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The Dirt - November
"It is a joy to walk in the bare woods.
The moonlight is not broken by the heavy leaves.
The leaves are down, and touching the soaked earth,
Giving off the odor that partridges love."

                 -Robert Bly

Ed's Corner

Thanksgiving is a time for counting our blessings, feeling gratitude for what we have, for acknowledging the gifts of our life. Perhaps this year it might feel more challenging, for many reasons - political and otherwise - to feel blessed, to feel happy.

And yet, you may be happy at times and not even know it! Kurt Vonnegut (yes, the very same author of Cat's Cradle, Slaughterhouse-five, and more) from his essay "Knowing What's Nice", has this to say:

"And now I want to tell you about my late Uncle Alex...His principal complaint about other human beings was that they so seldom noticed it when they were happy. So when we were drinking lemonade under an apple tree in the summer, say, and talking lazily about this and that, almost buzzing like honeybees, Uncle Alex would suddenly interrupt the agreeable blather to exclaim, 'If this isn't nice, I don't know what is.' 

So, I do the same now and so do my kids and grandkids. And I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, 'Well, if this isn't nice, I don't know what is! ' " 

I've taken to doing this myself, and it's been great for me and others with me.

If this isn't nice I don't know what is:

* on a windy day watching the fallen leaves twist and twirl and go racing down the street or over the lawn, almost inviting me to join them.

* my first time this season catching a scent of smoke from someone's fire place or wood stove.

* sharing hot chocolate or hot apple cider inside after being outdoors.

* seeing the first snowflakes of the season.

* hearing how everybody's day was during a dinner with all family members present.

* venturing outdoors after a snowfall and being the first to make footprints in the blank, snowy canvas.

* watching a magnificent sunset (these November evenings are especially notable).

* getting up in the middle of a cold night and then quickly climbing back into bed and under the still-warm blankets.

* holding my new grandchild, leaning down, and taking in that indescribable baby scent; if heaven had an odor, it would be that.

* watching my dog run and play and get dog-tired.

* walking home in the early evening, in the cold, and seeing the lights of my home from a distance, knowing my loved ones are there, inside, where it is warm.

You can probably add many more of your own 'If this isn't nice, I don't know what is' categories to this list. You could even start a small journal (or keep a list on your phone, if you must) of moments like these. It will certainly help you feel thankful.

Open Houses & Events

The full list of our 'off-season' happenings:

Open Houses

Attending an open house is the best way to learn about The Nature Place Day Camp. You'll meet us (Ed, Scott, Daniel, Ayla, Shaina, Elaine, and others), get a tour of our camp grounds, see a narrated slide show of summer activities, and come away from your visit with a fuller understanding of what we do and why we do it. All open houses are between 1 and 4 pm (except on March 4th, which is Noon - 2 pm), and take place at the Green Meadow Waldorf School - 307 Hungry Hollow Road, Chestnut Ridge, NY 10977. 

Our autumn open house will take place on Sunday, November 20th. Because it's fall, besides learning about camp, families will also get to press apples into apple cider!

Savoring fresh-pressed cider

Open houses in 2017:

Saturday, January 21st
Sunday, February 5th
Saturday, February 18th
Saturday, March 4th 
Sunday, March 19th
Saturday, April 8th 
Sunday, April 23rd
Saturday, May 13th

Public Programs

Attending one of our winter/spring programs is a great way for new or inquiring camp families to experience some of what we do at The Nature Place, as well as an opportunity for returning campers to come say 'Hi!' to friends and enjoy a sweet taste of summer camp during the off-season.

Winter Tales with Chuck Stead
Saturday, January 21st. Noon - 1 pm. Open house afterward from 1 - 4 pm.

Every Friday at camp master storyteller Chuck Stead spins funny, poignant, outrageous and true stories of his childhood and growing up in the nearby Ramapo Mountains. When the weather turns cold and winter has really set in, Chuck tells us his Winter Tales - stories that sparkle and glimmer like the snow and ice of January.

Outragehisss Pets
Saturday, February 18th. Noon - 1 pm. Open house afterward from 1 - 4 pm. 

Each Tuesday and Thursday of our summer camp season Outragehisss Pets brings a menagerie of wild animals to camp for us to learn about, see up close, and even touch or hold. Some animals are soft (chinchillas), some fluffy (fennec foxes), rough (armadillos), scaly (snakes), spiky (hedgehogs), but all are outrageous! Join us on Saturday, February 18th for our annual winter animal program.

Maple Sugaring
Saturday, March 4th.

