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The Dirt - April
"In the spring I have counted one hundred and thirty-six different kinds
of weather inside of four and twenty hours."

Mark Twain

Ed's Corner

I wrote this poem last Spring, just around this time of year. Hoping that putting it out into the universe now will bring the wonderful phenomena described herein to fruition in this slow-to-bloom Spring!

All at Once

After weeks of patiently waiting
For the first dandelion, Wham!
I opened my front door
to a sea of shocking, near-stemless yellow.
We plucked as many as we could,
guilt-free, there were so many,
and laid the shining little suns in a serpentine daisy chain
that snaked across the grassy yard,
around trees, over rocks.

That same day,
the driveway blacktop was showered with hundreds of pink and white petals
from our blossoming cherry tree,
perfectly spaced, each from the other
(how? by what calculating hand?).
I got on my hands and kness
and blew straight down,
watching the petals billow away
and resettle in fragile, haphazard
wisps of pattern-less pastel.
I blew on them time and again,
from this side and another.
My neighbor might have wondered why I didn't use a leaf blower.
Or he might have considered joining me.

Nature's Palette

Our cooking instructor, Eva Szigeti, paints an extraordinary picture of the changing colors in nature's palette and includes fascinating notes on using plant dyes, including a DIY how-to...

After what felt like an almost never-ending winter, it is a great joy to finally enter the season of budding colors. Snowdrops, violets, and skunk cabbage might be the first signs of spring, but they never quite convince me that the winter is gone for good. It is when the leaves on the trees emerge that I feel assured: there is no way back to winter-land. The change of scenery is usually sudden. With it, nature bursts into color. We leave behind the lifeless shades of grey and brown and celebrate the   soft colors of spring. Shades of fresh green, with occasional dots of color, dominate the landscape. Comforting and calming colors of early spring slowly mature and change. Plants soak up the sunshine and richer colors come to life. The color palette of nature reaches near perfection on a wild flower meadow in June or on a field of wild lupine in July.

As the year progresses, the colors of nature become even more full and rich. The warm shades of the fall landscape bring another visual highlight of the year. The reds, golden yellows, oranges, and rusty browns radiate back the energy of the sun as if to charge us with energy before the world around us fades again into the greyish-brown realm of early winter.
Nature has everything we need, including color. In fact, there were no synthetic dyes until the mid 19th century.  Still, the world of humans had not been colorless. Until then, dyes and pigments came exclusively from nature. Think of old masters: Michelangelo, Botticelli, Vermeer, Rembrandt, Bosch…. They painted with the colors of nature. The fibers of traditional oriental rugs and renaissance tapestries were all dyed with natural materials. So were the luxurious dresses of emperors and empresses of the past. Fabrics of rich colors symbolized status, and their cost was high. Lower classes dressed in browns and grays, shades that were the easiest and cheapest to create.
Dyeing is not unlike cooking. It involves applying heat to extract, in this case, not flavor but color. A large pot is utilized to make a dye bath. The plant material gets simmered in water in order to extract pigments. Then fabric or fiber is immersed in the (warm or cold) colored liquid to absorb the dye. Some dye material might be hiding in your kitchen. Tea, coffee, turmeric, or onion skin all contain pigments that get easily absorbed by natural fiber or fabric. Henna used for tattooing and dyeing hair also creates beautiful rusty reds on fabric.
The process is fun and satisfying. We can start by collecting plant material suitable for dyeing (marigold, goldenrod, black walnut etc.), then we cook the colored brew. If our goal is to create a solid color fabric, we just need to put the textile into the dye bath. Otherwise, we apply our artistic imagination and prepare the fabric by folding it to create pattern. I like to get inspired by the techniques of ancient Japanese Shibori.
When working with plant dyes, we get the satisfaction of knowing that the colors come from renewable resources rather than petroleum.  Natural material such as silk, wool and cotton absorb the dyes well. Although the use of mordants (solutions that act as binding agents) usually results in richer colors, for safety and environmental reasons, I prefer not to use them.
Feel free to experiment. Nature is forgiving. Even unexpected results have their beauty. Sometimes we end up with a color or pattern that is much more beautiful than anything we could have planned. Mother Earth provides everything we need.
Dyeing Cotton Fabric with Annatto

Annatto seeds come from Central and South America. Traditionally, they were used as body paint. Annatto is widely used today as a food coloring. The orange color of the supermarket cheddar comes from these seeds!
Annatto dye bath produces yellow, golden yellow, orange-yellow, or orange hues, depending on the amount of seeds used, and the weave and thickness of the fabric. Silk and wool can also be successfully dyed with annatto seeds.

