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The Dirt - October
"There is no season when such pleasant and sunny spots may be lighted on, and produce so pleasant an effect on the feelings, as now in October."

-Nathaniel Hawthorne

Ed's Corner

Fall is my favorite season. Ask someone else and 4 out of 5 will respond 'Fall' too.
Why? Maybe it's the cooler weather after hot summer, or the beginning of a new school year, a fresh start. Or maybe you just can't wait for the first snow or for all the holidays coming up, or the first fire of the year - indoors or out (ah, there's nothing like the smell of woodsmoke on a brisk fall evening). Perhaps most simply, it is the spectacular turning of the leaves and the many subtler changes that take place as the season advances. I say, get thee to a natural place where some of the treasures of fall await you!

NEW: Timely Bird Special

Did you miss our October 1st early bird registration deadline to receive 10% off camp? Fear not, for we have an offer that's nearly just as sweet:

Sign up for Summer 2019 by December 15th, 2018, paying half your balance then and the other half on January 15th, to receive 7.5% off your total camp tuition!

To see the Timely Bird Rates, click hereSign up here if this second chance for savings is calling your name!

The Sustainability Scoop

A hub for 'green' information and inspiration

Waste Not, Want Not: Part II
What to do with food waste

Ayla Dunn Bieber serves up some science on food waste decomposition and points us in the direction of great resources for composting - even where space is limited...

In the last installment of our Sustainability Scoop we looked at some pretty crazy numbers regarding how much food is wasted in our country and some of the harsh effects this is having on our planet. A huge issue is that food waste that is thrown "away" gets trapped in landfills and produces methane gas - a greenhouse gas that the Environmental Defense Fund states is 84 times more potent than CO2 in the short term! You may ask: if rotting food in landfills produces methane gas, does rotting food in a compost pile do the same? The answer is NO! Thank goodness!

Here's why: 
  • Food waste that gets buried in landfills goes through a process called anaerobic decomposition or digestion, due to the lack of oxygen in the landfill. This means that the microorganisms that break down the buried organic material don't need oxygen to survive. An unfortunate byproduct of their decomposition process is methane.
  • Food waste in properly aerated compost containers is exposed to oxygen, and thus undergoes aerobic decomposition. The little microbes that carry out this process use oxygen to do so and don't produce methane as a byproduct - hurrah! In fact, the main byproducts of this process can be taken up immediately by plants. Bonus: if properly aerated, compost shouldn't smell (unlike a landfill).
This is only ONE reason why composting is preferable over sending food to the landfill, but I think its a good enough one to start with. So, let's not waste anymore time! Let's get down to business and get composting!

If you live somewhere where you don't have space to compost, you AREN'T off the hook. The easiest way to still compost is to set up a compost bowl or container in your freezer (use it as an excuse to clean out your freezer - if your freezer is anything like mine, it could use some TLC) and then take your bucket each week (or however often if fills up) to your closest Food Scrap Collection location. Here is a link to NYC locations. For those outside of the city, ask a friend who has a compost system if you can give them your scraps or check with a local farm/garden about their options. Also, most farmers markets have receptacles - check your local market today!

If you are interested in starting your own compost system, here is a beautifully laid out resource.

For those already composting - celebrate the good work you're doing for our planet! For me, the next step is reduce, reduce, reduce.

Let us know about your composting journey over on the blog. I look forward to hearing from you!

Until next time,

Primitive Living Skills Program

Two dates coming up this month!

Topic: Harvesting and Processing Plants for Survival
10/21 | For Families
10/27 | For Children

Click here for registration and to view details like rates and times, as well as other upcoming dates, including sessions for adults in November (Sneak Peak: 11/10 | All Day Workshop for Adults: Make Your Own Bow Drill Kit).

Experience a session and come away with increased confidence, awareness, and connection to the natural world.

Be Part of The Dirt!

If you missed our call for submissions in last month's Dirt, we repeat: Do you like nature? Do you like to write, paint, or take photographs? Have you always wanted to share some of your writing, art, etc.? We're calling upon folks of all ages (we'd especially love to receive submissions from our campers!) to help The Dirt evolve into an active forum for those who make up our community. If you feel inspired by anything relating to outdoor education, childhood, sustainability, nature, or the seasons, please send it in to us and we'll put it in The Dirt! Hope to hear from YOU...

The Traveler and the Cook

In her new series, our cooking instructor, Eva Szigeti, writes about visiting her childhood hometown with her children, and about the fruitful discoveries they make along the way...

