Week 1 Letter, 2015
This Friday letter is the first of six weekly letters I will send you at the end of each of our six weeks of camp.
Through these Friday letters I hope to share with you some of the camp happenings of the week just ending as well as a look forward to the coming week.
But here I must stop and tell you what is happening in the net cage on the corner of my desk. The Monarch caterpillars we have been raising have climbed to the top of the cage; secured themselves to the net or branch by way of a web-like bond and are hanging head-down, curled up in a letter ‘J’ shape.
This is the prelude to the chrysalid (similar to a cocoon) stage. What the campers will see next week will be one of nature’s most exquisite designs: the uniquely shaped pale green Monarch chrysalis, with a ring of gold dots at one end, almost like a crown.
You may have heard from your camper that the Monarch butterfly is one of the ongoing themes of our summer: we look for their eggs underneath milkweed leaves; we collect milkweed leaves – the only plant that the caterpillar eats – to feed them; we watch the tremendous growth of the caterpillars; observe them shedding; pooping (a lot!); keep an eye out for them during our outings – at camp and in Harriman Park; learn why they are endangered and ways in which we can help them. i.e. raising them, planting milkweed gardens, using less pesticides and herbicides. The Monarch – it’s beauty, role in nature, the fantastic story of it’s annual migration to Mexico – even comes into play, in funny ways, during our daily Morning Shares, in art, drama, music, and more.
I know this is letter is not supposed to be a treatise on a butterfly, but allow me one more tangent. Some say it’s a miracle, mysterious, beyond our knowing. What I’m referring to here is what will happen once the caterpillars are encased within their chrysalids: the caterpillar changes into a butterfly! In goes one kind of animal, out comes a totally different kind – with wings, to boot!
Campers’ Quotoable Quotes
“An expectation is something you expect someone to do, for example, I expect everyone to be able to stick their fingers in the dirt without crying. Unless they have a golden nail, then I understand.”
“I need some help putting my socks outside in.”
“I am the king of bendable straws!”
“Chicken is the answer to everything.”
The day after the last quote was said we found a big, beautiful, mottled-orange mushroom growing at the base of a tree. It’s name? Chicken mushroom. Guess what it’s supposed to taste like after cooking it. Yep. Chicken!
The theme of this past week was ‘Taking Care’, and that concept was woven throughout our activities.
Here’s a little run down on some activity areas:
Outragehiss Pets – campers saw, touched and learned about such animals as a chuckwalla lizard, a rabbit, fire salamander, stick bug and a black snake that had met Madonna. (I have to find out more about this last part!)
At the farm we said hello to the cows, saw how milk was made/pasturized, picked currants and looked in on the long, long rows of vegetables, some of which we will be harvesting the 6th week of camp; held baby chicks, felt how the sheep’s wool felt a little oily because of the lanolin the sheep made – it’s good for rain protection; played Farm Bingo, where campers had to look for such things as an apple tree, farm animal poop, sheep, poison ivy, a farmer, milkweed, lemon clover, tractor, honeybee, electric fence, barn, bales of hay and more.
The famous Nature Place Trolls started to show themselves (looking especially festive in anticipation of our fourth week of camp, Troll Rendezvous week).
In cooking, campers made, and of course tasted, delicious home-made ice cream.
Explorations of solar energy included campers making sun prints.
Some campers were amazed when they dug up baby oak trees growing in the sand box
(above which is an old oak tree) in order to replant them, to find an acorn below the ground out of which were growing the roots and stem. Only then did many of them realize that an acorn is a seed!
At the chickens campers washed eggs, explored – walking quietly and slowly – inside the beautiuful new chicken coop, and of course, spent quiet moments holding ‘their’ chicken.
Hobby choices this past week included: wild food foraging, worry stones, mucking, chickens, improv, everybody needs a rock; dream catchers, making herb soda, magic, wrap it and pack it, archery, woodworking, climbing, circus, and music.
Campers love our non-competitive games program, which this week focused on fun (of course), as well as initiative kinds of activities in which campers got to know each other. One that everyone loved was Keep It Up, using a large beach ball. The Happy Salmon Shake is a games greeting that’s making it’s way quickly around camp.
