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The Dirt - November
"So dull and dark are the November days.
The lazy mist high up the evening curled,
And now the morn quite hides in smoke and haze;
The place we occupy seems all the world."

                       -John Clare, November

Ed's Corner


I hear people discussing it in our co-op grocery store. Or while waiting to pick up their children from the school parking lot.

The fall -  how long it has lasted, how gentle the temperatures have been and the colors, especially those colors. The reds are so deep it seems like if you touched one your finger would just keep sinking in. And the yellows! Touch one and it feels like your finger might spark! And many trees are holding their leaves longer, releasing them not in a windy maelstrom of hundreds at a time, but slowly, sometimes in small groups; at times, one or two.

There is lately, in the public school arena, much talk and strong feelings about the Core Curriculum: what should children know? Let's test them! And then have teachers teach to the test, and then, be sure to test the teachers to make sure they are doing just that.
This kind of fall reminds me of a fleeting and wild thought I had years ago: every school curriculum, call it 'Core' or something else, should include, at each grade level, a course or set-aside time, outdoors, naturally, throughout the school year, in every season. Through interaction and experience with the earth - its seasons, customs, and rhythms - each child would have the opportunity to develop a true sense of place and belonging. Of course there would be a test, to be taken frequently:  a) Show up  b) dress for the weather.
My wife, Jill, attended Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts. One day each fall the school's chimes would ring out at 8 am, the signal for a tradition called Mountain Day. Everyone knew it would happen in autumn, but not when. On this day all classes were canceled, and students climbed up nearby Mount Holyoke for a day spent outdoors, sharing time in nature with friends.
I have often thought that in businesses, schools and such, the concept of a 'Well' Day' is equally important as that of the 'Sick' Day. Strongly recommended in this 'Well' Day would be a nature component, visiting a nearby park or tending a community garden. A 'Well' Day might sometimes include taking your child out of school for the day to accompany you outdoors.
I have a feeling that incorporating 'Well' Days into the year will result in less 'Sick' Days being used.
Perhaps you have seen recently in the news that all REI stores will be closed on the Friday after Thanksgiving, Black Friday, the biggest shopping day of the year.
And, the company is specifically encouraging its employees to get out into nature on that Friday!
Yea!, REI.
Why don't you join me and all the REI employees as we forego shopping on that day too, and go outside instead?

2016 Events

The approaching winter and spring seasons are brimming with open houses, camp fairs, and events at The Nature Place. 

Public Programs

Join us at camp for one or all of the events and activities we're hosting. Attending one of our 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 16th. Noon - 1 pm.  Open House 1 - 4 pm.

Every Friday at camp Master storyteller Chuck Stead spins funny, poignant, outrageous and true stories of his childhood growing up in the nearby Ramapo Mountains. But 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. Join us for this annual storytelling treat!

Outragehisss Pets
Sunday, February 7th. Noon - 1 pm.  Open House 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, if we're feeling brave. Some animals are soft (chinchillas), some fluffy (long-haired rabbits), rough (armadillos), scaly (snakes), spiky (hedgehogs), but all are exciting! Join us on Sunday, February 7th, for our annual winter animal program. It's sure to be outragehisss.

Maple Sugaring
Saturday, March 5th.

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 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 their own spouts for tapping as well as clear instructions for making your own maple syrup at home, from your very own tree. 

This event starts inside but then moves outside, so dress for the weather! 

Wild Edibles with Paul Tappenden
Sunday, April 17th. Noon - 1 pm.  Open house 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. 

Spring Peeper Hunt
Saturday, May 7th. 7:30 - 8:30 pm. 

Hunting spring peepers successfully takes a keen ear, a sharp eye, stealth, and above all, patience. Join The Nature Place as we tromp through the small swamp behind the farm on a search for these tiny sirens of spring. The male frogs emit a loud 'pee-eep! pee-eep!', which allows us to echo-locate our targets, carefully treading over hillocks and sunken logs until we are close enough to shine a flashlight on the spring peeper. If we're lucky, after a minute or two, the frog will start singing again, and we'll see his vocal sack bulge out as he peeps, like a bubble blown from froggy bubblegum. 

This event is in the dark, in a swamp! Please attend in high rubber boots, clothes you don't mind getting swampy, and a sense of adventure. Flashlights are a must. 

Open Houses

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, and often Elaine and Shaina and others), 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 at The Nature Place Day Camp. All open houses run between 1 and 4 pm (except on March 5th, which is Noon - 2 pm). 
Saturday, January 16th
Sunday, February 7th
Sunday, February 21st
Saturday, March 5th 
Sunday, March 13
Saturday, April 2nd 
Sunday, April 17th
Saturday, May 7th
Sunday, May 15th 

Camp Fairs

We attend a total of 10 camp fairs in New York City (Manhattan and Brooklyn) between January and April. A camp fair is basically like us bringing a slice of our Open House to you, in your neighborhood. We (usually Scott and Daniel) 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 down-to earth vibe. 