Click here to read Eva's step-by-step Annatto Dying Instructions, plus a link to a video on the Shibori technique!


Primitive Living Skills Final Sessions of the Season

Springtime sessions of Primitive Living Skills will be held on Sunday, May 13th and Sunday, June 10th. Sign up for an immersive, hands on experience in wilderness skills that takes advantage of what nature affords us in the Spring, and learn skills that can be used all summer long!

The schedule is as follows:

Sunday, May 13th

~Children Session (ages 10-14): 10:00 AM - 12:30 PM
~Family Session (parents and kids ages 6 +): 2:00 PM - 4:30 PM [Last Family Session of the season!]

Sunday, June 10th
~Children Session (ages 10-14): 10:00 AM - 12:30 PM
[Last Children Session of the season!]
~Adult Session (ages 17+): 2:00 PM - 4:30 PM [Last Adult Session of the season!]

All sessions begin at 285 Hungry Hollow Rd. Chestnut Ridge, NY 10977

The Sustainability Scoop

A hub for 'green' information and inspiration

Garbage Can Challenge - April Update

Ayla Dunn Bieber gets frank about her challenges and encourages us all to rally in the name of Earth Day...

Well....Spring was not as 'in the air' as I had excitedly pronounced in last month's Dirt, was it? I hope you all stayed warm and are as excited as I am to finally be seeing some real signs of spring. One of my favorite signs is the faint red hue on the trees tops (and the pink on the cherry trees) as the buds plump up, hinting at what is to come!

I'd been stressing about writing this month because, truth be told, I didn't do my homework: there were no home made tortilla chips created in the Dunn Bieber household this month. Daniel said, "Well, just tell everyone that you didn't do it. People love hearing when other people fail." I laughed, but in truth, I agree. I think as important as sharing our successes is, sharing our challenges (better word than 'failures'!) is of equal value.

My mantra to get over this hump: If at first you don't succeed, try, try again! Don't give up. I've been experiencing that the first time you try a new sustainable choice is usually the hardest. Once you get the kinks out and don't need to rely so heavily on reading directions, getting set up, and potentially buying materials/ingredients you might need, things really do move along and can get folded into your current routine. If you do get beyond the start-up and make a permanent change, that is awesome. Contrarily, some choices might not be right for you at the time that you try them out, and its okay to let them fall by the wayside to be picked up another time. I guess the chip making was on the slightly more complex end of the spectrum (for me) and didn't quite make the cut...yet. I do hope to try the idea out again though and see if I can bring it into my routine.

Is there a sustainability-related action you've been thinking about trying that hasn't made it past the idea phase? Commiserate with me in the comments over on the blog :)

In other news, an important day for sustainability is coming up!

I've been thinking about Earth Day and so grateful for the intentionality this day brings. It both  increases awareness and gathers people to take action. I encourage you to do a quick google search for Earth Day activities in your area and if there isn't something that catches your eye, come up with something your family can do to mark the day! To spark some ideas, here is a great resource from The National Geographic Kids called: Tips for Protecting the Earth

This is the last month of the Garbage Can Challenge for the year (final post coming in next month's Dirt). Let's all do our extra best to REDUCE, reuse and recycle this month!


Be Straw Free!

In February's Dirt, Sondra Grewe deGraft-Johnson and Emily Selover invited us to join in their pledge to be straw-free for the whole month of March. Did you participate? Here they debrief the challenge and share future goals for the #StrawFreeNPDC movement and the larger sustainability movement!
The following are snippets from Sondra and Emily's debrief. To read their full thoughts, click here!

Sondra: You'd think that eliminating a small piece of plastic from your daily life would be pretty easy, but actually it's not as easy as you might think. In March, I joined the NPDC challenge to use zero plastic straws for the entire month (and hopefully, beyond). I knew it would pose a bit of challenge for me, since I eat out a few times per week and those occasions are generally where straws come into my life. In fact, the amount and frequency of people eating out and eating on the go has really been on the rise over the past 10 or 20 years, and has contributed to single-use plastic being so pervasive in our society.

At the end of March I traveled to see my family in Kentucky. On the way home from the airport, we stopped at a family-owned Italian restaurant and were placed with the friendliest of servers. When I explained my straw situation and shared my awareness with him, I thought I had finally hit the jackpot of servers. He was so excited! He agreed that he was trying to reduce his plastic use as well. 

My first round of water was great - no straw, no problem. But, when he brought us refills, guess what was in the glass?!! A big, ugly straw. And in those situations, what can you do? The straw has already been used. Here I am, trying to be an example to others and yet, as I sipped my drink, I felt like the biggest hypocrite. But I realized when you are dining out, you have so little control.