This program happens twice, once from 11 am - Noon, and then again, from 2 - 3 pm. Our Open House on this day is between programs, from Noon - 2 pm. 

Mighty maple syrup, that amber aristocrat of all sweets, is a large part of what we call the 'three M' time of year - March, Maple, and Mud. Join The Nature Place for our most popular public program (it's so nice, we do it twice), in the morning beginning at 11 am or in the afternoon, starting at 2 pm. 

We'll learn all about maples trees, discovering what it takes to turn sap into syrup. We'll then go outside to tap a maple tree, taste the sap that drips out, see it boiling over a fire, and then, conclude our event with the sweet taste of thickened maple syrup over crushed ice, accompanied, of course, by a dill pickle. Participants in this program will take home spouts for tapping as well as clear instructions for making your own maple syrup at home, from your very own tree.

Wild Edibles with Paul Tappenden
Sunday, April 23rd. Noon - 1 pm. Open house afterwards from 1 - 4 pm.

Wild food forager Paul Tappenden leads us on a vernal adventure into our environs to discover what's growing wild and edible in our area. We'll learn plant names, properties, tastes, uses in cooking, and get an overall feel for a number of plants. Early spring should yield a bounty of tender flora. Join us for a fun, investigative feast from the earth. 

Camp Fairs

We attend a total of 11 camp fairs in New York City (Manhattan and Brooklyn) between December and April. A camp fair is basically us bringing a slice of our open house to you, in your neighborhood. We will be at our Nature Place table, speaking to inquiring families about camp and answering questions. You'll know it's us by the large earth art city-stump, wooden photo trifold, and general vibe de nature.

All camp fairs run between Noon and 3 pm. 

Saturday, December 10th - Upper East Side
St. Jean Baptiste High School, 173 E 75th St, New York, NY 10021

Sunday, December 11th - Upper West Side
Congregation Rodeph Sholom, 7 W 83rd St, New York, NY 10024

Saturday, January 28th - Upper East Side
St. Jean Baptiste High School, 173 E 75th St, New York, NY 10021

Sunday, January 29th - Upper West Side
Congregation Rodeph Sholom, 7 W 83rd St, New York, NY 10024

Saturday, February 4th - Park Slope, BK
Berkeley Carroll School, 181 Lincoln Pl, Brooklyn, NY 11217

Saturday, February 11th - Tribeca
Borough of Manhattan Community College, 199 Chambers St, New York, NY 10007

Sunday, February 12th - Cobble Hill, BK
Brooklyn Heights Montessori School, 185 Court St, Brooklyn, NY 11201

Saturday, March 5th - Park Slope, BK
Berkeley Carroll School, 181 Lincoln Pl, Brooklyn, NY 11217

Sunday, March 12th - Cobble Hill, BK
Brooklyn Heights Montessori School, 185 Court St, Brooklyn, NY 11201

Saturday, April 1st - Upper East Side
St. Jean Baptiste High School, 173 E 75th St, New York, NY 10021

Sunday, April 2nd - Upper West Side
Congregation Rodeph Sholom, 7 W 83rd St, New York, NY 10024

Uncle Doc's Deer Call

Chuck Stead, our beloved camp storyteller, gives us a tale of hunting season in Hillburn for this month's Dirt. 

November back in the village of Hillburn during my boyhood was not a time for contracting workers. The independent contractors of the Ramapo Valley went off into the mountains, shotguns in hand, looking for deer; everything else was put on hold. The first few days of hunting season brought the sounds of gun shots, and then the whitetail herd hunkered down and hunting got harder.
Uncle Doc loved his time in the woods, and despite his lack of success at bringing down a deer, he drove up to Hillburn and regularly met with my dad Walt and the other hunters in the wee hours of crisp November mornings. He carried a double barrel (traditional side-by-side) twelve gauge gun. He wore red and black checkered wool, and for all appearances was a local. Doc was Walt’s brother-in-law, and his real name was Herman. Herman had served in World War II, landed on Normandy and seldom talked about it. Some of the hunters who gathered in the morning hour believed Doc didn’t have the heart to kill a deer. I asked Walt that if this were true, then why did he bother? Walt said, “It’s just something he needs to do.”
And so it was that I followed these two men - my father Walt and Uncle Doc - up Torne Valley Road. They walked casually, toting their guns into the valley, up past the sand pit just as the night was slipping away. Walt stopped and took from his pocket a small wooden block with a rubber band stretched taught through an opening. He put it to his lips and blew hard. The sound it made was like that of a trumpet or an old dog passing gas. I was as amazed as Uncle Doc when Walt told us it was a deer call. Now I had heard the white tail deer snort, but this sound was nothing I believed any self-respecting deer would ever make. Walt blew it again and Doc begged him to stop, as it would surely scare any wild game for miles around. Walt said he made it for Doc, to help him call in a deer, but Doc wouldn’t have anything to do with it. I can’t say that I blamed him, either.