All camp fairs run between Noon and 3 pm. 

Saturday, December 12th - Upper East Side
St. Jean Baptiste High School, 173 E 75th St, New York, NY 10021

Sunday, December 13th - Upper West Side
Congregation Rodeph Sholom, 7 W 83rd St, New York, NY 10024

Saturday, January 23rd - Upper East Side
St. Jean Baptiste High School, 173 E 75th St, New York, NY 10021

Sunday, January 24th - Upper West Side
Congregation Rodeph Sholom, 7 W 83rd St, New York, NY 10024

Saturday, January 30th - Williamsburg, BK
Williamsburg Northside School, 299 N 7th St, Brooklyn, NY 11211

Sunday, January 31st - Cobble Hill, BK
Brooklyn Heights Montessori School, 185 Court St, Brooklyn, NY 11201

Saturday, March 5th - Battery Park City
Asphalt Green, 555 E 90th St, New York, NY 10128

Sunday, March 6th - Park Slope, BK
Berkeley Carroll School, 181 Lincoln Pl, Brooklyn, NY 11217

Saturday, March 9th - Upper East Side
St. Jean Baptiste High School, 173 E 75th St, New York, NY 10021

Sunday, April 10th - Upper West Side
Congregation Rodeph Sholom, 7 W 83rd St, New York, NY 10024

The Warmth of Fire

The days are definitely getting shorter; in fact, I can feel the sun lowering and shadows elongating around 2 pm. Do you feel that too?
These begin the days when we use our fireplace almost every night. I feel so lucky that we do have a fireplace. It keeps the den warm but I know it's not energy efficient when considering drafts, the flow of heat out of the house, etc. But I must say that during this time of year, for me, there is no better source of 'soul warmth'.
For those without fireplaces, do not despair. There are backyards, a relative's yard, a small nature place of some type.

Night is a great time to make a fire, but daytime is also available. And I'm not talking a bon fire if you're making it in your backyard. Just a small one of thin, dead branches, with some thicker dead branches laid on top. All within a small circle of rocks that you and your child have made. Of course, safety in everything, especially around fire and plenty of water to put it out. A small fire lasting maybe 15 minutes would suffice. To start, crumple up some newspaper pages in the middle of the circle, make a tipi over the paper with the skinniest of the thin, dead sticks. Put match to paper and it should work. 
I promise that if you and your child make a fire together, and soak in its different kinds of warmth, you will both begin to feel the magic. 

Thanksgiving Cup-a-Joe

Chuck Stead offers us a seasonal story for this month of November

There were many Thanksgiving traditions in my home village of Hillburn; along with the preparation for a holiday dinner there was the beginning of deer hunting season, usually around the last week of November. Shotguns were brought out from closets and gun cabinets, buck knives sharpened, and a fresh pair of woolen socks was purchased. We kids were encouraged to gather acorns weeks earlier as well as hickory nuts and walnuts, both of which were encased in an outer husk and something of a mess to open. Actually, most folks preferred the store bought walnuts as they were easier to open and less messy than our local wild ones. We were also encouraged to collect the most beautiful red and rust colored leaves of maple and oak as well as golden yellow birch leaves, for decorations that would curl and darken in our homes. Baking started some days before Thanksgiving which filled the house with the thick sweet aroma of apple and berry pies. It occurred to me that morning coffee smelled best in November, perhaps it was the association with hunting season or pumpkin pie or perhaps it had to do with the chill in the air. It was a few days before Thanksgiving that Ricky Cramshaw and I first tasted coffee.

We had debated this for weeks. It seemed to us that this thick warm wonderful aroma of freshly brewed coffee in the morning was an invitation to a sumptuous taste hoarded by adults. We asked my dad, Walt, why kids didn’t drink coffee. He thought about this and told us that as a boy he often drank coffee and supposed that it fell out of favor for kids as soda pop took over. So we asked him to brew us a pot. Walt put up some coffee in his G.E. electric percolator. We huddled together and studied the little glass top of the pot eagerly waiting for the first spit of caramel colored caffeine to strike forth, when it finally did we cheered. When it was ready he poured out two cups of the black elixir and set them before us on the round Formica kitchen table. He put a pint of cream and a sugar bowl before us and two spoons. He said, “There you go boys, there’s your cup of Joe.”

Ricky said, “I thought it was coffee?”

“Well sure that’s what it is.”

“Then why’d you call it Joe?”

