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Ed’s Corner

Originally published on March, 20 2018

Well…it’s here! Happy First Official Day of Spring! Here’s a poem by Harriet Prescott Spofford that I always enjoy rustling out of my collection around this time of year. She writes:

“Under the snow drifts
the blossoms are sleeping
Dreaming their dreams of sunshine and June.
Down in the hush of their quiet they’re keeping
trills from the throstle’s wild summer-sung tune.”

Isn’t it perfect for this time of year? I like to think of myself as one of those blossoms. I often find myself daydreaming of sunshine and June and, of course, the start of camp, as the clocks change and daylight hours stretch longer and longer, but that spring-time warmth is still elusive. I keep the summer-song of the thrushes (did you know that ‘throstle’ is an old-fashioned word for a song thrush) close to my heart and as summer gets closer, I look for the early signs that it is near.

On top of dreaming about summer, our year-round crew has been busy preparing for it; excitedly working to bring our 33rd Nature Place summer to you. This week, we’re down at the American Camp Association’s Tri-State Camp Conference in Atlantic City–the largest gathering of camp professionals in the world!–where we’ll take workshops, expand our horizons, and spend time with other camp folks dedicated to spreading the joy of the camp experience.

If our excitement for summer was enough to melt the snow drifts and awaken the sleeping blossoms, Spring would have sprung long ago.

Equinox

Wild food forager Paul Tappenden, reminds us what plants to look out for as the season changes…

Spring is upon us, and I, for one, couldn’t be happier. During the past couple of weeks, I’ve seen many signs of my plant friends coming back to life, not to mention all the spring bulbs that are sprouting and flowering in our front yard.

I’ve already paid several visits to the woods to photograph the Skunk Cabbage flowers, and noticed the young Watercress plants coming up in the marshland pools. I’ve seen patches of Snowdrops, with their elegant drooping blossoms and young Stinging Nettle leaves unfurling. It won’t be long before the Spring beauties will begin to appear, followed by the Trout Lilies. This is a very exciting time of year for those of us who love nature.

 The Spring Equinox is filled with promise. It represents a new awakening, and although it may snow like heck the next day, we are warmed by the sure knowledge that the days will gradually get longer and warmer, bringing life and color into our world.  Shakespeare did not pen, “Now is the ‘Spring’ of our discontent.” And with good reason–how can we be discontented when surrounded by such beauty?

After years of working with plants and using herbs, I am in no doubt about the many powers they possess–to the point that merely being in their presence can be potently healing. Their energies are undeniable, which is why I don’t need to actually consume a plant to absorb its medicinal magic.

I can understand why there are so many indigenous ceremonies attached to the equinox, which show thanks for having survived the winter and appreciation for all of nature’s gifts. As a wild foods diarist. I am thankful that after those long, seemingly barren winter months, I’ll now have lots to write about as spring bursts into life.

Garbage Can Challenge – March Update

Ayla Dunn Bieber sparks some spring-time momentum in the realm of sustainability and calls us all to join in the fun…

Happy Vernal Equinox, everyone!! Spring is [sort of?] in the air and I am beginning to feel it. I don’t know about you, but spring is always an exciting time of year for me. I often feel invigorated and inspired to try new things. This includes a Garbage Can Challenge project I wanted to share. Before writing to you next I plan on trying, and hopefully perfecting, making my own tortilla chips. I have noticed lately this is an item I buy way more often than I’d like to and – you guessed it – the bag is not recyclable (in your average recycling program, at least; there are some programs out there that do recycle these bags). Regardless, as we’ve been talking about: if you can make something from scratch with ingredients that are packaged sustainably (i.e. bought in bulk), rather than buy the product in packaging (even if that packaging can be recycled), the former is the more sustainable choice!

From what I have read, to make tortilla chips you need to start by making homemade tortillas. Once you’ve got the tortillas, making the chips is quite simple. Most recipes I found started with store bought tortillas packaged in plastic, which for me defeats the purpose.

Here is a basic tortilla recipe I am going to try. The one change I’m planning to make is to wrap the dough in beeswax paper rather than plastic wrap while it rests. Hoping this will work!

