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The Dirt - April
"I stuck my head out the window and spring kissed me bang in the face."

                 -Langston Hughes

Ed's Corner


One of the highlights of The Nature Place Day Camp experience is that of belonging to a community - one that is based on acceptance, inclusion, cooperation, and on the premise that we are all part of the natural world, living together on planet earth. Community was critical in hunter/gatherer societies, obviously for the hunting and gathering part, but also for the sense of belonging and fulfillment of emotional needs, as a place to bring and deal with life's changes, passages, sorrows and celebrations. 


Children - and adults - want and need to feel that they belong to something bigger than themselves. The time we live in presents fewer opportunities than ever before for this to happen. While we can connect to friends across the world through our cell phones and social media, and we can remain in more frequent contact with loved ones through text or tweet or email, the connection and contact often remains hollow, not quite filling our hunger for real, human, face-to-face connection. Have you ever gone on Facebook, hoping to see what's happening in your 'world', and then left feeling just as unconnected as before you logged on? Maybe you then check in to see what's happening on your news feed again, just five minutes after you last looked, and so continues an often unconscious cycle of searching for connection, obtaining a ghost-like version of it that leaves you still 'hungry', and then going back for more.

I find that this yearning for connection is truly met and satisfied while in the physical presence of others. Having someone like your funny post or comment on your beautiful picture feels good, but it feels good like drinking a cold can of Coke feels good, momentarily refreshing and thirst-quenching, until your body responds to the sugar and caffeine by becoming even more dehydrated, after which you drink another Coca-Cola. Interacting in the physical world is often more challenging, more complicated, more messy than communicating digitally, but it is also more profound. A friend laughing at your joke - you actually witnessing their eyes crinkle up, their mouth open, and then hearing the chuckling sounds that come out - does something rewarding that no post like has ever done for me. So too does someone telling me (in person) that I look nice. I might even blush or laugh a little in embarrassment, I'm effected physically in a way that digital interaction simulates, but cannot replace. 


In this country we are often brought up with the American ideal that to grow up is to become independent and self-actualized. We grow up to become individuals so that we can 'do it ourselves', and there's certainly something important about growing into a unique, separate person. 

Through the process of growing into adulthood, in a search for 'where do I belong', we could also be taught, intentionally, how to foster connection with others, to build community, how to become a part of something bigger than ourselves.
Maybe there's a correlation between our lack of connection with nature and our lack of connection with others. At The Nature Place we find that when we 'work' on one, it also helps or works with the other.

There is one community that everyone is a part of (whether they acknowledge it or not), and that is the community of earth. This community will be celebrated soon - on April 22nd, Earth Day, as it has been every year since 1970. If you're not doing anything special to mark this day, don't worry. Maybe just take a minute or two and connect, in person, to another human being. 

celebrating the earth

Garden Dreams Come True

Nature Place cooking activity leader, Eva Szigeti, writes about food, gardening, and the hopes and dreams of gardeners and parents.

It was a midwinter day. We were engaging in a gardeners’ favorite wintertime activity: looking through seed catalogs, planning and daydreaming. As so many gardeners do, we were dreaming about the growing season. We tried not to acknowledge the sight of our frozen garden, the gray emptiness of the ground, the garden fence that seemed to have no purpose in January. We were dreaming of the summer when the gardener no longer remembers the barren soil, the empty beds. With our inner eyes we saw all shades of green in our garden beds, a fence covered with climbing beans, we saw red tomatoes hiding under the leaves, shiny peppers asking to be picked, colorful flowers being visited by bees and butterflies, and busy hands weeding, watering, mulching, picking …

The gardener waiting for the arrival of spring is impatient, she wants to dig and plant. She can’t, so she keeps busy and compensates by looking through seed catalogs. And as she does there is so much hope, so much expectation, that shopping for seeds becomes almost a mania. As if buying a lot, much more than one can plant, or as if ordering the seeds right at that moment could bring the first day of spring closer.

As I was browsing through seed catalogs with my children and planning what to plant and where to build new garden beds my son suddenly said: “Let’s save one garden bed for snack food.” I wasn’t sure what he meant exactly, but I was a very proud mother at that moment. I felt that engaging the kids in gardening activities from an early age was paying off. My child was hoping for snacks from the garden. I couldn’t wait to hear his explanation. It turned out he wanted to plant vegetables he and his sister like to munch on raw, preferably super-freshly picked and right in the garden. My son was dreaming about a garden bed filled with crunchy kohlrabi, buttery salad turnips and radishes, kale, peas in tender pods, and lemony sorrel.