We left Uncle Doc posted just below a short outcrop of moss-covered rock, and there he had a commanding view of a deer trail below. We then cut back and started a wide, slow movement north and then to the east, around a cedar swamp that eventually leads back to the place where Doc was. We were doing a careful dance across the swamp, stepping from hummock to log in order to drive any deer down in Doc’s direction. My uncle in the meantime had tucked himself in against a great hemlock trunk, pulled out his pipe and settled in for a smoke. He was comforted by the pleasant tobacco blend, the crisp air and the ready shot gun. He was in a near meditative state that was suddenly shattered by the snort of a single bugle of sound from the ridge behind him.
Without moving other then to take the pipe from his mouth, Doc said aloud, “Very funny, Walt!”
He was answered with an even louder indignant burst of flatulence.
He shouted, “I’m not turning around, Walt!”
This time the rattled, snorting response was filled with anger.
Doc shrugged and said, “My goodness, Walt”, as he turned to see a massive whitetail buck whose antler rack rose above his head like an ancient crown. The deer stared down at Doc and snorted again, a perfect copy of Walt’s call.
We were still crossing the swamp when we heard the double barrel blast from Doc’s gun. I stumbled and plunged my boot into a deep puddle of swamp water. Walt turned around and as he pulled me up he said, “Sounds like he fired both barrels together". Doc didn’t hit the deer, but he did some serious damage to an oak tree. We found the buck’s tracks and confirmed it was as big an animal as Doc reported it to be. Walt then handed the deer call to Doc but he again refused it. He said the call was so good a deer sound that he feared a hunter might take a shot at anyone who blew it.
A year later Uncle Doc did get a deer (not the majestic buck) and he did it without the help of the deer call. I used to take that call into the woods and sit at Doc’s hemlock trunk and blow it. I never saw the great buck but I did manage to call in a few young does. And even though he never actually used the call, when I blew it I would always think of Uncle Doc.

The Weaving Room


Eva Szigeti weaves us a story filled with memory and beautiful imagery, and shows us how to weave at home, no loom needed! 

Although the rhythm of the seasons is imprinted in the rhythm of our of daily lives only marginally, we perceive late fall and winter as a time for introspection, indoor activities and generally a slower pace of  life. Even if for most of us, life during this time of year doesn’t actually slow down much, we try to find bits of time for ourselves: we sit down with a thick book, a large mug of hot tea or our knitting needles, to relax. In traditional societies, handwork was one of the main winter activities. With no work outdoors, it was a time to sew, spin, weave or knit; to create pieces of clothing for the family and textiles for the household. For me, to spin some wool into yarn or to knit a hat for my child is not a necessity, but regardless of the outcome of the final product, I find these activities rewarding, going well beyond “hand work”.
Writing about handwork, I can’t help but think of my friend Ruth. Ruth is a hobby weaver. On most days, she spends some time in her small attic room furnished with a weaving loom, small couch and baskets of wool and silk yarns that are impatiently waiting to be chosen for the next project. The weaving loom dominates the space, at least visually. But more than anything the room is filled with sound: the noise of moving water. Ruth’s window is overlooking a narrow inland bay that looks much more like a fast moving river than a branch of the ocean. Through openings between the branches of tall pine trees, the eye can reach the surface of the water.
The power of the tide coming in and going out of the bay moves masses of water. The noise seems almost unbearable at first. It is natural, beautiful, and overwhelming at the same time. Then you get used to it, it becomes one of the dimensions of the space, it defines the place like the trees growing at the water’s edge. It belongs there. Next, you miss it. For a short period of time, right at the midpoint between low tide and high tide, the water changes. It is still. It doesn’t move. Between the river flowing east and the river flowing west, there is suddenly a river that has come to a halt; and you miss the noise.
I often wonder if Ruth would weave very different scarves in another room. Does the pace of her weaving change when the room is overpowered by the sound of the moving water? Does she stop to take a nap on the couch when the water is quiet? Does she reach for strong colors when the noise is overpowering? Are pastels her choice as the sounds leave the room?  And her thoughts? Does she move the shuttle up and down with the rhythm of the water or the rhythm of her thoughts?  Do they all become one? – The arm of the ocean reaching far inland, bringing the smell and the sounds of the deeper ocean, the purple pattern on the loom, pictures of childhood flashing in Ruth’s mind.
I imagine there is so much more happening in that room than a new scarf being born out of carefully chosen spools of thread. As the freshly woven weft is beaten down and finds its place in the pattern of the newly created fabric, so must the weaver’s mind come to a quiet place, the thoughts and flashing memories finding their places in the narrative of life: spots in the fabric of life.

