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The Dirt - April
"I could not be so sure of Spring
Save that it sings in me."

                   -Sara Teasdale, April

 

Ed's Corner


Happy Earth Day this coming Wednesday, April 22nd! At The Nature Place we have many ways we celebrate the earth.


What planet are you on?

Most of the time I’m not aware of standing on a planet,
a mote of swirling Milky Way careening through the void.
I don't have much context or a solid frame of reference
in which to clothe such dizzying contemplations.
I read about, sing songs about, this marble circling the sun,
this spaceship earth resplendent in a garden universe,
but whatever I might think I know with my minuscule mind,
the reality is mostly, still, poetical abstraction.

In the dark, round cool of Hayden Planetarium I can
lean back in vibrating chairs, look up, watch and listen
as aisle lights fade and fleets of stars wink on and off above me,
while an omnipresent, god-like voice thunders in my ears.
Planets veer toward and past me, orbit in and out of view,
meteors come sizzling through the startled atmosphere,
all is motion, whizzing, speeding, as the music swells and crashes
(as if this orchestrated movement needed any sound at all)!

Why not go outside at night, find a dark and quiet spot,
lie back and look up at the real thing, you might ask? I do that, too.
I take in the quiet beauty, the vastness of the countless stars,
but at such a far remove the starry welkin scarcely moves.
I don’t have the dynamic sense of wandering, spinning spheres.
But I can imagine it, get some feeling for it, when I stop
to wonder at the cycles and rhythms of earthly seasons,
the subtle, incremental change from winter into spring,
the swifter, more decisive shift from nighttime into day.
There are no godly voices, nor symphonic lights and sounds,
but there are whispers in my soul…I am truly thankful
for the complementary gifts of planetariums and planets.

Spring Peeper Hunt


Saturday, May 2nd, 7:30 - 8:45 pm. We'll meet at the Green Meadow Waldorf School, 307 Hungry Hollow Road, in Chestnut Ridge, NY 10977. 

Listen to a peeper preview and read details about this event.


 

Frog's Milk in Springtime

Storyteller Chuck Stead brings us a spring tale of milkweed and monarchs for this month of April. 

After the last thaw, when the earth is still cold but no longer frozen, when it gives off a sweet first scent of spring, and when the first green shoots called “plant tops” come forth, that is when the grandmas with their children forage for the new plants. There is great debate about the art of taking these shoots. Some believe that to obtain their full nutritional benefit, the whole plant is to be dug up, roots and all, while others advise cutting the plant at the base in order to allow for future growth. Even the removal of the plant at the base is debated with ‘traditionals’ pinching off the stalk while ‘moderns’ neatly trim it with a scissors. And there is debate about drawing the best medicine from the plant, with some people boiling the new shoots in water and then once they are cooled adding them to a local meat (venison, fish or fowl), and others claiming that the plants should be eaten raw. These early plants included dandelion, milkweed, lambs-quarters, garlic mustard, and watercress.

Ricky Cramshaw’s grandmother didn’t go very far for her early greens. She picked lambs-quarters and garlic mustard at the back of her property along the base of McGregor Hill. There was dandelion everywhere as well as plantain; and along a rocky patch by the Thruway cliff were some milkweed. The problem for me was her nasty little pig monster dogs that roamed the backyard and peed in all these places. The old lady told us this was not an issue. She said, “I don’t feed them dogs canned dog food store-bought like. I give them real food - nothing bad and greasy - so their pee is just fine.” Of course she washed her greens but still, I was not comfortable with the idea that something in my salad might have been peed on by pig monster dogs.
 

Read the rest of Frog's Milk in Springtime

Milkweed

'Weed'

I think that most peoples' first reaction upon hearing or reading the word 'weed' is somewhat of a negative one. Something not wanted; getting in the way; unlovely; not useful. But if you were able to ask monarch butterflies their thoughts about 'weed' - especially with the word 'milk' preceding it, as in 'milkweed' - you would only get very positive responses (if you were to get any).

Milkweed flowers (photo courtesy of Paul Tappenden)

Most of us have heard about the plight of the Monarchs. One scientist reported that in the last 3 years there has been a 90% decline in their population numbers. 90%! Here at The Nature Place 3 summers ago, it started to dawn on us only at the beginning of August that we had not seen a monarch (not one!), in our gardens or anywhere else, all summer. I began to ask gardeners and other outdoor people if they had seen a monarch. Many of their responses were along the lines of, "Gee, now that you mention it, I haven't." As Joanie Mitchel sang in one of her most popular songs: "You don't know what you've got 'til it's gone." I miss the monarchs. I always considered them an iconic part of the season - a most beautiful, royal and gentle part - of the summer's animal fare.

For a variety of reasons, i.e. habitat destruction, overuse of pesticides, there are many less milkweed plants than in the past. You might be familiar with this plant from the fall, when children blow the seeds from the pod, make a wish, and watch the seeds travel away on white, fluffy parachutes. Monarchs need milkweed plants to lay their eggs on; for the caterpillars to eat the leaves; as the site for the miracle of transformation as the caterpillar, within its magnificent chrysalis, changes into the adult butterfly; and for those butterflies to sip the nectar of the milkweed flowers.


Milkweed pods, seed parachutes, and milkweed bugs - early fall

There are different groups (The Nature Place being one) encouraging children and adults to plant more milkweed. By searching online for 'milkweed and monarchs' you can find out about these groups and what they are doing; how you can get involved; places from which to order milkweed seeds; how to plant them and care for them; and more.

For the monarchs' sake, let's think positive thoughts about 'milkweed'. Better still, let's follow those thoughts with positive actions. The Earth and the Monarchs will thank you.

Turkey Tails

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

Now that the nicer weather is here. I have been taking my pups for long walks in the woods. 

During one of our recent jaunts, I found some fallen trees covered in polypore mushrooms, including Turkey Tails and False Turkey Tails. Turkey Tails (Trametes versicola) come in all sorts of color combinations and can be quite beautiful. As well as being a colorful woodland display, they are strong medicine, having been used in Chinese culture for centuries, especially in the treatment of certain cancers. They are now being incorporated into the therapies of oncologists in Europe. 

These mushrooms are somewhat woody, and are best used in teas and tinctures, although I'll often pick one and chew on it as I walk in the woods. I don't recommend using them unless you are able to positively identify them, but that rule applies with anything gathered from the wild, particularly fungi, which, of course can be deadly.



Paul Tappenden is the Rockland Forager. He leads identification walks once a month in our area. See regularly updated blogs, videos, events, and what he and other foragers, herbalists, and naturalists are up to: www.suburbanforagers.com.

Upcoming Open Houses



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.
Non-competitive and nature-oriented, The Nature Place supports children to be themselves, with their friends, in the great outdoors. Learn more at thenatureplace.com
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