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Click for a Cause!

Help the Pfeiffer Center get considered for a major grant to expand Neighbor to Neighbor!

Neighbor to Neighbor is an after-school program where students from a local public middle school work, play, and grow food and community, with Green Meadow High School students and the Pfeiffer Center gardeners.

Each summer, six of these middle school students are then able to attend The Nature Place, where the sense of community deepens, and many often return to us as staff down the road.

Please, help us further connect kids to each other and to the land through this exciting opportunity.

Visit www.pfeifferkids.org, and please vote for our project every day through May 12.

Many, many thanks!

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Listening to the Land

Chuck Stead, our beloved camp storyteller, recounts a day spent coping with the floods of spring and learning an important lesson.

After the winter thaw, there come spring showers. They are gentle and deceptive and very inviting. The thing is, the earth is still saturated with a soaking from melted winter thaw, and spring showers have no place to go but over land, downhill. By the third week in the month, vernal ponds and freshets emerge all across the woodlands and eventually make their way into neighborhoods, flooding yards and seeping into basements. This is the soaking that brings forth a celebration of life, but it can also undermine the concrete and stone beneath our houses.

freshet

Uncle Mal had us kids (Me, Ricky Cramshaw, and Cindy Maloney) climb into the back of his International Pick-Up truck, where we found three red rubber buckets and three oversized sponges. He told us we were on a mission of good will and that we were to be rewarded with ice cream at Hagedorn’s Soda Shop. We drove down Fourth Street, over the Thruway Bridge, across the railroad tracks, and onwards to Suffern. We sat against the back of the cab and waved at the people driving behind us, as we watched the red buckets roll around in the truck bed. As you drive into the Village of Suffern, the road wraps around Nordkoff Mountain, takes you under an over pass, up Wayne Avenue, and under another over pass. Each time we drove under one of these, we looked up and watched the pigeons sail about just under the massive steel girders. The air along the road was a sweet mixture of early spring fragrance laced with concrete dust and a dank iron odor. Uncle Mal pulled the truck into a short yard that had a steep driveway dropping off toward Lake Antrim. We climbed out of the truck and found we were at the home of Mrs. Sutherland. Mal handed us each one of the buckets and one of the big sponges. We then followed him to the front door where he knocked twice and then opened the door and called out her name, “Mrs. Sutherland, we’re here!”

She came from the back room kitchen. She was a smallish woman who looked as if she didn’t want company. She was shaking her head and staring at us. I could not guess her age as she seemed older to look at but was younger to listen to. She said, “Oh, now look at this crew. What are they up to?”

Uncle Mal said, “We’re going to take a look at that big puddle in the basement and figure out where it’s coming from.”

She looked up at Mal and said, “Oh now I can’t have these kids getting all dirty down there in that old basement.”

Mal said, “Maybe you can’t, but I can!” Before she could protest he pushed his way past her and had us follow him into the kitchen, through a door and down a set of plank steps. We arrived in a basement that was walled in concrete and stone and only partially floored in concrete, with the rest being the dirt. Half the floor was covered in water which was the color of cocoa. Mal took up a mop and bucket with a double roller ringer on it that was sitting at the edge of the big puddle. He started sloshing it around, soaking up the cocoa colored water and ringing it out into the bucket, which he quickly filled. He told us to wait until he got most of the water out and then we were to sponge up the rest. He dumped out four buckets full of water before we could get started. He had us pat the floor water with the sponge, which caused the water to soak quickly.

Mal went back upstairs to talk with Mrs. Sutherland while we, down on our knees, continued our work. We kept getting little bits of grit, stones, and sand soaked up with the water, and our bucket mixture looked darker than the water Mal had mopped up. It was hard, dirty work, but it didn’t take all that long. Mal came clamoring back down the plank steps and was very pleased to see that we had completed the task. He then got down on his own knees and studied a seam in the floor right along the edge of the concrete. He pulled out a flashlight from his baggy trousers and scrutinized the seam with the light beam. He looked back at us and said, “That’s where it’s coming through. Only thing to do is seal off the rest of this floor.”