In the garden campers had a gourmet taste, touch and smell sensation tour. They enhanced the flavor of their water by adding ingredients from the garden such as mint. Three kinds, in fact: peppermint, spearmint and apple mint. Other tasting experiences included sour sorrel, sweet and tart currants, fennel (tastes like black licorice), rainbow chard, carrot tops, sugar snap peas, dill and cilantro. Campers got to see the beginnings of food they’ll have a chance to eat later: cucumbers, carrots, green beans and tomatoes. They got to see where food scraps go and what they turn into – compost.
The swim staff was very busy, getting to know the campers, learning where they are in terms of swimming skills and abilities, doing the deep water test and starting lessons with the front crawl.
Art was busy collecting natural materials with the campers, making wind chimes, creating from the natural beauty all around us.
The climbing tree challenged campers – safely – to make it to the top, while being supported and cheered on from below by the instructor and fellow campers.
Storytelling – Chuck Stead is always one of our favorites. This week he told a story called Fish Dream. Part of the story was based on a quote from Chuck’s friend, Ricky Cramshaw, “Talking about doing nothing is the same as doing nothing”.
Some campers worked on their outdoor skills and identifying wild foods that are available at this time of year.
Day hikes have begun and it was quite amazing to witness two groups of campers ‘Still Hunting’ for a full ten minutes on the top of Long Mountain in Harriman Park – sitting still, not talking, senses open, listening to the earth, the mountains, the sky, ourselves. It was beautiful!
The camping department began our camping program with two on-site overnights at camp and a backpacking trip up in Harriman.
Next week’s theme is ‘Stumped’. Of course there will be real tree stumps for the campers to decorate and use as a base for projects.
Bill Robinson and his winged and scaled animals begin the week for us. ‘Stumped’ also is a springboard to discovering things we never knew about before and I bet Bill will have some animal questions that we never even thought about.
One group next week will be doing trail work at Bear Mountain under the auspices of the New York-New JerseyTrail Conference.
There are also four day hikes planned, three camping on-sites and three canoe/camping adventures at Cedar Pond in Harriman.
This letter is getting long, I know. There is so much I would love to share with you – how great our staff is, what’s happening in music and drama, daily snacks, our organic hot lunch option, some of the characters your campers get to meet during Morning Share, etc. There’s always next Friday.
One last thing. This year is our camp’s 30th Anniversary at Green Meadow. On Saturday, August 1st, we have invited back staff from the last 30 years for an afternoon of games, memories, BBQ and fun.
We have asked them, if they want, to send in a camp memory or something they learned from The Nature Place or what the camp has meant to them.
To end this letter I would like to share part of one of these responses that just arrived.
“My summers at The Nature Place taught me many things. They instilled feelings of connection, love, and wonder towards nature that have only grown stronger. Today, I continue to seek the outdoors obsessively, embrace the rain at any opportunity, and spend far too much money on backpacking equipment. Practical outdoors skills learned at camp combined with the philosophical ones, and I can proudly say my first high school backpacking trips with friends were to the Harriman State Park shelters I remembered from those summers. I even recall linking nervous friends to your packing lists to be sure they’d be prepared.”
“As I pursue my Natural Resource Ecology major at the beautiful University of Vermont, I wonder how different my life would be had I not spent six weeks a year at a camp in Chestnut Ridge. The fires with friends, started with skills I learned there. The idle napkin ropes I make at restaurants, weaved with natural-fiber techniques I was taught on an “overnight adventure”. The introduction to the amazing hobby of multi-night outdoor adventuring, from backpacking to canoeing–which I was taught to treat as an wonder-filled exploration, not a competitive race.”
“I could go on and on about the things I learned: gardening, archery, cooking, music, farming–the list goes for ages. I recall hours spent wading in streams, constructing elaborate dams made of mud, stones, and skunk cabbage. But I also fondly remember the freezing of the skit characters, the legendary Jurassic Park: The Hobby, Thurston jumping in on his springboard, and hanging on to Chuck Stead’s every word. Most importantly of all, I continue to live my life with a certain phrase in my mind: “Open your mind and say, ‘Ahhhhhh’.”
“Thank you Nature Place. You changed my life forever.”
Thanks for a great first week.