Posts

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.

img_1439

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.

img_1469

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

Staying Grounded

 

The only thing that is constant is change.
― Heraclitus

Our lives are full of change: climate, style, diet, opinion, music, expertise, technology, even our historical contexts…shifting sands at every turn. Nowhere, nowadays, is more in flux than the field of education, with parents and teachers facing a multimedia barrage of conventional and unconventional wisdoms on the care and feeding of happy, intelligent children. There’s the Core Curriculum, No Child Left Behind, Every Student Succeeds, A Nation at Risk, Race to the Top, and now STEM – science, technology, engineering and math. The Three R’s might not have served us all that well, but they at least had the virtue of simplicity, of not overthinking matters.

32 years ago, before I started The Nature Place, I visited some well-established day camps and asked their inveterate directors for advice. I was told, among other things, that access to computers was going to be essential; that awards, award ceremonies and trophies – especially trophies – were crucial; that my interest in a non-competitive environment was out of step – and might even be seen as ‘sissified’. On the contrary, I needed to have a full complement of sports programs, and camp would just not be camp without ‘color wars’, a combative week of partisan aggression that was an alleged favorite with the kids.   And a camp could not be financially stable without at least 500 campers, despite the potential for those numbers to make counseling the equivalent of crowd management.

I was advised to arrange rainy day contingencies with local movie theaters, to keep campers as happily dry and entertained as possible. And it would be prudent to include some academics, to reassure parents that the learning paradigm didn’t get lost in the summer shuffle. That last consideration has been steadily gaining traction lately: I understand some camps this summer will be weaving STEM concepts into their activities. We will also be weaving some stems this summer…the non-capitalized kind. 

You might wonder why I bothered to consult anyone, given that I eventually chose to ignore most of what these successful camp owners and directors told me. I really wasn’t being contrary or smug…I certainly didn’t suppose that I was the only one in the parade marching out of step. I was just following my instincts, not entirely confident that they would prove out. Gulp. In retrospect, whether I was bemused by naïveté or imbued by beginner’s mind, I decided to take my own counsel. Let’s just do it and see what happens.

Since then we’ve made many changes and adjustments — every year we re-examine our structure, our programming, our logistics. But even though we ask ourselves again and again whether we’re still doing what we set out to do, our philosophy hasn’t changed. The political scene, the cultural morass, the earth itself may be changing, but what we offer our campers seems to us to be…well, natural.

Ed, young, with troll

Even at a younger age Ed was hanging out with trolls…

Ed’s Corner

A short while ago, right after the first week of February, I heard from others that they saw blooming(!), on our campus both crocus and snowdrop flowers.

Someone else shared they saw a flock of robins. Now granted, the robin flock could have been around all winter, but still, my first thought upon hearing this news was: I don’t feel that winter has even begun. Do you have a similar feeling? (Although this past weekend gave us a cold, seasonal jolt).

Crocus

And for the last three weeks I have seen sapcicles hanging from branches and trunks of the maple trees lining the road in my neighborhood, a definite sign that the sap is moving – flowing – inside the maples! Cold nights and warmer days provide the stimulus for the sap to move, leaking out on warm days from small cuts in the bark or from fresh woodpecker holes or from branches where squirrels have chewed off the buds. This leaking sap then freezes into a sap icicle (sapcicle) during the night when it is colder and the sap stops dripping.

So what does all this mean for the upcoming maple sugaring season?! Some have already tapped a tree or two, and report that the sap is flowing freely. Will this be an early sugaring season? It sure looks like it – I just read last night that Adirondack sugaring operations have begun tapping, collecting and boiling – more than a month earlier than usual. Traditionally, we tap our trees sometime between the third week of February and the second week of March. But with the recent cold (or ‘normal’ winter) temperatures we’ve had, and then the sudden warming of weather, the time to tap is now!

