A Time For Every Purpose

And the beginning of this month it was time for a mountain top wedding in our beloved Harriman State Park.

Daniel Bieber (camp administrative director and my son) married Ayla Dunn (daughter of Scott Dunn, camp program director).

So we now have some extra ‘titles’ to add to our relationships: son-in law, daughter-in-law, fathers-in-law. Some people have joked that this was an arranged marriage, as in former dynasty days, to bring together two families (who have been close anyway from the time the ‘kids’ were young) in order to solidify and expand the ’empire’.

Those of you who have known us at The Nature Place over the last 30 years are probably smiling, knowing we say this with tongue very much in cheek. We are happy being who we are, nature-oriented and non-competitive. Those who have met us three bearded gentlemen – Ed, Scott, and Daniel – know that we appear more like the Smith brothers on the cough drop packages rather than the Koch brothers.

The day Ayla and Daniel chose for the wedding hike was unusual. For many weeks before and after the wedding date the weather was superb – sunny blue sky days, moderate temperatures, just perfect. But you can guess that day wasn’t.

With raincoats, long underwear, sweaters, hats, ponchos and boots, small groups of the 120 guests followed the winding, in some places steep, trail. It looked like a group of pilgrims forging ahead through  the cold and gray and wind-blown rain to finally arrive at their destination.

And they all did. The mountain top (which I had carried Daniel to the top of when he was a baby in my backpack) offered a 360 degree view of sky, mountains, lakes, the natural world everywhere you looked. Also on top the wind was stronger, the cold colder, the sky felt lower and darker and the rain began to come down more heavily. These conditions made the rather large group of us huddle close together as Daniel and Ayla, in their wedding finest (they got dressed on top of the mountain!) shared their wedding vows with what felt like the whole world as background. There was a flower girl and boy and a ring bearer.

All of us on the top seemed to make an invisible cocoon around us and the bride and groom. The environment felt electric (no, there were no thunderstorms), spiritual, dynamic. We all knew that this/everything was part of a truly authentic, magic moment that each of us present will keep forever. We were all reminded that even though the day was dark, the sun was still shining – you just had to imagine above the clouds.

wedding

Ed’s Corner

I write this on the day when heavy rains and thunderstorms are predicted for the evening. These will break the long spell of very hot, very dry weather we have experienced for some time. The grass/lawns are brown and dried. The dry conditions are causing quite a few leaves to change color (mostly dry browns and yellows) and to fall. The air is hazy. Gardeners have had to water their very thirsty plants. Hikers must carry more than the usual amount of water with them, and the danger of wildfires is high. I wonder if apples will be smaller?

How we appreciate a glass of ice cold water on these days. And when outdoors, the shade. Or a little breeze. Or even the sun going behind a cloud for a minute.

And soon, when this hot and dry spell turns cooler and more leaves are on the ground than on the trees, just the opposite will be true: the sun coming out from behind a cloud will warm our faces, and we’ll be glad for it’s shining!

Leaf

When we’re paying attention nature gives us small things to appreciate, like water, shade or sun, a small breeze. Things we might otherwise not notice. It also reminds us that our real needs are very basic and that the earth can help us to meet them. And maybe, upon realizing this, we can cultivate an attitude of gratitude for what we naturally have.

Lots of Fall

This month begins the time of year when nature lets go of a lot! The ‘Lots of Fall’ includes leaves, seeds, nuts, and other earthy detritus.
Here are some fun activities we can do with the Lots of Fall:

  • As the leaves really begin to drop, place containers of different types on the ground around the tree and check on them every day. Which collect the most? You can use buckets, boxes, small tarp, bowls, but do be careful with great-great grandma’s Ming Dynasty vase.
  • On a really good leaf falling day, lay your bodies on the ground around the tree and lie still for a while – at least 15 minutes, and then get up and see how many leaves have  fallen on you!Do you see a bird or a few birds pecking at the dry or dead heads of flowers, or gathered under one or two particular trees? Those birds have most likely discovered a bonanza of nutritious seeds within that flower, or some fallen nuts under the tree.
  • When there are only scattered leaves left on the tree, focus on just one of them, in hopes that you will see THAT one at the exact moment it lets go.
  • The color season is soon upon us. Take one colored leaf, squish it up – squish, squish, squish – smell it – and then rub it on a piece of paper that is on a book, the sidewalk or other kind of hard backing. The leaf color will come out on the paper!
  • Can you find a fallen nut that has been chewed and eaten just so, that it looks like a face?
From the photos following you might be able to tell that we have been face-hunting in nature, too.
Face - grass
Face - leaf

