the rest of Chuck's October tale

Making Apple Compote

Nature Place cooking activity leader Eva Szigeti shares an autumnal apple compote recipe with us for this month of October.

Fall’s harvest bounty is tempting us and inviting us to the kitchen. As we tune into the rhythm of the season, we look through our old recipes and consider new ones. Sooner or later we stumble upon a recipe asking for apples.

Apple is the ultimate fall fruit in our climate. Yet, we take apples for granted for most of the year. They are always there on the shelves of our supermarket or health food store, although they somehow lost their appeal a long time ago.  Months of  refrigeration robbed them of their flavor and texture, and we easily forget how good an apple could be. Without a doubt, apples are a fruit worth reconsidering, and fall is the right season to remember the true taste of apples.

While nothing beats the joy of climbing an apple tree, picking and biting into a crisp ripe apple on a sunny autumn day, no more than a trip to the local farmer’s market is needed to secure a variety of fresh, tasty apples. Kids will love to help. They will be happy to pick out the fruit, examine the shapes, wonder how many shades of green, yellow, and red there are. Counting spots, gray and white. The adventure will continue at home. Is this one soft and mushy or firm and crunchy? Sweet, crisp, tart, or juicy?  And the flesh? Is it going to be white, yellow or cream colored? All the answers are just one bite away…

When it comes to apples, my children associate “ugly” with “yummy”. At this time of the year, the two old, weathered apple trees on our property are full of “ugly” green, crisp, tart apples. Although we still haven’t figured out what variety they are, we know that they are not only delicious raw but they make a good applesauce and work well in apple pie.

After having our share of raw apples, it is time to cook. Perhaps it is the right occasion to make one of our favorite autumn treats: apple compote.

Eva's apple compote recipe

Wild & Edible Nettle

Wild food forager and Nature Place activity leader Paul Tappenden tells us what's local, wild, and edible in and around our area.

Apart from the fact that stinging nettles are among the most nutrient rich foods available, they have been used medicinally for treating seasonal allergies, cold symptoms, bladder infections and chronic arthritis, along with many other ailments.  They are much prized by herbalists.  In fact, despite their tendency to sting anyone who touches them, most of the herbalists and foragers I know have planted them on their property.  I have two sizable patches in my back yard, which I tend with loving care.
Now that it is October, I’ve cut all my nettles down to the ground, hanging the plants to dry for making teas.
I'd highly recommend starting your own patch, if you want to have their medicinal and nutritional powers at your disposal.  If you have a friend with a patch, I'm sure that he or she would happily give you a piece of root to transplant (nettles do tend to spread and need thinning).
Each year, I work with campers at The Nature Place Day Camp.  We use stinging nettles in cooking or even eat them raw.  Once cooked they can no longer sting, but eating them raw presents a bit of a challenge - a challenge that the kids love to go through as a kind of rite of passage.  There is a trick to eating them without being stung which I make sure of telling them before they try it.  Eating raw nettles has become a source of pride.

Stinging nettle growing wild

Nettle soup

Read more about stinging nettle

A Marriage Monarch

Daniel Bieber

On the morning of Sunday, October 4th, the day after my wedding weekend, I received a surprising wedding present. 

After mid-September, when I last gave an update regarding the four healthy and happy looking monarch caterpillars gnawing away at the milkweed in my garden, I had seen no sign of them. 

I thought that perhaps such fat caterpillars got eaten by hungry birds, or maybe in my daily garden watering I accidentally drowned them, or maybe there wasn't enough milkweed in my garden to sustain them, so they moved to another patch of food nearby. Whatever could have happened, I felt some sadness in not getting to see the progression from caterpillar to chrysalis to butterfly, but also some pleasure in having the monarch's life cycle go as far as it had in my front yard. 

Really, with all the wedding planning, and then the big weekend itself, I had forgotten all about the monarch caterpillars.

And then on Sunday morning, while still basking in the dazzle of my wedding, and appearing like a trumpet blast from the shrub near my front door, a small, newly hatched monarch butterfly was spotted. 

We all rushed over to see. It was so new and fragile that the butterfly must have just hatched, its chrysalis camouflaged these few weeks among the green foliage of my front garden. We stayed nearby for hours as the monarch slowly stretched its wings and refolded them, orange and black shining bright in the sunlight (which we all were enjoying with extra appreciation after two days of cold and rain). 

Some time after Noon the butterfly just took off, flying to an oak tree above our heads, and then out into the blue sky until we could no longer see it, heading southward on its way to Mexico. Adios. 

I cannot think of a better wedding present.  

Upcoming Open House

Saturday, October 24th

All open houses take place at the Green Meadow Waldorf School: 307 Hungry Hollow Road. Stop by anytime between 1-4pm.
Non-competitive and nature-oriented, The Nature Place supports children to be themselves, with their friends, in the great outdoors. Learn more at
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