Ed’s Corner

The Fifth Season

Well, we all know we have winter, spring, summer and fall, but did you know there
is a fifth season? It’s Sugaring Time. Coming right between winter and spring, it can last for 2 weeks or close to two months.

It’s all dependent on the weather. Cold nights and warmer days are what’s needed for the buckets on our maple trees to fill with the clear, sweet liquid we call ‘sap’. We then boil the sap until it turns into that amber aristocrat of all sweets – maple syrup!

I hope you can make one of the two maple sugaring programs we will be offering this Saturday, February 24th. The purpose of the program is to give you enough information to identify a maple tree, show you how to ‘tap’ it, how to collect the sap, and how to boil it down to maple syrup. Each family will take home a sheet of instructions and your very own spout.

Sugaring is a great family activity – everyone can get involved in some way and the syrup you’ll make will be the best syrup you’ve ever tasted in your life!

Looking forward to seeing you as we celebrate our fifth season.

In the February Thaw

Chuck Stead, our beloved camp storyteller, continues his story from last month, about mysterious happenings in the Ramapo mountains…

There had been an early February thaw long enough that most of the snow had melted off and there was a lot of critter movement. Groundhogs, also known as woodchucks, had come out and wandered about, staring at their shadow in the bright winter sunshine. Then they went back into their dens, because seeing their shadow meant winter would last another six weeks. But if it is a long mid-winter thaw, the groundhogs hang out for a few days and poke around for something to eat. Deer mice come out and hurry about looking for food with no fear of snakes, as the snakes don’t travel far from their winter dens. The mice do need to keep a watch out for raccoons, foxes, coyotes, weasels and hawks—but at least not the snakes. Raccoons and skunks take long naps in the cold weather; not quite hibernating, but long enough to make them very hungry when they come out from time to time. Trappers of these animals bait their traps with oil of anisette, which smells like licorice and is a delicious attraction for hungry coons and skunks.

Geoff Masters went walking along beneath one of the terraces of Torne Mountain to ‘freshen’ up a few traps with some lore he carried in an eye-drop bottle. It was a mixture of anisette, tea tree oil, and skunk urine. The coon population was very much on the rise, so he was doing his best to capture and kill as many of them as he could. The fur was worth as much as $15 an animal, and the meat was the secret ingredient for the Ramapo Burgers, cooked up at his cousin’s Burger Shack. It was the second day of a February thaw and it was early, just past sunrise, when Geoff came around a clutch of boulders along the south slope of the ridge, and nearly walked headlong into a man coming from the other direction. They were both startled and they both stepped back and stared for a moment. This man wore a canvas backpack and was carrying a wooden handle with a curious metal hook at the end of it. The man smiled and said something about it being a nice day for a hike. Geoff agreed and they walked past each other.

But Geoff only went a few feet and then hunkered down and waited behind a large egg-shaped boulder. He feared that this man was a trap stealer and that his curious stick with the hook on it was what he used to snap up the traps he stole. So, after a few minutes, Geoff followed back to track the man. But as he came around the place where they first met, he saw that this man had not gone on down the trail, but instead had gone up the cliff side. Geoff followed up the cliff just a bit and then, out above him, he saw the man setting up a little place, and then proceeding to sit down and watch the broken load of rocks, with the sun on his back.

Later, Geoff said to Uncle Mal at the paint shop, “Mal, I spied on this fellow for at least half an hour and all he did was sit and watch those rocks.”

Mal said, “Was he crazy?”

Geoff shook his head and said, “Except for the watching the rocks thing, he seemed sane enough.”

Me and Ricky where listening to the two men talk about this from where we sat on a heap of canvas drop sheets petting Old Mike, the Shop Dog. Ricky said, “Uncle Mal, how could you tell if a fella was crazy?”

Mal said, “By his behavior, by the way he acts.”
“My Gram says, one man’s crazy is another man’s normal.”
Mal looked down at him and said, “Your grandmother talks to trees so I don’t think she’s a good judge of crazy.”

“She says crazy is something only people can be, animals don’t go in for being crazy.”
Geoff laughed at this. He said, “She’s got a point there.”
Ricky looked into Old Mike’s fuzzy, black face and said, “You ain’t much crazy, Mike!”