Face - treeFace - rockFace - lichenFace - leaves

Ed’s Corner

When the Earth Hummed

At the beginning of this month we offered our annual Spring Peeper ‘hunt’. With flashlights in hand and rubber boots on feet, families ventured into the wetland to find this thumbnail-sized frog called the Spring Peeper.

The males make a somewhat loud peeping noise, many together can make a very loud sound (some say like sleigh bells) that can be heard from up to two miles away! It took a while but finally we started to ‘catch’ some – in our flashlight beams as well as actually in-hand.

Peeper

The wetland was very dark but the rising almost-full moon provided a hint of light, not to mention it’s beautiful reflection in the open water in the middle.

And then, starting very slowly from this open water, there came, hesitatingly at first, and then with a let-er-rip feeling, a sound that can only be described as ethereal, ancient, deep. All we could do was stop, listen and and allow our bodies to be part of this earthly surround-sound experience.

A child asked ‘Is that the earth humming?’ Maybe it is. Or could be. Why not? How magical and full of wonder! If the earth were to hum I could not think of a better place than where we were, another season or a different sound.

I would be happy to leave you with the thought of a humming earth. We looked into the water with our flashlights and saw nothing.

But I would be remiss.

The sound was the mating calls of toads, doing the same thing in the same wetland that the peepers were doing. Knowing this does not negate the imagination or sense of wonder that brought forth the question about the earth humming. One does not have to restrict oneself to one way of looking at the earth. There does not have to be an either/or. As we say at camp, “Open your mind and say ‘Ahh'”.

There may still be time after you receive this Dirt to go out to a wetland at night and be part of the humming. You will never forget it.

Good luck.

 

This is the last issue of The Dirt until September. Camp is about to begin and we have many outdoor things we’ll be attending to with our campers; maybe even discovering other ways in which the earth hums.

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Have a great summer! We plan to.

Ed’s Corner

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

Earth Day

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.

Ed’s Corner

Getting into Spring

I look at the big calendar in our office, at March 20th, to be exact, and read two words that make my heart sing: “Spring Begins”.

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After the winter we have had, there could not be two more beautiful words put together than these. Say them out loud, but softly. I know that has to feel good. I also know that there are crocuses and snow drops somewhere under the foot of snow that seems to have been on the ground for more than a month. The tapped maple trees are only now dripping. Some warmer temperatures are hinting that, soon, I may not have to put my long johns on every morning. Drip – drip – drip the icicles are melting. The ice dams in my gutters will need quite a bit more time. And the mountains of pushed/plowed snow in the mall parking lots!? Maybe we can plan a climbing experience on them for our oldest groups this summer.

 
If words can make our heart all-aflutter, just imagine what getting outside, into spring, can do!

  • Take a walk and search for patches or peeks of green.
  • Say “welcome back” to the first flock of robins you see on a lawn. Clap and applaud for them.
  • At noon, turn sideways to the sun and enjoy the soothing warmth on your cheek. Now do a 180 and let the sunlight fall on the other cheek. Ahh…
  • Look at the ground for designs, patterns in parking lots, created by the alchemy of snow, ice, puddles, salt, warming temperatures.
  • Just stop and smell the warming air.
  • Go out at 7 am or earlier and listen to the very beginnings – like warming up/practicing – of a soon-to-be grand avian orchestra.
  • Choose to befriend a few buds on a low enough branch so kids can see and check on them every few days. Tie a piece of yarn or string on the branch where your buds are so you can easily find them again. In fact, make ‘buddies’ from different trees.
  • Plan a small garden, it could even be in a pot. Stores are displaying their seeds already.

A few examples of late winter’s ice and salt art Salt Art IMG_7200 Salt and Ice Rorschach