At last, the spring has arrived. We opened our garden shed, took out the tools and went to the garden to start the new gardening season. Turnip, radish and kale seeds were planted directly into garden beds. Kohlrabi seeds were put into planters, emerging seedlings will be kept in the greenhouse for a few weeks. Sorrel, being a hardy perennial, was already there in the garden, the first leaves of the season were ready to be picked.


Although sorrel is not very well know in these parts of the world, it is well worth planting. This plant with spear-shaped leaves, native throughout Europe and  Euro-Asia, somewhat resembles spinach but its pleasantly sour taste will surprise everyone trying it for the first time. Sorrel is also one of the first greens to come back in early spring, it is ready to be harvested before some other plants are even planted. When established, the gardener can forget about it, it more or less takes care of itself. As a child, I remember picking sorrel leaves growing among the grass under my great-grandmother’s sour cherry tree. I had assumed at the time that sorrel was a wild plant.

In the kitchen, sorrel can be treated as a salad green or leafy vegetable. Use raw sorrel in salads, wraps and sandwiches. The most common sorrel dish is a sorrel sauce, but the tart green leaves work well in soups and sautés as well. Sorrel combines well with potatoes and eggs. The lightness and lemony tang of sorrel sauce nicely compliments dishes made with red meats.

But of course as all young gardeners know, sorrel is best eaten as a snack, just by itself, preferably right in the garden. And as my children were munching on the first leaves of the season, I knew that our garden dreams will all come true.

sorrel and potato frittata


Eva's sorrel and potato frittata recipe

When it Rains


Storyteller Chuck Stead spins us a tale of April showers

When it rains, the mountain above the village drinks up as much as it can and then lets go of the rest, which runs down in little streams and courses through the village streets. Leaves and old, half-eaten acorns and bits of unknown things sail along these little streams and are then strewn all across Mountain Avenue. Walking in the last of an April shower, we kids study the mountain debris that has come down. I found a piece of a dollar bill. Ricky Cramshaw found two pieces of crayon, a silver one and one that looked like olive green. Dougy found a small, caramel-colored bit of glass and we wondered if it was from a beer bottle or a soda bottle. Cindy Maloney laughed at us in the final sprinkling of rain up on Mountain Avenue.

She said, “Everything you found is people stuff! It all washes down off the mountain and it's people stuff, not mountain stuff. How can that be?”

Ricky said to her, “Must be from the Motel!”

And yes, it was well known that atop of the little mountain overlooking our village was a place called the Motel on the Mountain. Folks used to come from far and wide to stay there, but the directions said it was in Suffern, not Hillburn. We guessed that when they wrote the directions they figured Suffern was bigger and therefore Suffern got the credit. Truth was we were happy to give Suffern the credit, as we never liked having the motel on top of our mountain. Folks would drive into the village and ask a local how to get up to the Motel on the Mountain. They would point at the motel that was up there and say, “Excuse me, how do I get up there?”

The local would ask, “Well, where is it you want to go?”

“Up there to that motel!” the lost traveler would insist.

The local would say, “Well, what town is that motel in?”

The frustrated traveler would say, “Suffern! It's in Suffern!”

And then the local would direct the traveler back out of the village and over to Suffern which was further away from the motel.

So it wasn’t unusual for us kids to find things and assume that the ‘people stuff’ sort of things washed down from the motel. Cindy bent over and picked up a delicate little skull, it looked like a mouse skull, the bottom jaw was missing. She said, “Now here’s something that didn’t come down from the motel. This little mouse probably lived right up there under that old tree stump.”

“Or maybe…” Dougy suggested, “…that little mouse did live at the motel and lost his head until the rain brought it down here?”

She didn’t agree. “No”, she said, “this is part of nature and that stuff you guys found is just a bunch of garbage.”

So we were about to throw it all away when Dougy squealed that he wanted our finds. He took the tiny bit of a dollar bill, the two bits of crayons and his own bit of colored glass and held onto to them.