We went outside and dumped our buckets while Uncle Mal explained what he had discovered to Mrs. Sutherland, who was now smoking a cigarette by her back door. She thanked us and told us we were good workers. We walked back to the truck, and I noticed that down the narrow driveway there was an old open garage that was full of interesting looking stuff. But it was time to go. We climbed back into the truck and Mal rode us into the town.

At Hagedorn’s I ordered Vanilla, Ricky order Chocolate, and Cindy got Strawberry. Uncle Mal got a cup of coffee and drank it without any milk in it. He told us that Mrs. Sutherland’s husband had passed away and that he and a couple of fellows were going to fix up her basement, because it leaked every spring and sometimes again in the summer. I said I didn’t think Ricky, Cindy, and I had been of much help and Mal said, “Well what do you want me to do, take the ice cream back?”

Ricky said, “No!”

Cindy said, “All’s we did was sponge up some water and you probably could have done it faster than us anyway.”

Mal thought about this and nodded, “Well, maybe I could’ve…” he said. He sipped his coffee and then said to us, “But you see, you kids got to learn something about the old ways. You see, we’re a people of the land. And we act according to what the land is doing. It’s cold and freezes and we got to cope with it; it gets warm and floods and we got to cope with that. And some people, they don’t cope as well as others. So you got to pay attention to the land and it will tell you when you need to go out and help those who need the help. You see, it ain’t us against the land, it’s just us listening to what the land has got to tell us.”

We finished our ice dream and uncle Mal paid the bill. He turned around on his swivel stools and he said, “The world is changing and I think the old way of listening to the land is being forgotten.”

And even though we really had no idea what he was talking about, we promised him that we would never forget it. Mostly I think we promised this because the ice cream was good.

Strawberries Do Not Grow in Snow

 

Strawberries don’t grow in January. Certainly not in my garden or anywhere nearby.

Still, I can buy them on any given day and enjoy my morning yogurt with strawberries, even in deep winter. Unless, of course, I have made a decision to eat seasonally whenever possible…

The idea of eating locally and seasonally may seem like one of the new trends in our food culture, a choice made by those who understand the environmental, economical and health impacts of our food-related decisions. Ironically, it is also an option reserved only for those who can afford it.

Of course, local and seasonal eating is not a new invention at all. It is how people had eaten for millennia before the birth of modern agriculture, factory farming and extensive global trade. It never was a choice, it was simply a way of life, the one and only option for most of humanity.

For those who have to live and eat with the season without having any other alternative, the idea of strawberries in January may sound like a passage from one of my favorite fairy tales, that of The Twelve Months.

In this story, a gentle-hearted stepdaughter is sent in January to the forest to bring back strawberries. Her stepmother is hoping that she will never return. It is cold and the snow on the mountain is deep. But the girl keeps walking until she comes to a clearing.  What follows is a very powerful image that stayed with me well beyond my childhood years: There is a large fire burning and twelve men are sitting on stones around the fire; twelve men in a circle, from very young to very old. They are the personified months. An old man, the great January, is sitting on the highest stone, holding a wand in his hand. After hearing the girl’s story, January says the obvious: “Strawberries do not grow in snow.” Then he stands up, gives his place and his wand to a much younger man, June. June takes a seat on the highest rock, waves the wand above the fire and the snow starts to melt, the trees blossom, birds sing, and strawberries appear under the bushes….

When we choose to eat locally and seasonally as much as possible, beyond all the good rational reasons that lead to this decision we, I believe, also express some intangible, primordial longing for simplicity and a more transparent life. Life and time measured by the rhythm of nature just feels safe and comforting. A seasonal, local meal is so much more than sustenance, it is a story of the place, its climate and its people. Wanting to be part of that story seems just natural.

But what does the seasonal eater do when she craves a fresh vegetable salad in February? Fresh, seasonal salad at this time of the year sounds like an oxymoron. Luckily, the humble roots can save the day.

Even before refrigeration, there was the root cellar where carrots, turnips, beets, parsnips, potatoes, and other root vegetables and tubers were kept fresh through the winter months. Like an underground treasure chest, it kept the produce safe from frost and provided the right humidity to preserve its freshness.