Visiting Familiar Places

Traveling with children usually results in a very different experience than getting on the road with adult company. It is not only that when children come along we adjust the pace and the activities to meet their needs and interests. What is truly unique is that we get to see our travel destinations from a different angle, with the refreshing eye of a child. The whole travel experience takes on one more extra layer when we decide to take our kids to places that have a special place in our personal history; when hometowns, college towns, broader areas of our childhood become destinations. We are hoping to include the children in our story, one that is the precursor to their own.
We traveled to Central Europe last fall to visit family, friends, and participate in a harvest in the vineyard (the first one ever for my children). On most of our day trips, we kept crossing paths with the Danube. For me, the Danube is ‘The River’. I was born in a town on the Danube, learned to swim in its waters, and I spent my college years in two cities on the Danube. The river had been part of everyday life, just as it was part of those moments that stood out. There was no New Year’s Day during my childhood without a family walk to the Danube. I always saw it as a New Year’s pilgrimage to experience the cleansing effect of chilling wind carried by the river.  So naturally, encounters with the Danube were part of our recent trip.

With the children, we strolled on the banks of the river; they threw pebbles, watched ships. We talked about history: times when these parts of the world were the northern frontier of the Roman Empire. “Wait, what? Romans here?” the children wondered. So we went to a museum to see some artifacts and to learn more. Turkish invasion was the next subject….

From my hometown, we walked through a bridge over the Danube and crossed to another country. As history has redefined borders, one town has turned into two: one on each side of the Danube and each in a different country. Luckily, both countries are now part of the European Union, so we were able to enjoy ice cream on the other side of the river without needing a passport.
During our trip we stood on several castle hills, all overlooking the Danube. The children imagined themselves to be knights watching the approach of the enemy. They felt lucky to be strategically well positioned and protected in their castles. They were enjoying themselves. But I kept wondering during the whole trip: Are they unimpressed? Does this experience really sink in? Or are these only fleeting moments of fun that will be soon forgotten?
After many day trips came the long anticipated day of the harvest in the vineyard.  The harvest of vine grapes has a special place in my personal mythology for a simple reason: I was born on the day of harvest in my grandfather’s old vineyard. 

The bulk of the grape harvest in that area happens around Saint Michael's Day (September 29th). The exact time is determined by the skilled eye and taste buds of the grower/vintner. The right levels of sugar, tannin, and acid are the first step to a good wine.

On the day of the harvest, the grapes were plump, ripe, and ready. Probably like my mother’s belly on that day many harvests ago. I was happy that we were there, that my children get to see the vineyard in its full autumn beauty, that they will savor the many tastes of different grape types, all of them so distant from the supermarket varieties.

Grape harvest is quite a sensory experience. It is not only the smell and taste of the berries, but how aware we become of our hands. The super ripe berries are no longer able to contain their juices. With each picked cluster, the hands of a picker get more and more sticky from the sweet juice that, like a magnet, attracts dirt, resulting in a gray sugary second skin.
Like everything else, grape harvest has its traditions. As for lunch, we had the traditional: roasted duck prepared on the day before (because who has time to cook on a harvest day?) with pickles and bread, and sweet bread for dessert—the perfect food to eat while sitting in the grass at the edge of the vineyard or under one of the peach trees dotting the rows of wine grapes.   
The life span of grape vines is 50-100 years. Although the vineyard where harvest took place on the day of my birth no longer exists, we went to visit the place where it once grew. We looked around in the trees, and there they were: old, woody vines climbing up the tree trunks in search of light, and still bearing grapes. We picked a basketful of this surprise fruit for my grandparents, so they could taste and remember their lost vineyard.
My grandfather is fond of grape vines. He made sure his descendants would have no lack of them in the decades to come.  At the age of 90, he decided the time had come to plant a new vineyard. And that’s what he did.

There is one single grape vine growing in my garden as a fill-in for a vineyard. I bought the plant four years ago in an Italian gardening center without being aware of its variety.  The plant bore fruit for the first time this season. With great expectations, I picked a plump berry, and to my surprise, I tasted something very familiar. I recognized the cultivar right away: sweet, aromatic with a thick slip skin. Isabella: one of the varieties that had grown in grandfather’s old vineyard.

Click here
for Eva's traditional Braised Cabbage recipe!

Gamwing Time

Chuck Stead, our beloved camp storyteller, tells of a mysterious autumn-time encounter...