Emily: Yes! To Sondra's point about having less control--you're relying on other people's memory and like she said, servers have so many things to keep track of! I had a similar experience. I was out with a couple friends and we all made a point to tell the server, "no straws please". "Oh yeah! I like that! Have you guys seen the turtle video?", the server asked, referring to a very graphic viral video of a sea turtle with a straw stuck in its nostril. We all agreed about how horrible it was, and the server even noted that he was a vegan. But when the waters arrived at the table...they all had straws!!!

Giving straws to patrons in restaurants is a customary practice in many places (I realized this once I started paying attention). So customary that it seems to be second nature and servers do it completely out of habit, even when we request otherwise AND have full conversations about it with them! And who can blame them? They have to be on top of so many details at any given time! When we were debriefing this experience, I realized that perhaps we need to take bigger action than just asking for a strawless drink. Perhaps it would be more effective to speak to the owners and managers directly about shifting their establishment's straw policy. Maybe if servers asked first, "would you like a straw?" more people would say 'no thanks' and we would eliminate the issue of getting a straw we did not want before even having the chance to deny it. It would be a win-win for everyone, not only on the environmental front, but also, what owner doesn't want to save some money by eliminating a cost that's often unnecessary?

Read Sondra and Emily's ideas for mobilizing change here!

Taking Care of Mother Nature

Chuck Stead, our beloved camp storyteller, continues his story from last month...
 By the end of that trapping season, Jeff Masters had taken more than a few dozen raccoons. This was an animal that was populating very well throughout the Torne Valley and deep into Harriman State Park, but mostly along the edges of the park near to where people lived. Raccoon is an opportunist, which means he takes advantage of wherever he can find a free meal. The problem with that is when Raccoons produce a lot more raccoons, and they are all eating garbage, they can get sick. And sometimes they can pass their sickness along to other raccoons, so keeping the growing population down was Jeff Masters’ way of preventing the raccoons from spreading sickness through their community. He could get more money for trapping fox and mink, but Jeff was interested in the coons as a way of being a good naturalist. He had been reading a magazine that my dad Walt had given him a subscription for, called The New York State Conservationist. This was Walt’s favorite magazine and he told me that it was about ‘taking care of nature’ and that all the good hunters read it. In fact, Walt showed me a story in the Conservationist about the rising raccoon population and about how some scientists were worried that rabies, an animal sickness, might break out among the raccoons. Still, I was worried that Jeff might be killing too many coons and then they would be gone forever.
            “Gone forever?” Uncle Mal said to us kids when I told him about this. He said, “You mean extinct, don’t you?”
            Ricky said, “No not stinky coons, just gone coons.”
            Mal said, “Ricky Cramshaw, extinction is not about being stinky, it’s about not being anything at all!”
            “Uncle Mal, how can you be not anything at all?”
            ‘By being extinct!”
            “Uncle Mal, coons are smelly but they don’t stink!”
            Mal got up out of his chair and crossed to the paint shop coffer counter and said, “I ain’t talking to you about this anymore!”
            I jumped in, “But Uncle Mal, could the raccoons be all gone if Jeff traps too many?”
            Mal picked up his electric perk coffee pot and poured some oily black coffee into his plastic throw-away insert cup and he said, “I don’t think so. Raccoons are real good at multiplying.”
            Ricky said, “Coons are good at arithmetic?”
            Mal stared at him and said, “You bet they are, boy. A couple of healthy raccoons can turn into half a dozen and then next year that half a dozen can turn into three dozen, and then…”
            I said, “But what if Jeff were too trap enough of them to make it hard for the multiplying to happen?”
            “What if Jeff trapped all the momma coons and then there was no more baby coons?”
            He stared at me and said, “Chucky, why are you so worried about this?”
            I told him about articles in the Conservationist that Walt showed me, all about trying to keep the right number of animals around and about being careful about not killing too many of them.
            Mal sat down and said, “Well now I ain’t going to criticize the Conservationist but all I’m going to say is I never cared for these wild life scientists who think they can make nature work better. Nature will do whatever she intends to do with or without us!”
            Cindy, who hadn’t said a word up to this point, said, “You called nature a ‘she’.”
            “Well, yes I did.”
            “So nature is a girl?”
            He thought about this and said, “Well, I suppose so.”
            Ricky said to Mal, “How can nature be a girl?”
            Mal shook his head and told him, “Cramshaw, it is just an expression. People just say it.”
            “Yeah, but why do they say it?”
            Mal stood up and walked back to his office and shouted at us, “You don’t need to go around asking so many questions!” He then shuffled through some papers on his desk and we sat there pondering the female-ness of existence. Then he returned and showed us a copy of the Readers Digest and in it an advertisement said, ‘Please Take Care of Mother Nature’.  There was a picture of pollution along-side a highway. Mal said, “There, you see? Folks think of nature as being a mother.”
            And I said, “Yeah, and it says we need to ‘take care’ of her. And maybe killing too many coons is not taking care of her?”
            He shook his head in disgust and said, “You know you’re talking just like one of them know-it-all scientist fellows. You want to be careful about that.”
            Cindy said, “Chucky ain’t going to be a scientist.” And then she looked at me and said, “Are you?”
            I was about to tell her I was planning on being an archeologist, but Mal said, “You don’t want to end up like that fellow who’s been poking around in rattle snake country!”
            I looked at him and said, “Why not?”
            Mal looked at us and said, “Ain’t you heard? He got himself bit by a rattler two days ago and it was Jeff who took him to the hospital.”
            Cindy said, “Was he bit bad?”
            Mal stared at her and said, “Well there’s no way you can be bit good.”
            Ricky said, “Oh yeah? Well if I was a rattlesnake I would bite you good, Uncle Mal!”
            Mal said, “If you was a rattlesnake, I would run you over with my truck!”
            Cindy said, “That’s not taking care of Mother Nature, Mal.”
            Mal was about to respond but changed his mind and instead told us to get outside and find some raccoons and rattlesnakes to play with.

