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The Dirt - February
"Keep your faith in beautiful things;
in the sun when it is hidden,
in the spring when it is gone."

                 -Roy R. Gibson

Ed's Corner

A short while ago, right after the first week of February, I heard from others that they saw blooming(!), on our campus both crocus and snowdrop flowers.

Someone else shared they saw a flock of robins. Now granted, the robin flock could have been around all winter, but still, my first thought upon hearing this news was: I don't feel that winter has even begun. Do you have a similar feeling? (Although this past weekend gave us a cold, seasonal jolt).

And for the last three weeks I have seen sapcicles hanging from branches and trunks of the maple trees lining the road in my neighborhood, a definite sign that the sap is moving - flowing - inside the maples! Cold nights and warmer days provide the stimulus for the sap to move, leaking out on warm days from small cuts in the bark or from fresh woodpecker holes or from branches where squirrels have chewed off the buds. This leaking sap then freezes into a sap icicle (sapcicle) during the night when it is colder and the sap stops dripping.

So what does all this mean for the upcoming maple sugaring season?! Some have already tapped a tree or two, and report that the sap is flowing freely. Will this be an early sugaring season? It sure looks like it - I just read last night that Adirondack sugaring operations have begun tapping, collecting and boiling - more than a month earlier than usual. Traditionally, we tap our trees sometime between the third week of February and the second week of March. But with the recent cold (or 'normal' winter) temperatures we've had, and then the sudden warming of weather, the time to tap is now!

If you are a backyard tapper and have everything you need, go for it. Tap - if you haven't already - your tree(s) now that the day time temperatures are more or less above freezing, and the night time temperatures below that mark.

Ed and Daniel thinking, "Oh, please let the sap drip!"  Photo by Krysti Sabins of Unboring Exploring

And if you are waiting until March 5th (our maple sugaring programs!) to become a backyard maple syrup maker, it will be fine to tap at that time, also. Maybe you would have missed the beginning of the season, but don't worry, there is plenty to go around.

Maple Sugaring


Maple Sugaring Programs
Saturday, March 5th. 11 am - Noon or 2 - 3 pm

Photo by Krysti Sabins of Unboring Exploring

Join The Nature Place on Saturday, March 5th, as we offer two public programs for families - one at 11 am and then again at 2 pm.

At our maple sugaring program participants will:

learn how to identify maples (and the various kinds you can tap);
find out how and where on the tree to drill;
receive a spout or spile to stick into the tree from which the sap flows;
learn how to cook sap into syrup;
taste 'syrup on snow' along with a dill pickle!
bring home a complete sheet of instructions for home tapping.

Every year you can do this. It might even become a family tradition. We have families who came to our sugaring programs years ago and report that they have caught 'the maple bug' and make enough each sap season to fill their maple syrup needs for the whole year. Yum.

Open House: Noon - 2 pm
For those wanting to learn more about camp, our open house this day will be between Noon - 2 pm. Attending one of our open houses is really the best way to learn about and get a true feeling for our camp. You'll meet us (Ed, Scott, Daniel, Elaine, Shaina, and sometimes other camp friends), get a tour of our camp grounds, see a narrated slide show of our summer activities, and come away from your visit with a fuller understanding of what we do and why we do it. 

Chocolate and Flowers


Storyteller Chuck Stead spins us a tale for the lovely month of February

Valentine's Day meant my dad Walt would go down to Trudy’s Drug Store in Suffern and buy my mom Tessie a big heart-shaped box of chocolates. Inside the box the chocolates were individually wrapped in little accordion-cupped papers. There were dark, milk and white chocolates, and they were all filled with something. There were nuts, mints, jams, caramels and various sweet, chewy mysteries. Ricky and I learned from my sister Muffin how to pierce the flat bottoms of a chocolate in order to test its contents. Soft, chewy things were usually disgusting while hard ones were usually good, although this was not a fixed rule. One year the mint chocolates were not firm, instead composed of a delicious, almost honey-like substance, while what appeared to be nut-filled chocolates turned out to be shriveled, dried figs. The rule to invading the heart-shaped chocolate box was that Tessie had to have first dibs. Which usually didn’t take too long - she always opened the box as soon as Walt gave it to her.

This year Walt offered to take Ricky and me with him to buy the Valentine box of chocolate. Previously this had been something he always did alone. So we jumped into the truck and rode down to Suffern. Trudy’s was a drug store that also sold boxed candy, and was the place to take your camera film to have it developed into pictures. In those days cameras had little rolls of film that had to be sent out for developing into negatives and prints. This usually took at least a week. Sometimes you would drop off a roll of film and months would pass; then one day in the winter you would walk into Trudy’s to buy some aspirin or deodorant or something like that, and someone behind the counter would say, “Hey, you still got a roll of film back here waiting for you!” And you’d say, “I do?” And then you would pay for it and stand around in Trudy’s looking at the pictures and saying, “I’ll be damned - look at us in the summer time!”