Mal said, “Yes sir, the old lady’s right about that. Crazy is something we humans take credit for.”
He then looked at Geoff and said, “But I wonder if this here fellow sitting up on those rocks in the thaw ain’t watching for snakes…”

“Snakes?” Geoff said, “Why would a man watch for snakes in February?”
Mal shrugged and said, “I don’t know, but last month the boys found a froze-up black snake down by the river and that don’t seem right either. You think this fellow might have something to do with that?”

Geoff shook his head and said, “I don’t see how the one thing is connected to the other.”
Ricky looked up and said, “My Gram says everything is connected to the other.”
Mal said, “And she’s the woman who talks to trees, boy!”

And Ricky said, “She likes the oak trees and says they’re the smartest. Pine are serious and the Birch are silly.”

Mal shook his head and told us to go out and talk to some trees. We did, but I couldn’t help to wonder if he wanted us out of there so they could talk some more about this mysterious stranger, up in the mountain staring at snake dens.

Medicinal, Magnificent Mugwort

Wild food forager Paul Tappenden suggests the manifold manifestations of Mugworts medicinal magic!

After a day of heavy work, I was awoken several times throughout the night with leg cramps. Ordinarily, when I suffer from muscle cramps or pains, rubbing a Mugwort salve that I keep next to my bedside into the offending area generally puts a stop to the problem. However, when my body is particularly stressed, as on this particular night, it requires a more heavy-duty approach. At times like that, I may make a large pot of Mugwort tea, pour it into a hot bath, and luxuriate in the relaxing, aromatic liquid.

Another approach is to make some Mugwort tea and simply drink it. This is what I did throughout the day following the bad cramping. That night, I didn’t have a single problem with cramps and, as a bonus, I had very clear dreams. As well as being high in magnesium, Mugwort is calming and relaxing and kills intestinal parasites.

Mugwort has been considered a sacred herb by many over the centuries. In addition to the properties I’ve already mentioned, it can be used as a smudging herb, which when burnt, can kill 98 percent of airborne bacteria.

So, the next time you’re pulling that pesky Mugwort out of your yard or community garden, stop to consider the powers it possesses. You just might have a cure you’ve been searching for right in your hands.

Dandelion Root Recipes

Wild food forager Paul Tappenden shares a few creative ways he loves to use dandelion root in regular cooking. You may be surprised at just how versatile this pervasive plant is.

I’ve found many different uses for Dandelions during my time as a forager. Each part of the plant, from the flower to the root, has several purposes—from wines, to dyes, to foods and medicines.

The root is unquestionably the most versatile part. I’ve often written about how I grind and roast the roots to make a tasty coffee substitute, but the same ground roots can also be used in other ways. A few years ago, I reconstituted some in a gravy, adding chopped onion, garlic and herbs, to create a substitute for minced beef. It worked so well, that I have made it several times since, refining my recipe each time.

I’ve used my fake chop meat in pasta sauces, chilis, stuffed peppers and pastry fillings. I’ve even combined it with egg and acorn flour to create faux meatballs. By adding other textures. like acorn grits, ground Maitaki mushrooms, or mashed lentils, the texture and flavor can be adjusted.

I find clean straight roots, I put them aside. Once I have a few, I take a potato peeler and cut the roots into long strips, which I dehydrate and reconstitute in a sauce. I then semi-dehydrate the flavored roots until they have a texture like jerky. Again, it took several tries to get it just right, but now it is an oft-requested munchy.

Another popular dish, is my wild, vegan version of Jamaican patties, using curried dandelion-root-filling in an acorn crust. Whenever I take some to an event, they disappear rapidly.  Not only are they tasty, but they are organic, non-GMO and full of nutrition.

Ed’s Corner

This is the time of year where we have the shortest daylight. It’s gray. It’s rainy. There’s not enough snow yet to make it feel brighter, prettier, seasonal. Some people experience a condition called SAD – Seasonal Affective Disorder – in the winter months, due to a lack of light. Special lamps are sold for people to sit under each day, which mimic the sun’s light. Reports lead me to believe they work!

This year, there are other reasons to be sad besides SAD. The news provides us with plenty of fodder to feel down, full of angst, stressed out, wondering what might be the truth…

But have hope! There is truth and tranquility to be be found when you are out in nature. And wherever you are, nature is not very far from you. Natural winter delights and verities are all around us:

* A beautiful snowstorm that transforms the sharp corners of the world
* If you tap trees, it’s time to get ready for maple sugaring
* By mid-January, you will feel – some days – a warmth in the air. The quality of the daylight will begin to feel different
* The sun rises in the morning and sets at night. This seems trivial but did you ever think about how it happens each and every day, without fail, and we can depend on it?
* How wonderful a fire feels and smells on a cold day

You can find your own truths out of doors. Forget the news for a while. It’s time for a nature break.