The shuttle moving up and down, and one more row is added, up and down, and another row is done. Everything is becoming organized, everything starts to make sense, the pattern is emerging, the weaver is finding answers.
Ruth weaves a lot, and although she sometimes sells her scarves at the local farmers’ market, income is not her reason. She likes to weave, of course, she likes to use her hands to create, the beauty being born under her fingers gives her pleasure. Undoubtedly, she must like the unusual charm of her room, the solitude it offers, the time with herself and for herself...  

The rhythm of the water, like the spacing of the warp, like her hand pulling the weft through the corridor of warp threads: left to right then right to left, the weft going under and over, under and over the threads of warp. Like the water leaving the narrow confines of the bay at low tide, the thoughts are flowing free, a beautiful unexpected pattern is taking shape on the loom….
I haven’t seen Ruth for a while but I am thinking of her as I fold the blanket she had woven for my then newborn daughter. I hope she found some time today to sit down and weave; to create, to find sense and balance. I hope that the cozy room and her weaving loom took her once again someplace where there is rhythm, order and freedom at the same time: the up and down of the shuttle, the water flowing east then west, the noise and the absence of the noise... I imagine this is the real reason why Ruth weaves.

Because all things in the fabric of life are interwoven...


Weaving with Kids
You don’t have to own a loom to introduce your child to basic weaving techniques.
When weaving, we are creating a fabric by interlacing two different sets of yarn at right angles. The longitudinal threads are called the warp, the lateral ones are called weft. At home, we can create a weaving frame out of natural materials or recycle a CD and use it as a base for our weaving.


How to weave without a loom

Help build a garden shed


On Giving Tuesday, November 29, The Pfeiffer Center is raising $5,000 to build a shed and stock it with gardening tools for the young people of Neighbor to Neighbor, an afterschool program that pairs high-schoolers from Green Meadow Waldorf School with students from a nearby public middle school that serves primarily under-represented and economically disadvantaged communities.

With a new shed and tools, the Pfeiffer Center will be able to make Neighbor to Neighbor's meaningful, fulfilling, community-building gardening experiences available to many more children.

Farm & Garden Days campers hard at work in the Pfeiffer Garden

Help the Pfeiffer Center & Neighbor to Neighbor program

Dandelion Jerky 

Wild food forager Paul Tappenden shows us what’s growing wild and edible in our area.

Dandelion root is very beneficial, as a food and a medicine, but it can be a bit of a challenge to sit down to a plate of raw roots, so I’ve experimented with different ways to make them palatable. A few years back I was chewing on a dried root and although it didn’t have a very pleasant flavor, it had a great texture, not unlike jerky. That got me working on different techniques for infusing the roots with flavor.
I started playing with the idea of dehydrating and reconstituting the roots in a sauce or marinade to give it flavor, then drying it out until it became chewy, like meat. After a lot of exploration into different sauces and drying methods, I finally arrived at the formula which I use today. 
My secret for tasty and successful results begins with the roots. Choosing the right root can make a big difference in the final result. The old, gnarly roots are harder to clean, and can be really bitter. The younger roots are too skinny. The best roots are the long, wide tap roots on a plant that is about 2-3 years old.

The reason you need long, straight roots is that they are easier to clean and can be cut into strips. Once I have them sliced, I put the strips into the dehydrator (an oven at low temperature would do) to dry them out. 

The next part requires making a sauce in which you can either simmer or marinate the dried root.  Simmering should be done on low heat for 15-20 minutes. Marinating takes several hours. So far, I’ve used teriyaki sauces, curried sauces and sweet and sour sauces. No matter what other ingredients you use it is important to add some oil. It helps to give the root a nice texture and finish.

After the root has soaked up the flavor, I return it to the dehydrator (oven) and dry it until it is chewy.  Dandelion jerky makes a convenient and nutritious snack!


Upcoming Open Houses

Sunday, November 20th
Saturday, January 21st
Sunday, February 5th
Saturday, February 18th
Saturday, March 4th 
Sunday, March 19th
Saturday, April 8th 
Sunday, April 23rd
Saturday, May 13th

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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