Then, here is the tortilla chip recipe I am going to try. Planning on using avocado oil (a good high heat oil) to fry with.

Have any of you ventured into chip making? I’d love to hear your successes and/or challenges!

Another way to *spring* into sustainability is to connect with others and create some momentum together. Keep America Beautiful, an organization started in 1953 to bring awareness to waste and recycling, launched their annual clean up season today–the first day of spring. Its called the Great American Clean Up:

“The Great American Cleanup, which marks its 20th year in 2018, engages more than 5 million volunteers and participants, on average, every year to create a positive and lasting impact. At Keep America Beautiful, we work to inspire people to take action every day to improve and beautify their community environment through programs like the Great American Cleanup.”

“The Great American Cleanup social media theme – #cleanYOURblock – is a call-to-action to engage more volunteers and participants in public space cleanup, beautification and recycling events conducted by Keep America Beautiful affiliates nationwide. Once an individual becomes a Great American Cleanup volunteer with their local Keep America Beautiful affiliate or partner, our goal is that they will be inspired to take that experience home to organize a similar, smaller-scale event in their own neighborhood … even on their own block.”

Cleanups are taking place across the country in the coming weeks! Here in Rockland, Keep Rockland Beautiful is hosting many cleanups within the county.

You can find contact information for your closest affiliate here and, most of the time, anyone who wants to participate can just show up to a cleanup–or start your own in your neighborhood. It’s spring! Let’s get out together and make some movement!

One last thing I wanted to share was an article I read a few months back by one of my favorite authors, Ann Patchett. Published in the NYTimes, it’s called My Year of No Shopping. This is certainly another way at it! Just stop consuming altogether. Easier said than done, but boy did I find this article intriguing. Maybe next year? Anyone in?

By the way, Daniel, Odelia and I are holding pretty steady with our garbage goal this month (with possibly a bit of room for improvement). Chip bags–you’ve got to go!

Happy SPRINGing into action everyone!

Until next time,

Ayla

Emergency Sandwiches

Our cooking instructor, Eva Szigeti, ponders our recent storm and finds the bright side of a darkened home…

We were already getting ready for the spring when a late season snowstorm struck. First, there was light snow for hours with little accumulation. Then, suddenly, the snow started coming down fast. In just a couple of hours, our backyard turned into a winter wonderland. It was a beautiful sight. The trees frosted with freshly fallen snow looked majestic. Then there was more snow, and still more. Under the weight of the heavy, wet snow, the branches bowed and came closed to the earth; then, some gave up and met the ground. Large branches, one after another, were coming down. Then a large tree fell. The old mulberry tree was suddenly gone and, with it, the prospect of an early summer day mulberry feast. We will miss that tree, and so will the birds and deer passing through our backyard.

Like many others, we lost power. We were in the dark for two days and two nights. Considering all that can go wrong in extreme weather, we were just fine. No one was hurt, there was no damage to the house. We were a little uncomfortable, but safe. A room temperature of 50 F is not desirable, but again it is not a tragedy either.

The first night without electricity was even fun. The children were running around with flashlights preparing extra blankets for the night. They built a hideout under the table and moved in, flashlights and all. The house suddenly seemed to them much more interested and exiting. It felt like a campground. No screens, or devices, not even books. The goodnight story was told, not read.  My son promptly suggested that we should have a night without electricity every week. Well–a night without lights and devices, but with the heating and the refrigerator running.

The second night without power was harder. The novelty of the situation had worn off, and the house no longer felt cozy. It was cold. We fantasized about our old house and its wood burning stove that had, in similar situations, provided not only comforting heat, but also light entering the room through its glass door. It had even provided a surface for cooking. And now here we were with no heat, no lights, no internet service, no power to operate appliances and gadgets.

Do we rely on electricity too much? ‘Yes’, is certainly the answer. We can, for sure, implement measures that would lessen our dependence on electrical power. However, to what extent these measures would be possible and practical varies household to household. To eliminate the need for electricity entirely does not seem like a realistic solution at all. We can certainly be better prepared for the next short-term power outage like the one we just had, but there is little we can do as individuals in case of a long-term power outage, which would very likely cause significant distress to the fabric of our society.

