Ed’s Corner

Ralph Waldo Emerson describes (though unintentionally) what many of us, regardless of our age, feel when at camp and in the outdoors:

“Crossing a bare common, in snow puddles, at twilight, under a clouded sky, without having in my thoughts any occurrence of special good fortune, I have enjoyed a perfect exhilaration. I am glad to the brink of fear. In the woods too, a man casts off his years, as the snake his slough, and at what period soever of life, is always a child. In the woods, is perpetual youth.”

Camp is just around the corner. The warm summer season to come makes it easy to ‘cast off our years’ and step outside. Fair, sunny days, thick afternoon thunderstorms, tall grass, blooming flowers, all of nature very much alive, gives us every excuse to drop what we’re ‘supposed to be doing’ and spend time just ‘being’ outdoors. Whether you have children at camp, or if your children now have children of their own, you too can be like a child again, outside in the green and growing world.

Ed’s Corner

Welcome to Dr. Ed’s Office.

Now, what are your symptoms again? Hard to stay still for a long period of time; feel like you’re missing out on something; you have some kind of notion that the sky is singing and is blue just for you; the scents unexpectedly brought to you on a gentle, warm breeze stop you in your tracks and you think that you have never smelled anything better in your life; you realize how ‘in the moment’ you are; it’s hard to focus on daily routines; you wonder why you haven’t noticed before how beautiful sunsets can be; you find yourself smiling for no apparent reason; you even smile at strangers; you slow down; you sing or hum to yourself Louis Armstrong’s song, “What a Wonderful World”.

I think I’ve heard enough. You’ve got the bug alright. You are not alone. Millions of others succumb every year at this time. Yes, it’s that old Spring Fever.

Now real fevers – like you may get in the winter – are usually treated in one or two ways. Some people, at the very first sign of a fever, run to the drugstore and buy whatever they can to chase that fever away, get rid of it at all costs, stop it in its tracks, take whatever drugs they have to.

Others will accept their fevers as a natural way for the body to deal with whatever bug, virus, bacteria or dis-ease is in their bodies. No drugs necessary here.

Being that I’m the kind of Doctor from the old school, I believe that fevers develop for a reason – a way for the body to heal itself.

So, my prescription for all of you with Spring Fever: get out! Into nature. The fever is calling you to partake in the growth and the blossoming of Spring and to rejuvenate your body and spirit. Go out and breathe, touch, smell, listen to, and lay down on the earth. Reconnect. Give in to the fever.

springfever

Ed’s Corner

The temperatures and weather of late have been all over the place: rain, fog, snow, 70 degrees, 15 degrees, ice. The expression, ‘if you don’t like the weather today, wait until tomorrow’, has never seemed more true.

The following is from an ancient book of secret nature lore (o-o-ah-ah), but we thought we would share it with you now, to help you keep track of the weather. This weather tracker will, as its name implies, track the weather in the moment – not 3 days from now, not last week – but in the present moment. There will be no screens, dials, or buttons.

Obtain a stick or twig (there are many on the ground now after some of the fierce March winds) about 6-8 inches long. Get a piece of string about 10-12 inches long. Tie one end of the string around the stick at the very center of the stick, so that when you hold the loose end of the string, the stick balances horizontally.

Find a place outdoors from which you can hang your weather tracker. Hanging it from a branch might be good. Make sure your tracker is not under an overhang, i.e. where your roof extends over. It should be as exposed as possible to the elements. Try to find such a spot near a window so that you can look out and observe it directly.

Weather Tracker

The following chart is essential:

If the stick is moving – it’s windy
If you can’t see the stick – it might be foggy or night time
If it’s wet – it’s raining
If it’s white – it’s snowing
If it is in bright light – it is sunny

You may add to this chart as you get to know your weather tracker and your microclimate a little better.

So, with tongue in cheek, I wish you happy tracking.

(I do wish you were able to receive this esoteric nature knowledge on April 1)

Ed’s Corner

A Miracle Once More

When we think of a miracle, we usually think of something that happens once. In fact, that may be one reason we consider ‘it’ to be a miracle, because it is so rare. The miracle I am thinking about happens yearly, just about now, as nights are still cold but daytime temperatures inch upward into the upper thirties and forties. The indigenous people knew about this miracle well before the arrival of the first colonists.

Throughout history, people have set out on pilgrimages that would lead them to a miracle. The Nature Place will lead you on a sort of pilgrimage on Saturday, March 4th, when we offer our Maple Sugaring program. It is our most popular program throughout the year. Perhaps everyone is anxious to see the miracle.

We all gather around the sugar maple tree, making sure the little ones are in front, with adults standing behind. Everyone seems to be quietly excited, almost holding their breath.

