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The Dirt - February
"Winter came down to our home one night
Quietly pirouetting on silvery-toed slippers of snow,
And we, we were children once again." 
                               - Bill Morgan, Jr. 

Ed's Corner

Looking for Maples in Cliffside Park

Quick. What state, city, town or geographic region do you immediately think of if someone (like me, right now) says to you "Maple Syrup"?

I'll bet not many of you said "Cliffside Park, New Jersey", four miles from the George Washington Bridge.

Maples through a glass, darkly

For the last three years we have been going out to libraries in the metro area to present our Maple Sugaring program. Some of the program is indoors, learning about the history of making maple syrup and the biology of maple trees. It's interesting to learn about those kinds of things but the most important, critical part of the program is going outdoors and tapping a real maple tree. So, this means we have to scout out the library grounds before the library can even advertise the event. No maple, no program.


More about maples in Cliffside Park & surprising shapes 

Maple Sugaring 

Saturday, February 28th. 10-11 am or 2-3 pm
On the grounds of the Green Meadow Waldorf School, 307 Hungry Hollow Road, in Chestnut Ridge, NY 10977. 

Waiting for a sip of sap

Join The Nature Place as we tap maple trees, boil sap over a fire, learn all about making maple syrup, and then taste freshly boiled maple syrup on ice, accompanied by a dill pickle! Participants will take home their own maple-tapping spouts, as well as detailed instructions for how to tap your own trees at home. Maple sugaring time is a highlight of our year, come share the sweetness. 

Please dress for the weather! This program begins inside but then moves outdoors. 

Email us at or call 845-356-6477 with any questions. 

Telling Stories

Storyteller Chuck Stead shares a Valentine's Day tale with us for this month of February. 

Grapevine forming half a heart

Every Valentine’s Day Walt went down to Trudie’s Drug Store in Suffern and bought Tessie a big heart shaped box of chocolate stuffed with various gooey, nutty, sugared innards. For a few days afterward we all pinched and poked the underbelly of the little chocolates seeking caramel or nut and avoiding coconut and strawberry, until the once paper-collared candies looked like the scattered fragments of a mistake. This Valentine’s Day was different. My mom Tessie was in the hospital as her thyroid had been acting up and they wanted her in for a day of observation. I did not know what a thyroid was. Walt told me it meant she was low in iron. This only confused me more. I tried to explain to Ricky Cramshaw that my mom was low in iron and he thought I was low in brains.

“Folks don’t got iron in them. If they did, magnets would stick to them.”

I told him it was her thyroid that wasn’t working right so he went off to ask his grandma what that meant. Old Grandma Lillian Cramshaw knew a lot of strange things. We figured if my mom’s thyroid needed to get some iron in it the old grandma would know how to get it in there.

Walt was taking Ricky and me to pick my mom up at the little Tuxedo Hospital on Valentine’s Day. He suggested I make her a card. The only thing I could think of for a card was a drawing of a heart but I also thought there should be some sort of iron in this heart, too. Walt went into Suffern and picked up her heart shaped box of gooey chocolates, and by the time he returned I had decorated the rim of my heart shaped card with staples, in keeping with her theme of needing some iron. I knew staples weren’t exactly iron but I figured the idea was similar.

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

Wild & Edible Watercress

Wild food forager Paul Tappenden shows us what's wild and edible in our area

One of my all time favorite wild greens is Watercress. I love the sweet, spicy flavor and the fresh tingle it leaves in my mouth. This plant is both edible and medicinal, acting as a blood tonic, a liver purifier and more.

Gathering watercress in winter

So, why do I bring it up in the middle of winter? Because, if you are lucky enough, you may come across some in a spring near you. As you can see by the pictures, it isn't unusual to find a patch sitting dormant in a pond, just waiting for the warmer weather. Watercress and the flowers of skunk cabbage can be found in the woods, when the rest of the world appears devoid of life. They will even survive beneath the ice.

Watercress should be eaten raw as it loses its piquant flavor when cooked. It is an ideal salad green or can be used as part of raw food dishes, or as a garnish.  It will keep indefinitely in fresh water in the fridge. Don't keep it at room temperature, as it is likely to bolt and bloom.

Watercress garnishing a turnover

According to the Centers for Disease Control, Watercress is the most nutrient dense food available.  This powerhouse food is a good source of potassium, fiber, protein, calcium, iron, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folate, zinc, and vitamins A, B6, B12, C, D, E, and K.

Paul's tasty-looking watercress tostada

In the Garden

Peter Alexanian is an educator and gardener at The Pfeiffer Center, working year-round in the beds, plots, rows, and fields that we learn from during the summer. 

Just recently I noticed that the buds on some of the willow trees in the Pfeiffer Garden have started to flower, despite the searing cold. Sometimes I'm not sure if nature is in sync with the weather - do they always coincide?

Take carrots for example. We had a significant bumper crop of carrots from the previous season, and stored them in white tubs which we put in our root cellar. As of mid-February I noticed that all the carrots were starting to sprout, both root-hairs and green stems. Even though they're in the dark and cold, blocked from what's going on in the rest of the world, they're still tuned in to something beyond my usual perception. 

It's the same with the willow buds flowering. What the heck are they doing, with a foot or more of solid snow on the ground and frigid temperatures all around? Maybe they know something I don't.

Something is definitely, if not deceptively, stirring at this time of year, right in front of my eyes, and, very likely, right beneath my feet (ahem, I mean beneath the snow under my feet).


This time of year often finds us driving into New York City for a camp fair, where we display what we think stands out about who we are and what we do at The Nature Place. Our city-stump does this well, and is so beloved by us that we ensure ultimate safety for each car ride (really!) so as not to knock off any 'buildings' or pieces of wood during the drive. 

Upcoming Open Houses

*Saturday, February 28th 
Sunday, March 15th
Saturday, March 28th
Sunday, April 12th
Sunday, April 26th
Saturday, May 9th
Sunday, May 24th

All open houses take place at the Green Meadow Waldorf School: 307 Hungry Hollow Road. Stop by anytime between 1-4pm.
*(11 am - 2 pm)

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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