Walt sighed and said, “Well, you see during World War Two our soldiers were called G. I. Joe and over in France they got to drink some very fine, very strong coffee.”

I asked, “Was it good coffee they drank?”

“Oh sure it was. It was fine Arabian and Turkish coffee, some of the best in the world. But they missed their American coffee, which doesn’t grow here anyway, its just brewed American style. So when they got a cup of American coffee they called it ‘Joe’, you know cause it was their brew for G. I. Joes.”

I leaned over and inhaled the deep scent rising from my cup of Joe. I said to him, “So this year I can have a cup of coffee with my apple pie on Thanksgiving?”

He said, “Lets say you taste a little of that first.”

Chuck and Ricky taste coffee

Cooking with Children

A double edged-sword

The Nature Place cooking activity leader, Eva Szigeti, shares a simple November salad recipe with us, as well as some keen, authentic insight into the challenges and rewards of cooking with children.

Cooking with children may seem like a double-edged sword. There is fun, joy, creativity, playful learning, etc. on one side and usually a big mess on the other. We all remember cooking together that resulted, among other things, in water being spilled all over the floor, in vegetable peels scattered around the kitchen or in the kitchen island covered in flour and little fingers coated with sticky dough. After recreating order from the chaos around us, we might be tempted to ask ourselves: “Was it worth it?” After short hesitation, our inner voice will hopefully answer: “Yes, it was.”

I consider cooking with children an investment into their future and mine. (Selfishly hoping that maybe one day I will be able sit down to a nicely set table and enjoy a meal prepared by my children.)

When I cook with children, on the practical level, I teach them a life skill. I am empowering the kids by giving them the ability to take care of themselves and possibly others. But on the way towards the meal, as they help to prepare it, they also learn where food comes from, how it is grown and what it takes to grow it. Those who know how long the road is from a seed planted on a farm to a dinner on our table, will appreciate the food, the environment and labor of those who work with nature to grow food.

Depending on your priorities, you may consider cooking with children also a real life application of math skills (when measuring, doubling or downscaling a recipe), a practice of eye–hand coordination (think chopping, grating etc.), lesson in cultural history (Where does bread come from?) and science (What does the yeast do?), or an exercise in finding balance, in this case between flavors, textures, aromas and colors. I like to tell myself that I am doing all of the above and thus contributing to my children’s wellbeing and holistic understanding of the world.

Before involving children as helpers in big cooking projects, it is nice to empower them by letting them create a simple meal they are able to make (almost) all by themselves.

I‘d like to share a recipe for a simple seasonal salad we made out of the season’s last baby greens harvested in our garden on an unusually warm November day. Children will be thrilled to get their hands wet when washing the greens, make the salad spinner spin and prepare the dressing using a low-tech shaking method. Have more dried cranberries handy than needed for the salad, some will get “lost” along the way.


Eva's Salad for the Fall Season

Asian Bittersweet

Wild food forager and Nature Place activity leader Paul Tappenden tells us what's local and wild in and around our area. Usually Pauls shares a tasty treat with us, but don't eat asian bittersweet, it's only for decoration!

Asian bittersweet vine abounds in Rockland County (and many other places). It can be a real nuisance, as it likes to climb over everything in sight. Unlike grape vines or Poison Ivy bittersweet coils itself counterclockwise around anything it encounters, including its own vine. Because of this, it creates some very interesting shapes.

This decorative vine, which holds onto its bright red berries throughout the winter, is great for making wreaths and decorations for the Holiday season. One year, we had some growing in our back yard. Rather than remove it, I carefully trained it to grow into a circle. By December, when all the leaves had fallen off, I had a full sized wreath, covered in clusters of colorful berries. I merely cut it away (no easy task), and brought it inside where we decorated it with pine cones, Sweet Gum seedpods, phragmite plumes and Queen Anne’s Lace seed heads, which we dipped in glue, then silver or white glitter, to create stars and snowflakes.
There are lots of ways to use natural objects in decorating your home for the holiday seasons. I have made the most spectacular bouquets for both decoration and gifts, with very little effort. Sure it can take time to gather the objects and assemble the displays, but it is worth it. What’s more, these are things you can make, even if you have no money (how do you think I learned?).

The only tool I’d recommend is a hot glue gun (with green or clear glue sticks). However, scissors, pliers and a knife come in handy. Anyway, a good way to start making these decorations is by gathering some bittersweet. As you walk around, you’ll see all kinds of interesting things that could be added to a display. Just start picking them up. You’ll be surprised at how quickly you’ll put a collection together. Making decorations is a lot of fun, and a great activity for kids.

Upcoming Open Houses

Saturday, January 16th
Saturday, February 6th
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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