Drilling the Hole

I put drill to tree and begin to turn it. The first wood shavings to come out of the tree are very dark. Then, as the drill goes deeper, the shavings become lighter in color. These shaving are from the sapwood. We might then see the bark directly below the drill-hole begin to get wet. A slight cheer erupts from the crowd. I take the drill out, gently hammer in a metal spout (technically a “spile”) and we see the first drop of sap run down the spout, hesitate at the edge, and then fall to the ground. A big cheer erupts from the crowd! This is the miracle we have come to see: a drop of clear, cold, slightly sweet ‘water’ coming out of a tree that from all outward appearances looks dead.

How does this clear drop that looks like pure water get inside a tree and then come out when your drill makes an outlet for it? Isn’t it dirty coming from inside a tree? Why does it taste a little sweet? Is it OK to taste it right from the spout? Definitely!

Sweet, clear water from a tree. It always feels like a miracle to me. One that I can depend on seeing once a year.

Tasting Sap 1

Tasting Sap 2

In the last “Dirt” I suggested to take a Fake Break, to get away from the oftentimes overwhelming news that seems to bombard us every day. To go out into close-by nature to take in and be part of what is real, what is grounding. Tapping your own maple tree, boiling the sap into syrup and learning so much more by coming to our March 4th sugaring program, will take you to places that are very real and will help you reforge connections with the natural world – a world we have come from and are part of, although at times we may feel disconnected and disenchanted.

I hope to see you at our Sugaring program. Be part of this miracle with us.

 

Click here for more information our March 4th Sugaring Program!

 

Ed’s Corner

Fake News

These words have been bandied about over the last six months. People are questioning what they can believe; what’s made up? Is the ‘truth’ from yesterday a lie today? What are we not being told? Our own Scott Dunn went out to Standing Rock, North Dakota, for two weeks to stand with the Lakota people in their effort to stop the potentially hazardous Dakota Access pipeline from going under and through sacred areas. Underlying this is the indigenous people’s right to self-determination regarding the little land they still have left. When Scott returned he remarked how the major media did not really cover the nine months of protest until the dramatic end, when President Obama temporarily put a halt to the project.  So, it wasn’t fake news – it was NO news.

Conspiracy theories spread. We are even going back in time. More than one person has come to me lately asking if I thought the lunar landing back in 1969 was all filmed in the back lot of a Hollywood studio!

For many of us the future – no, really the present! – feels a bit shaky. What can I truly believe in?

Our answer to the last question (no surprise to those who know us) is to step out into nature.

We might call it a Fake Break.

I’m going to now close the computer on this, the 15th day of January, at 12:30 pm, and take a half hour walk – just outside my office. I’ll report back what ‘truths’ I discover. I did not plan on doing this when beginning to write this month’s Ed’s Corner an hour ago, so let’s see what happens.

I’ll be back. I’m going on a Fake Break…

…Whew. I’m back. I’m sweating because I tried to be quick about it and hurried. So, what truths did I find?

  • Warmth when I stepped out the door.
  • A rooster crowing from a distance.
  • In the small garden in front of my office there were dried, long stems from an ornamental grass, matted down in beautiful forms.
  • A slight breeze, bringing different earth odors as I walked around.
  • A surprising amount of the color green – on rocks, walls, tree trunks, and plants.
  • A few turkey vultures circling overhead.
  • Wet tree bark making the green lichens on them really stand out.
  • A slight sun shower, the drops falling into the Fairy stream, making for many beautiful concentric circles on the water.
  • Some clouds moved away, the sun was very bright, the sky opposite full of dark clouds. The perfect set-up for a rainbow! I turned so that my back was to the sun and my eyes, scanning the dark clouds, were hoping for a rainbow. None.
  • I saw a tree whose bottom trunk and branches appear as if they were a strong person making muscles/showing their biceps.
  • I lifted up/rolled away a cement-based stop sign and saw what looked like small ants with wings, hunkered down in crevices and moving slightly. I said ‘hello’ and put back the round base of the sign exactly how it was. But I am curious as to who they were. I’ll come back soon with a magnifying glass.
  • I now hear some blue jays, their calls, at least to me, always sound as if they are complaining about something.
  •  Big deer tracks in the mud on the pitcher’s mound in Mary Dailey Field.
  • A small oak tree on the edge of this field still holding on to its dead, brown leaves, appearing as dry leather and making a sound by rubbing together when the wind blows.
  • The warm sunshine on my face when I stepped out from the shade of a tree.
Muscle tree

Muscle tree

 

Deer hoof

Deer track

 

I know that there are many more truths to be found when out in the natural world. So I suggest taking a short Fake Break when you need to.