The Power of Plants

Wild food forager Paul Tappenden, celebrates the power of plants, even beyond what we can eat or touch, and discusses how became a plant believer...
In my world, every day is Earth Day. Since learning about the edible and medicinal plants out there, I have developed a deep respect for the entire natural world. It gives us everything we need. It comes to us, offering us its special powers.
When I’m out in nature, I’m in a constant state of joy. Standing in the middle of a field is like being at a party with all my old friends. My relationship with each of these species has grown gradually over the years. At first, I had a nodding acquaintance with many of them, although I found myself particularly drawn to some plants, who I got to know quickly (or so I thought). What attracted me to them may have been their taste, the way they looked, or their smell. Some just seemed to reach out to me. Mugwort was foremost among the plants that I was inexplicably drawn to. I’ve since discovered that it is very necessary in my life.
Some plants have reputations that precede them. I’m always thrilled to meet these special magical beings (Mugwort is definitely one of them). However, as I have gotten to know more about the plants I have known for years, even the seemingly uninteresting species began to reveal their secrets. I used to wonder which plants were medicinal, but now I realize that they all are. The challenge is in discovering their hidden powers.
Plant energies are available to us in many ways. We do not need to eat or to even touch them to gain benefit from them. Their auras, aromas, and connection to the earth are there for us to access. Unfortunately, for those of us who exist in our “advanced” society, this form of communication has become a strange concept, but it can still be learned. It takes practice, but it is worth it! Sharing plant energies helps to brings about a peace of mind and a spiritual centering.
When I began working with herbs (back in the stone ages before cell phones), I was a total skeptic. I needed the herbs to convince me of their powers, and even then, when they worked, I would say, “Of course, it could just be a coincidence”. That changed when I was able to repair a shattered shoulder blade in under 3 weeks, using Comfrey poultices. Since then, the plants have taught me a lot, and I am their willing and humble student.

Wild Edible Plant Walk Reminder

Sunday, April 29th from 12 -1 PM
307 Hungry Hollow Rd. Chestnut Ridge, NY 10977

Yearning to feel the power of plants? Join us for 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 plethora of tender flora. Join us for a fun, investigative feast from the earth.

The program will be followed by an optional Open House afterward from 1 – 4 pm. Please email us at to make an Open House appointment.

Earth Day Giveaway

Over on our Instagram account, the Nature Place is hosting an Earth Day Giveaway!

The randomly selected winner will receive: a stylish stainless steel Nature Place water bottle to ensure avoidance of single-use plastic bottles; a lavender salve from The Pfeiffer Center, to support biodynamic organic farming and heal many skin-related ailments; three organic seed packets, including sunflowers which are great for attracting and supporting pollinators; and, speaking of pollinators, one hand-dipped set of Fellowship Community beeswax candles!

Check out our post for details on how to enter!

Happy Earth Day to all, from all of us at The Nature Place. We hope you get out there and enjoy this weekend and the bounty of our beautiful planet!

After you have exhausted what there is in business, politics, conviviality, love, and so on — have found that none of these finally satisfy, or permanently wear — what remains? Nature remains.
W A L T   W H I T M A N

Upcoming Open Houses

Sunday, April 29th
Saturday, May 19th

Please email us in advance at to set up your appointment. We'll meet at Green Meadow Waldorf School: 307 Hungry Hollow Road, Chestnut Ridge, NY 10977.

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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