Ed’s Corner

Walking recently in the crisp Fall air, with multi-colored leaves crunching underfoot, I was struck, as I often am, by the undeniable truth that surrounds us in nature. As I walked, the lyrics of Malvina Reynold’s 1964 folk song, “God Bless the Grass”, came slowly out of the recesses of my memory. I thought I’d share them with you here:

God Bless the Grass

God bless the grass that grows thru the crack.
They roll the concrete over it to try and keep it back.
The concrete gets tired of what it has to do,
It breaks and it buckles and the grass grows thru,
And God bless the grass.

God bless the truth that fights toward the sun,
They roll the lies over it and think that it is done.
It moves through the ground and reaches for the air,
And after a while it is growing everywhere,
And God bless the grass.

God bless the grass that grows through cement.
It’s green and it’s tender and it’s easily bent.
But after a while it lifts up its head,
For the grass is living and the stone is dead,
And God bless the grass.

God bless the grass that’s gentle and low,
Its roots they are deep and its will is to grow.
And God bless the truth, the friend of the poor,
And the wild grass growing at the poor man’s door,
And God bless the grass.

Black Walnut Riches

Wild food forager Paul Tappenden describes the ways he makes the most of this sure sign of autumn.

Every fall, beginning in mid-September, I gather the black walnuts that litter the ground like green and black tennis balls all around our neighborhood. I try to gather the green ones, as they are less likely to contain the ubiquitous husk maggots. I remove the husks (usually by rolling them underfoot until the husks split) and put the nuts on a tray to dry them out, either in a low oven or in my dehydrator. After the initial drying I leave them sitting on a wire rack, to cure for about six weeks. Around Thanksgiving time they are ready to use.

To make use of the husks, I put them into a large bucket and pour on hot water. After a while, the water turns a deep, blackish brown. I pour it through a strainer into a second bucket, then use it to dye clothes or to stain wood. It makes the best tie dye effects.

Once the nuts have cured, I begin using them in my recipes. If I need nuts in my pastries, I’ll use either hickory nuts or black walnuts (or both), secure in the thought that they are fresh and haven’t been irradiated, like so many commercial nuts. Besides, black walnuts taste great!

The most challenging part is opening these tough shelled nuts. I use a strong knife and a hammer to split them in two, and then some snippers to remove the remaining shells (see below).

I encourage you to explore the many uses of one of nature’s many autumnal gifts.

Maple Sugaring at The Nature Place

On a particularly frigid March 4th we tapped maple trees during two sugaring programs. While the cold kept the usual hordes at bay, many brave maple fans came out to learn all about how to tap trees, collect and boil sap, and to enjoy thick, sweet syrup over crushed ice, accompanied by a dill pickle.

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Early Signs of Spring

Wild food forager Paul Tappenden describes how to spot one of nature’s first signs of spring (not an edible sign!)

Last Wednesday, we had almost spring-like weather (before the big blizzard hit and turned the world into Narnia). We knew the snow was coming and so took the opportunity to take a walk in the woods. Since it’s February, we were pretty sure that we’d find the early flowers of the skunk cabbage, popping up through the marshy ground. We weren’t disappointed.

It is a funny thing about skunk cabbage flowers: at first they are hard to spot, but then once you’ve found one, others begin to appear, until you see them coming up everywhere. Each bloom is unique, ranging in color from deep maroon to combinations of red, yellow, and green.

Skunk Cabbage 1

At the moment, the flowers are resting under the snow. However, these plants are thermogenic, and are capable of raising their temperatures considerably, melting the snow that surrounds them. They will soon be peeking out of the holes they make. At that point, they are really easy to spot.

Anyone coming across these strange, exotic creatures for the first time may wonder whether they landed here from another planet. However, after a few weeks, the flowers fade away and the bouquets of green cabbage-like leaves appear. Don’t be fooled by their luscious appearance. They are not edible.  Seconds after putting a piece of the plant into your mouth, it is like having a mouthful of hot needles. Rather, enjoy them for the beautiful things they are – a feast for the eyes and for the soul.

Skunk Cabbage 2

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.”