Let’s bring up some beets, carrots and apples from our imaginary root cellar and make a simple, truly down-to-earth salad.

Beets, being a true child of Mother Earth, taste, I imagine, like the soil that nourishes them.  I like to say that they carry the flavor of the earth, but not everyone thinks highly of their flavor. Please give them a chance. In this salad, they are in the right company and they shine. Even those who tend to say “no, thank you” to beets might reconsider. The earthiness of beets and carrots, along with their natural sweetness, is balanced in this recipe with the pleasant tang of lemon juice. It only takes one bite of a crisp, tart apple piece for the whole combination to come to life. Feel free to add a handful of raisins, especially if you think their addition will make the salad more appealing to children.

Savor the season. Enjoy winter’s bounty.

Beets!

Winter’s Bounty Salad
3 cups grated beets (about 4 small to medium beets)
1 ½ cups grated carrots (about 4 medium carrots)
1 large, crisp, tart apple, cubed
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice or to taste
1 teaspoon olive oil
handful of raisins (optional)

Combine grated beets, carrots and chunks of apple. Add olive oil and lemon juice. Mix gently. Sprinkle with raisins, if using.

 

Eva Szigeti operates Pinebrook Garden Day Care, child-care centered around hands-on homesteading activities and free creative play. She also offers cooking and fiber craft classes for children and programs for homeschoolers.  For the past three summers Eva has been teaching cooking at The Nature Place Day Camp.

Ed’s Corner

Looking for Maples in Cliffside Park

Quick. What state, city, town or geographic region do you immediately think of if someone (like me, right now) says to you “Maple Syrup”?

I’ll bet not many of you said “Cliffside Park, New Jersey”, four miles from the George Washington Bridge.
Maples through a glass, darkly

Maples through a glass, darkly

For the last three years we have been going out to libraries in the metro area to present our Maple Sugaring program. Some of the program is indoors, learning about the history of making maple syrup and the biology of maple trees. It’s interesting to learn about those kinds of things but the most important, critical part of the program is going outdoors and tapping a real maple tree. So, this means we have to scout out the library grounds before the library can even advertise the event. No maple, no program.

On one recent scouting mission to the Cliffside Park Public Library I met the animated, welcoming librarian who had contacted us and we both went outside looking. We first crossed the street in front of the library to a very tiny park, surrounded on all sides by roads, but beautiful. And trees we found!: Sugar Maple, Silver Maple, Norway Maple. And we knew that the temperature was warm enough for the sap to be flowing/moving  inside at least the Silver Maple. How? Looking to the top of this tree we found two of the cutest squirrels, sitting most comfortably on different thin branches, ignoring us, leisurely licking and sucking the sap from places where they had chewed off the buds or where there may already have been a cut or wound. As we watched them we looked up beyond the tree tops and saw a beautiful rainbow in the sky! A better ‘sign’ one could not wish for.

The good news – yes, there are maple trees. the bad news – they are in a public park. And we want to stay away from political entanglements. Although the promise of maple syrup could sweeten any town council member’s heart – and palate.

So to the back of the library we went and found, on library property, a large Norway Maple. The Sugar Maple tree gives the sweetest sap (thus its name) but the Norway Maple will do just fine. This tree, located behind the library, also will keep the bucket on the tree away more from the public eye. We will arrange with the librarian’s help to designate some local families to keep an eye on the bucket, gather the sap, boil it down to syrup at home. Then at the end of Maple time when the sap stops dripping, to remove the spout from the tree, do nothing to the hole, it will heal by itself.

 

Winter weather shapes
In my winter outings I am consistently surprised by just looking at what’s in front of me. What seems like a lot of white snow, salt, and ice at first glance can provide just as rich a template for discovery as a green summer’s day.

This bear reflects in a hand-held mirror while stepping on to her circus ball

This bear reflects in a hand-held mirror while stepping onto her circus ball

 

This hungry sock puppet eats a meatball

This hungry sock puppet eats a meatball