So we followed Walt into Trudy’s and watched as he picked out a big heart-shaped box of chocolates. Cindy Maloney and her mom were in the store and they were looking at a wooden crutch, covered with a foam pad so you could lean on it under your underarm. We knew what this was about. Cindy’s dad John Maloney had badly sprained his ankle chasing her little brother Mort across the ice in front of their house. We knew this was a sore subject so I figured we weren’t going to say anything, just as Ricky, who had been studying the rubber bottom of the crutch, walked up to Lorraine Maloney and said, “Maybe you ought to get rid of that rubber tip and sharpen it to a point so he can walk on the ice?”

Lorraine said, “Maybe you ought to mind your own business.”

Ricky said, “I don’t got a business. I’m a kid!”

Cindy turned him around and moved him back beside me. “My mom is not happy about my dad’s ankle. She’s getting him the crutch so he’ll go back to work. He is driving her crazy.”

I said, “Well, maybe she ought to get him a Valentine’s box of candy...”

Cindy looked at me and said, “Oh yeah, Chucky, and what are you getting me?”

Read the conclusion of Chuck's Valentine's Day Tale

Strawberries do not grow in Snow

Nature Place cooking activity leader, Eva Szigeti, writes about what it means to eat seasonally and locally, and shares a simple, seasonal salad recipe.

Strawberries don’t grow in January. Certainly not in my garden or anywhere nearby.

Still, I can buy them on any given day and enjoy my morning yogurt with strawberries, even in deep winter. Unless, of course, I have made a decision to eat seasonally whenever possible…
When we choose to eat locally and seasonally as much as possible, beyond all the good rational reasons that lead to this decision we, I believe, also express some intangible, primordial longing for simplicity and a more transparent life. Life and time measured by the rhythm of nature just feels safe and comforting. A seasonal, local meal is so much more than sustenance, it is a story of the place, its climate and its people.

Wanting to be part of that story just seems natural.


Read Eva's article and recipe for Winter's Bounty Salad

Forager's Valentine Hearts

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

A friend asked me what I do as a forager to celebrate Valentine’s Day. The fact is that there is so little out there this time of year, gathering flowers is obviously out of the question. However, in anticipation of this season, I have been storing goodies in my freezer. 

                       Barberries                                                             Autumn Olive

Last weekend, my daughter and I made some pastries, using the acorn flour I made earlier in the fall.  Next, we took some frozen wild berries (Barberries and Autumn Olive) and made a thick sauce, which we used to fill heart-shaped tarts that we made from the pastry dough. It was pretty labor intensive, but we were able to make a dozen small tarts. They came out better than we had anticipated, and we've been presenting them to friends and neighbors to celebrate Valentine’s Day.

Of course we had to sample the fruits of our labors. They tasted really good, especially considering that the ingredients were wild-crafted. Of course, one doesn’t need wild ingredients to make similar tarts to present to a loved one. If, like me, you don’t have a heart-shaped cookie cutter, you can cut a template out of cardboard, lay it onto the rolled-out pastry, and cut around it with a sharp, pointed knife. Next, I rolled out thin strips of dough and placed them around the edges of the hearts (using milk to help them bind. Then I used a fork to create a rippled pattern around each perimeter. I finally spooned in some filling and put them into a 350 degree oven for about 15 minutes.

This is a fun, child-friendly project, and the recipients will love them.

A Wonderful Experiment

Last summer we did something new at camp, or rather out of camp. In the past when we planned our day hikes in Harriman State Park we always put two groups of similar age together, i.e. groups B and C would go on a hike together, groups H and I, etc. It made sense and always worked out quite fine. At The Nature Place we love hiking!

Before last summer began, at one of our pre-summer planning sessions, we looked at our hiking program with 'out of the box' eyes. Or as we like to say at camp: we "opened our minds and said, 'Ah'." We saw new possibilities if we paired a younger group with an older one for some of the day hikes. It was fantastic! Everyone - campers, counselors, hike leaders - all agreed! Let's do it some more.

On these hikes older campers helped younger ones. Little ones were able to show their older partners things that perhaps only younger or lower-to-the-ground eyes could see. The younger campers were smiling, happy, proud and looked up to their older hiking companions. I know that some of them felt, "Wow! This big kid is talking to me, and is even eating lunch with me on the mountain top!". Older campers were not bashful as they started conversations/connections with the younger ones on the bus even before we arrived at the trail head. There were quiet hiking times, with really young campers sometimes walking down the trail, hand in hand, with older campers. Together we did 'still-hunting', took rest and water breaks, and told jokes and shared riddles.

Older and younger groups still-hunting on top of Black Rock Mountain

The connections, the different ways of getting to know each other in the outdoors, helped out by the joyful surroundings of nature and the presence of kind and caring staff, were special to behold.

Days later back at camp when the two groups passed each other between activities, you can be sure there were many high fives, smiles of recognition, and shouts of "Hello!"

This summer every group at camp will go on a day hike with a younger or older group. Sometimes it's not a big, new camp activity, or a flashy addition to our playground that makes an impact on the experience of campers at camp. Rather, it can be thoughtful insight and a subtle programming change that help make a summer experience even more powerful. 

Upcoming Open Houses

Sunday, February 21st
Saturday, March 5th 
Sunday, March 13
Saturday, April 2nd 
Sunday, April 17th
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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