138044 CLIFFSIDE PARK, NJ MAPLE SUGARING DEMONSTARTION 2-25-15 Ed and Daniel Bieber of The Nature Place Day Camp demonstrated maple sugaring at the Cliffside Park Public Library on Feb. 25, 2015. KRYSTI SABINS/FREELANCE PHOTOGRAPHER

Ed and Daniel thinking, “Oh, please let the sap drip!” CLIFFSIDE PARK, NJ MAPLE SUGARING DEMONSTARTION 2-25-15 Ed and Daniel Bieber of The Nature Place Day Camp demonstrated maple sugaring at the Cliffside Park Public Library on Feb. 25, 2015. KRYSTI SABINS/FREELANCE PHOTOGRAPHER

If you are a backyard tapper and have everything you need, go for it. Tap – if you haven’t already – your tree(s) now that the day time temperatures are more or less above freezing, and the night time temperatures below that mark.

And if you are waiting until March 5th (our maple sugaring programs!) to become a backyard maple syrup maker, it will be fine to tap at that time, also. Maybe you would have missed the beginning of the season, but don’t worry, there is plenty to go around.

Ed’s Corner

Listening to the Sun

Every year around mid-January I begin to feel that the sunlight has a different quality about it, compared to, say, a month ago. It could be that there’s more of it: in January we gain 1.5 – 2 minutes of sunlight each day, during February we add 2.5 minutes daily. But what I feel in the sunlight seems more related to quality rather than to quantity. The light seems to call to me to get outside, into nature; to take in and partake in the slow reawakening of the natural world.

Being outside in nature at this time of year offers a quiet, slower-paced environment to explore, with or without snow. A prolonged stillness as we head toward the Vernal Equinox.

Beginning sun

Yet within the feelings of stillness and quiet bestowed by the woods in January there is tremendous movement occurring, just outside the scope of what we can observe. Movement within the earth is already brewing to bring forth the snow drops and crocuses of late winter, and the actual movement of our earth rotating through space is adding time and luster to the sun’s rays each day. Even when we are still, we are anything but! Consider some of the things that the earth – with us upon it – is doing:

* spinning around, once in 24 hours, making day and night
* revolving, orbiting the sun, one complete orbit called a year
* spinning around the center of our galaxy, the Milky Way, where we are located in one of it’s ‘arms’
* our solar system moving along with our Milky Way galaxy as it speeds through space
* and presumably on and on…

It makes me dizzy just trying to think about it. Dramamine anyone?

Imagine that the earth’s movements listed above had audible sounds connected with them! This time of year would be anything but quiet. Perhaps we’d think of winter as that special season when our world gets quiet enough for us to hear the music of the spheres.

Brightest

Ed’s Corner

Making Winter Buddies

We’re at the dark turn of the year, awaiting the Winter Solstice (the night between December 21st and 22nd) and after that the return of the light, when the sun will be ‘up’ a little bit longer each day. When I walk by the now naked trees and look closely at the branches I’m reminded that they may be devoid of leaves but certainly not the buds we can find along and usually at the ends of most branches. Inside these buds are the flowers and leaves that will ‘be’ next spring. They too are waiting all winter for the warmer, light-filled days of spring. When I’m with children outdoors we sometimes refer to them as packets of promise.

Buds

Now some buds, depending on the kind of tree they are on, will contain just the leaves, some only the flowers, others will have both.
Different buds will have different shapes, colors and be of different sizes. They serve as good guides in identifying winter trees.

Now would be a good time to venture out-of-doors and find some ‘buddies’. Go to a few different kinds of trees and choose some buds that you can check on, be aware of or look in on, whenever you go outdoors. Be patient, not much will be happening for a while but when it does happen, it will feel like magic, a promise fulfilled.

How will you know which are your buds? I like to tag or mark them with a colored piece of yarn or string tied around the branch and on or right next to my buds. You might think of other ways to mark your buds so that you can easily find them.

buddies

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.

IMG_6564
IMG_6597

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?

Burning Bush

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