Ricky said, “And what are you going to do with it all?”

Dougy had no idea but he said he didn’t like things being thrown away.

old postcard of the Motel on the Mountain

The rain had pretty much let up and now some sunlight streaked through the scattered clouds. We four started walking in the direction of the river and as we came around to the corner of Fourth Street and Lake Road a big, red Ford sedan pulled up and a man in a white hat called to us.

“Hey you kids…” he said, “…how do I get up to the motel?”

We approached his car and I saw that his license plate was from Florida. I was about to tell him to go to Suffern when Dougy said, “You drive out that way on Mountain Avenue, then turn on Sixth Street and then make another turn to the highway called 17, then you follow that to the motel road, its up the back of this mountain here.”

It was all very well worked out and we were surprised that he told the man the right directions. The man looked a bit doubtful about this so he looked at us all and said, “Is that right?”

We agreed and the man shrugged, but before he left Dougy said, “Wait!”

The man looked at Doug, who then walked up to him and handed him our bits of junk. The man stared at the torn dollar, the crayon bits and the tiny glass fragment in his open hand and he said, “What’s this?”

Dougy said, “You got to bring this back to the motel where it belongs.”

The man stared at Dougy, who looked very serious about this, so the man agreed and took the bits of junk with him. As he drove away I noticed Cindy quietly putting the little mouse skull into a patch of wet grass just off the road.

Yes, when the rain comes in spring things start to happen.

Stinging Nettle

Wild food forager and Nature Place activity leader Paul Tappenden shows us what's growing wild and edible in our area. Although we wrote about nettles in October, they're coming up so abundantly at this time of year we had to share the wealth and tell you about them again!

My daughter Kelly and I decided to make some calzones, using the sourdough that I had made the previous day. We wanted to make some stuffed with cheese and spinach, but as we didn’t have any spinach, we used the stinging nettle I had recently harvested at a local farm. We simmered the greens until they had the texture of cooked spinach, and this made a perfect filling.

nettle calzone

Of course, there is far more to stinging nettle than being a substitute for spinach. To begin with, nettles are rich in vitamins A, C, D, iron, potassium, manganese, and calcium. What’s more, they possess up to 40% protein. Of course, these nutritional facts are not foremost in our minds when we are enjoying a bowl of nettle soup or a dish of nettle greens. We are too busy experiencing their delicious taste and texture.

nettles sauteed with apples

For those of you who enjoy making and consuming smoothies, you’ll find no better ingredient to add, both in terms of health and flavor.
As well as being highly nutritious, stinging nettle has potent medicinal qualities. I have often recommended nettles to friends who suffer from seasonal allergies. Those who take my advice to consume two cups of nettle tea a day (steeped for at least three hours) have experienced amazing relief, particularly when the tea is sweetened with raw, unfiltered, local honey. This tea is also wonderful for the treatment of anemia, and as a purifying tonic, helping to remove impurities from the blood.
Stinging nettle is also a regular part of the teas I brew to help with flu or cold. It is particularly good for lung issues and coughing. As a sufferer of arthritis, I will often sting the offending areas with nettles. While this can be a bit painful, it is very effective for stimulating blood flow to the area and greatly reduces the arthritic flareup.
I could fill several pages discussing the benefits of this amazing plant. If you would like regular access to nettles, I recommend starting your own patch, as it is easy to transplant from a piece of root. If you don't have space or the wherewithal to start your own nettle patch, don't worry, nettles grow wild almost everywhere! Viewed as a weed, they can be yours for the taking, and are of a particular tenderness this time of year as they're beginning to grow. Just be sure to use gloves when harvesting, as using your bare hands would become quite painful (unless you're attempting to stimulate your arthritic joints). Steeping nettles in boiling water for just a few minutes will help remove the painful stinging aspect so that you can safely enjoy their taste and nutritional value. 

stinging nettle growing in the wild

Happy Earth Day! 

This Friday, April 22nd, is Earth Day, a day dedicated to celebrating the environmental health (or health needs) of our planet. At The Nature Place we think that every day is really Earth Day. Here's a picture of some earth (or dirt) in the Pfeiffer Garden, on our planet earth, which you're seeing in our monthly newsletter, the Dirt. 

Upcoming Open Houses

Saturday, May 7th
Sunday, May 15th 

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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