         So, one day, as my friends Ricky Cramshaw and Cindy Maloney were sitting on the stone bench with me at the World War I monument in our village, an old woman we didn’t know slowly came walking along Fourth Street. She had sort of caramel colored skin and I took her for an elder Ramapough – one I hadn’t seen before. She came up to the stone bench and eased herself down to rest a while. She was sitting about ten feet from us, as the bench is a good twenty feet long. We had been lazily stretched out and speculating about the chill of the night before. It was deep into October and one of our favorite ceremonial days was only a week or so away: Halloween! In a village like Hillburn, Halloween is something like a National Holiday dedicated to tricks and treats. I was thinking this year of being the Wolfman, Ricky was focused on a skeleton of some sort, and Cindy was planning the return of her character from the year prior—Witch of the Leprechauns. I had almost forgotten about the unknown elder who was on the other end of the bench, when she spoke up, crisp and clear as if she was answering a question.
            “Should be out there gathering up acorns, not blabbering about party costumes! Yes, that’s right. This is the time to gather acorns for grinding into flour. Got to smash them open and then soak them in water and then dry them out and grind them up. Ain’t no better flour ever been made! Young ones collect the acorns and do a good job at it. If in they want date-nut-newtons they is gonna have to collect the nuts, is all.”
            She stopped talking as abruptly as she started. She didn’t look at us but it appeared she was telling us to do this. We looked at each other and it was Ricky who said very quietly, “My Gram says this old lady is touched.”
            I whispered, “Touched by what?”
            Cindy whispered, “You mean she’s crazy?”
            He shook his head and said, “Means she’s got special vision and can talk to people that aint alive anymore.”
            Cindy said, “Sounds crazy.”
            The Elder said, “I can hear everything you is saying.”
            Cindy leaned forward and said, “You want us to get you some acorns?”
            The Elder leaned to her left in our direction and said, “It’s for the Gamwing.”
            I said, “The what?”
            Ricky said, “She’s gambling.”
            “No”, the Elder called out, “I’m not gambling, but games of chance are always played at the Gamwing.”
            I said, “Where is this place?”
            Now she turned her head and looked at me. When she spoke I could see the many lines that coursed through her face. I remember thinking she looked like my Uncle Mal’s map of Secaucus, New Jersey. She said, “Ain’t no place but where you set to have your lodge. Oh, the food, the food! There is more ways to set up venison than you can shake a stick at, and there is cranberry sweetened with tree syrup, and there is taters and corn and beans and squash.” She looked at Cindy and said, “And there is dancing and drumming and singing until you drop to rest and eat and then start up again!”
            Ricky said, “For how long?”
            She told him, “Twelve days is the usual.”
            Ricky said, “My mom won’t let me come for twelve days, on account of missing all that school.”
            She smirked and her face wrinkled up twice as much, she said, “You learn more at the Gamwing than you could ever at no school!”
            She then stared at us and appeared to be looking right into us, she said, “You all talking about party costumes, what with your scary wolfman and skeleton and little-people witch; there is nothing more scary than when the Meesinghawleekum comes chasing after you at the Gamwing.”
            Ricky said, “Yeah? What’s he look like?”
            She said, “Oh, he’s covered all over with dark hair, usually bear skin hair and he’s got a wooden face that’s one side red and the other side black. And he chases after you with a turtle shell rattle and sometimes he even swings a war club!” Again, she stopped talking abruptly and just stared at the cold bronze letters on the plaque of the World War I granite monument.
            We kids looked at each other and between us had nothing to say. She was an old woman who seemed to us to be full of magic. She got up slowly and turned and looked at us where we sat and she said, “But that was a long time ago and I can’t say I’ve been to a Gamwing since I was much older than you kids are now.” She turned and started out, but then she turned the other way and walked up to the plaque. She raised her boney little hand and pressed it against the bronze letters. We heard her say something about all her relations and then she lowered her hand and walked away slowly. We never saw her again, and though we described her to our families, no one had any idea who she could have been.

Making the Most of Nature's Gifts

Wild food forager Paul Tappenden reminds us that we never quite know what surprises nature has in store...

Towards the end of the year, I always look back and experience tinges of regret about the things I didn’t get around to doing. But then, that is the nature of foraging. It is very difficult to plan ahead.  You may know the places to go and the seasons of all the plants, but nature always manages to pitch us a curve ball or two. This year it was lots of rain and hot, humid weather, which brought about some unpredictable changes.

For instance, some plants positively thrived, while others weren’t happy. Our next door neighbor grew a Lambsquarters plant that reached 9 ft high and over 7 ft across! For a plant that usually averages around four foot high, this was quite remarkable.

This unusual weather came with some not so hidden treasures, some of which changed all my foraging plans for the summer and fall seasons. One of the greatest gifts was that we were presented with an unusual abundance of mushrooms. Even folks who normally show no interest in fungi have noticed all these colorful creatures spreading across the forest floor and decorating the fallen tree trunks.

Every year, I scan the woods as I walk along, looking for logs that may be home to a colony of Turkey Tail mushrooms (Trametes versicolor) mushrooms, but they are usually quite rare around here. This year, on every sojourn into the woods, I have encountered several patches of those usually shy creatures, along with a perfusion of polypores and flurries of fungi.  

I have been able to harvest and preserve several choice species of edible fungi, that are now taking up most of our freezer or sit marinating in jars. Down in my Hobbit Hole (which is where I keep all my dried herbs, roots, bark and fungi), I have a drawer stuffed with bags of dried fungi, most of which I harvested this year. And, of course, I’ve also been tincturing some of the more medicinal fungi.

So, even though I hadn’t much considered mushrooms in my plans for 2018, it would have been a waste not to take advantage of the gifts we have been offered, even if it means changing all our plans.

Upcoming Open Houses

Open Houses for the 2019 camp season begin in January.

Alternately, if you’d like to get a jump start on your planning, we’ll be giving private tours all fall. Please contact us to arrange a time!

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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