While having these scary thoughts, and feeling helpless, I found some comfort in the idea of making a chicken soup to warm us. Luckily, the stove in our kitchen is a gas one, so the burners were working. I just needed a match to light them.

While I was putting up the big pot of chicken soup to simmer for our evening meal, the kids opted for grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch. We sliced the bread, prepared the cheese and took out the panini press. Everything was ready to go. Oops! Not the panini press. It needs electricity. It was time to improvise. That day, we made grilled cheese sandwiches in a cast iron skillet on the stove-top. Although emergency-situation meals are often a far cry from their regular selves, these sandwiches actually tasted much better then their panini press relatives. Snowstorm or not, we will surely make them again.

As it often happens, there are tiny crumbs of something good lurking even in unpleasant or difficult situations.

 

Stove-top Grilled Cheese Sandwiches

For 4 sandwiches:

8 slices of bread
1 cup grated cheese (you may need more or less depending on the size of your bread slices)
2-3 tablespoons finely minced onions or green onions
1 clove minced garlic (optional)
some cream cheese or mayo
2-3 tablespoons olive oil for the skillet

Use good-quality stale bread. Soft fresh bread will absorb too much of the oil, resulting in greasy sandwiches. This is a perfect recipe to use up bread that is no longer fresh.

For the cheese: cheddar, jack, Swiss, fontina, or muenster can be used (or a combination of these/whatever cheese your fridge has to offer).

Mix the grated cheese with minced onions and garlic, if using. Spread a thin layer of cream cheese or mayo on all the bread slices. Spread grated cheese mixture on four of the slices. Use the other four slices to cover the sandwiches.

Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a cast-iron skillet.  Place the sandwiches in the skillet. Cook until golden brown, about 3 minutes. Flip, add more olive oil if needed. Cook until golden.

For a full meal, serve the sandwiches with a salad and an egg sunny-side-up.

Ed’s Corner

To those of you who are reading our blog for the first time, welcome! To those who are long-time readers, it’s good to have you back. Each year, when I am called to prepare my contribution for September’s issue of The Dirt and its corresponding blog post, it is a tell-tale sign for me that summer is over, and it is time once again to enter the magical and transformational season called ‘fall’.

As many of us know, beyond our personal, unofficial signs of fall’s arrival, there is in fact an official beginning to the season. This year, the autumnal equinox occurs on Friday, September 22nd at precisely 4:02 PM, when the sun crosses the celestial equator. On this day we will have equal parts night and day. From then on, nights will slowly become longer than days, until we arrive at the shortest day of the year, the winter solstice in December. From there we begin the slow lengthening of our days as the cycle through the seasons continues.

With the thought of this cyclical, circular motion in mind, I’d like to share with you a poem I wrote following our last day of camp, just a bit over a month ago. Though the season has begun to turn, the memory of that day is still just as fresh in my mind as if it happened yesterday. It is one that I will hold dear as we enjoy each changing season, until we arrive at glorious summer once again.

 

Love Is All Aground

On the big field, on the last day of camp,
without fail, we take time for goodbyes.
Holding hands, we form one large circle
that this year held one final surprise.

With all of our campers and counselors
each holding the hands of two others,
no matter how many, how far afield,
we always find room for each other.

Once our living circle has formed,
the center we share gives us reason
to recall all the circles we have in our lives:
the earth, the moon…the seasons.

We may feel a little bit melancholy,
knowing this summer’s camp is now done,
but we take solace in the circle of time:
we’ll be back, under next summer’s sun.

As we stood hand in hand, I became aware,
my eyes tracing our ring, start to start:
though our ‘circle’ may not have been perfect,
it did form one great, perfect HEART.

The tipis that still dominated the field
had sent us a little astray,
enough to dimple our circle of souls
in this wondrously suitable way.

I was called to the middle to share
some meaningful, well chosen words.
I had them scripted, but this surprise heart
had rendered them moot and absurd.