Margaret Fuller said “Nature never did deceive the heart that loved her.”

Ed’s Corner

December 21st, this coming Wednesday, is the Winter Solstice, the first day of winter, although in times past it was also referred to as mid-winter. That term, ‘mid-winter’, is appropriate because after this day the amount of light slowly increases daily. Early groups of hunters and gatherers thought of it as the sun returning once again. Perpetual darkness – oblivion – has been avoided.

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All of us living on this part of the earth experience this change of seasons. It is something we all share in common. We – Republicans, Democrats, Jews, Christians, Muslims, atheists, black/white/Hispanic/Asian, men, women, boys, girls – just think, we could have a big Solstice party and without worrying about who to invite, we can ask EVERYONE to it! What a nice coming together that would be, to celebrate our common home.

If we think about the really big picture of the universe, the earth, its movements, space, other celestial objects, we will begin to appreciate how lucky we are to be living on the earth at this time. Thanks to author Bill Bryson for the following thoughts:

* We are the right distance from the right kind of star (our sun). And our star is just the right size.

* If the earth were 1% further from the sun, our planet would be uninhabitable.

* All of the elements (remember the Periodic Chart that was usually displayed in almost every science room?), well, all those elements are present in just the right amounts to enable us to live here … on the earth.

* The molten material (magma) inside the earth released gases that made our atmosphere, which protects us from cosmic radiation.

* Plate tectonics – the process of parts of the earth’s surface moving, sliding, continents changing/rising/sliding over and under each other – all of this makes for a surface upon which we can stand. If not, if the earth were perfectly smooth, it would be covered everywhere to a depth of over 13 feet of water!

* The moon’s gravity – because of its position and its size, influences our planet in such a way that we do not wobble like a top that is running out of steam, slowing down. The moon’s presence keeps us at the right speed and angle as we travel through space.

*  The earth’s climate and surface have been quite different in the past compared to now – freezing, ice, boiling hot, bubbly poisonous seas, constant storms, lightning.

* There is soil where things can grow!

* There is rain that falls.

* Sometime in the very distant past plants began to absorb sunlight, water and carbon dioxide, and thus we have efficient green plants today, making their food (and ours) through photosynthesis.

* The earth has not been hit by giant space rocks or meteors for a long time. The dinosaurs took a big hit (extinction!) after one of these collisions.

* Our ancestors left their watery homes a long time ago so that today we are land dwellers; and quite different looking!

We have much to be thankful for – just the fact that you are here, reading these words, is wondrous.

On Wednesday take a moment out of your busy day and look around you. Maybe notice how short the daylight lasts, and appreciate that from Wednesday onward, up until the Summer Solstice, the light will increase! Although the cold (and hopefully snow) will likely be with us for at least another two or three months, the darkness reaches its apex this Wednesday, and our part of planet earth begins to move slowly into the light.

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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.

ed-and-odelia

Ed’s Corner

So far this autumn we have had quite a few magnificent blue-sky days. The kind of days that beckon us to come out into nature and to be a participant, to witness, to be part of the changing seasons.  Even just a twenty minute stroll through a nearby nature place – it could be your backyard or Central Park – will make a difference. “A difference in what?”, you may ask. For me, it’s a difference in my general state of being, mood, sense of self, balance, and most of all, an increase in the level of connection I feel – connection to the greater world, to others, and to something more timeless than myself.

This fall has provided more reasons than beautiful days and our hectic lives as reasons to get out-of-doors,. The political climate in this country is one of tension, anger, fear. There are wars, fighting, displaced persons around the world. Global warming reveals itself again through weather extremes.
Yikes, enough already. Let’s go out! I know for myself that the day after each ‘debate’ I need at least a 3-hour hike along the trails in Harriman Park.
In the last two years I have discovered the wonderful poetry and writing of William Stafford. His paragraph below describes to me what can and does happen to us when we are out in nature. May you, too, find your own moments of grace. Go quietly, go slowly, but bottom line,  go.
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If Only for a Moment, by William Stafford
Each of us is blessed with moments of grace, moments when our soul becomes clear and quiet. Our worrying stops. Our yearning and planning and waiting for fulfillment stops. There is nothing to be done since everything is already happening. Grace uncovers the mysterious essence that unites us with all beings.  Through its gift, the place, the time, the sky, and ourselves are revealed in right relation. What is inside of us and what is outside of us comes together, if only for a moment.

Ed’s Corner

Warm, Green, Growing Days

Calvin and Hobbes

That beautiful season, the summer! Filled was the air with a dreamy and magical light: and the landscape lay as if newly created in all the freshness of childhood.

-Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

 

I remember the last day of school when I was a boy, the beginning of summer vacation in June, when we literally ran out the school door and felt, in our exhilaration, that summer would last forever, that time would almost freeze (even with 90 degree days), and that this was the natural state of things, this was how life should be!  Even now, it’s easy to lose myself in such thoughts as I traipse through the green, stretching, sun-filled days of summer.

Years ago I heard a story about the benevolent native American deity, Manitou, and his desire to give something special to his beloved people of the earth.  He called them together and asked them what they would like.  One group wanted an earthly home where flowers bloomed, animals gave birth to their young, seeds in the ground sprouted quickly, bird song filled the sky, and the sense of life swelled in the people as it did in the air.  Another group asked to live in a time and place where the days were long and warm, the Three Sisters (corn, squash and beans) and the wild berries and the animals themselves would provide plenty of food, and a dip in the cooling river would be a welcome relief from the heat.  A third group dreamed of beautifully colored leaves, a time to harvest the wild nuts, acorns and other bounties of the forest, and cooler days and nights.  A fourth and final group longed for a world where the everyday was blanketed with crystalline ice and snow that made it easy to track animals, the air was crisp and clear, and families came together for long evenings of storytelling around the fire.

Well, you can imagine Manitou’s consternation after hearing such different requests.  How could he give all of his people what they really wanted?  He retired for the night with a heavy heart.  But the next day he appeared among his beloved people and spoke, pointing to each of the four groups in turn:  You, who want flowers, birth, morning bird song – I give you Spring.  You, who seek warmth and long, green, growing days – I give you Summer.  You, who desire colorful trees, bountiful harvests and cooler weather – I give you Fall.  And you, the last of my Indian brothers and sisters, who yearn for cold, beautiful snow, easy tracking and cozy fellowship – I give you Winter.

And the people were happy.  They never became tired or bored with their gifts, for while none of these seasons lasted forever, each came and left with the assurance it would come around again and again and again.

Welcome to Manitou’s warm, green, growing days.

Ed’s Corner

Belonging
One of the highlights of The Nature Place Day Camp experience is that of belonging to a community – one that is based on acceptance, inclusion, cooperation, and on the premise that we are all part of the natural world, living together on planet earth. Community was critical in hunter/gatherer societies, obviously for the hunting and gathering part, but also for the sense of belonging and fulfillment of emotional needs, as a place to bring and deal with life’s changes, passages, sorrows and celebrations.

community

community

Children – and adults – want and need to feel that they belong to something bigger than themselves. The time we live in presents fewer opportunities than ever before for this to happen. While we can connect to friends across the world through our cell phones and social media, and we can remain in more frequent contact with loved ones through text or tweet or email, the connection and contact often remains hollow, not quite filling our hunger for real, human, face-to-face connection. Have you ever gone on Facebook, hoping to see what’s happening in your ‘world’, and then left feeling just as unconnected as before you logged on? Maybe you then check in to see what’s happening on your news feed again, just five minutes after you last looked, and so continues an often unconscious cycle of searching for connection, obtaining a ghost-like version of it that leaves you still ‘hungry’, and then going back for more.

I find that this yearning for connection is truly met and satisfied while in the physical presence of others. Having someone like your funny post or comment on your beautiful picture feels good, but it feels good like drinking a cold can of Coke feels good, momentarily refreshing and thirst-quenching, until your body responds to the sugar and caffeine by becoming even more dehydrated, after which you drink another Coca-Cola. Interacting in the physical world is often more challenging, more complicated, more messy than communicating digitally, but it is also more profound. A friend laughing at your joke – you actually witnessing their eyes crinkle up, their mouth open, and then hearing the chuckling sounds that come out – does something rewarding that no post like has ever done for me. So too does someone telling me (in person) that I look nice. I might even blush or laugh a little in embarrassment, I’m effected physically in a way that digital interaction simulates, but cannot replace.

connecting

connecting

In this country we are often brought up with the American ideal that to grow up is to become independent and self-actualized. We grow up to become individuals so that we can ‘do it ourselves’, and there’s certainly something important about growing into a unique, separate person.

But I wish that through the process of growing into adulthood, in our search for ‘where do I belong’, we could also be taught, intentionally, how to foster connection with others, to build community, how to become a part of something bigger than ourselves.

Maybe there’s a correlation between our lack of connection with nature and our lack of connection with others. At The Nature Place we find that when we ‘work’ on one, it also helps or works with the other.

There is one community that everyone is a part of (whether they acknowledge it or not), and that is the community of earth. This community will be celebrated soon – on April 22nd, Earth Day, as it has been every year since 1970. If you’re not doing anything special to mark this day, don’t worry. Maybe just take a minute or two and connect, in person, to another human being.

celebrating the earth

celebrating the earth