All I really needed to do
was point out the heart we had made,
shaped by our own hearts and hands
though we hadn’t known what was at play.

Love and tears suffused the air,
the oohs, the ahhs were all profound.
We’ve always known our camp is Love —
here the proof stood on the ground.

 

 

The Time of Seeds

Our cooking instructor, Eva Szigeti, reminds us of the lore and symbolism surrounding springtime, and why it is a time for sowing physical and metaphorical seeds.

In the Greek myth of Demeter and Persephone, young Persephone is carried away by Hades to the underworld. Her grieving mother Demeter, the Goddess of The Harvest, refuses to let the earth bear fruit in her daughter’s absence. However, an eventual deal is struck, in which Persephone can return to her mother for six months of the year, as long as she spends the remaining six with Hades in the underworld. Persephone’s annual return to earth marks the beginning of spring and the growing season. Persephone is not only the queen of the underworld, but also a goddess of spring growth.

In The Story of the Root Children (a favorite of young children), Mother Earth opens the door leading up to the world on an early spring day, and the root children walk in a long procession from underground out to the earth, bringing with them new growth, new life.

It is not surprising that spring has a strong presence in myths and stories of different cultures. In the spring, nature transitions from cold, dark, and sleep, bringing the promise of light, warm weather, and most importantly, of abundant food. The triumph of light, awakening, new life, cyclical renewal, are all associated with spring, as are two powerful spring symbols: eggs and seeds.

For those who work the land, the early signs of nature’s transition are their cue to begin planting. The farmer puts on her rain boots and, equipped with her gardening tools and packets of seeds, goes out to the garden as soon as the soil can be worked. Life feels good. The intoxicating smell of freshly turned soil and the seeds in the basket waiting to be planted hold a promise of new life and a promise of harvest.  The farmer puts seeds into the ground, hoping that with her help their potential will unfold later in the season. It takes faith to plant…

Seeds germinate in the darkness and reach for the light as they emerge through the soil’s surface. For seeds that overwintered under the blanket of soil and snow, more light and longer days signal that it is time to wake up. Spring brings one of only two days each year when light and darkness are perfectly balanced: the spring equinox. Equinox literally means equal night. Light and darkness share the same portion of the day.  Planting around the spring equinox is a technique used by traditional farming cultures worldwide. Sowing seeds outdoors on the first day of spring may not have been an option for us this year, but we can start seeds in the greenhouse or on a windowsill in the days following that day of balance.

lettuce

Lettuce sprouts

When planting, we choose to plant some seeds in the hope of an edible harvest, others because we consider the plants or their flowers beautiful, and sometimes we have other reasons. There is one plant that I plant each spring just for the sake of its seeds.

Several years ago, in a friend’s garden, I saw a flowering plant that I had not seen before. It was late summer and some of the bloom had already turned into seeds. The plant itself wasn’t remarkable in any way. It was bushy, rather weedy-looking, with small yellow flowers that stayed closed in bright sun. It was the kind of plant that looked like it would survive almost anywhere. But the seeds were anything but ordinary. They were the most unusual and beautiful seeds I have ever seen. They were large, about ¼ of an inch long, dark and shaped like an ancient Greek amphora (a vase used in ancient times for food storage). I just had to have them and I put some into my pocket. I named the plants that grew from these seeds “amphora plants”. I do not know the plant’s proper botanical name. I looked for it in seed catalogs and gardening books without any success.  But, like last season and the season before, I will plant my amphora seeds again for their promise of beauty.

Spring is here (or coming very soon) and whether we put physical seeds into the soil, or as gardeners in the garden of life we sow seeds of gratitude for life and light, it is time to go out and plant.

seeds

“Amphora” seeds

 

Making Seed Packets

There are many seed themed activities we can do with children. Planning the garden and preparing for planting are activities we can engage in even before the weather is right for actual gardening. On a cold afternoon, we made seed packets to give away to our friends.

For this project, you will need some seeds: either seeds you have saved from your garden or store bought ones. Choose seeds your friends could plant and easily grow. For those with gardens, beans, sunflower, squash, salad greens or annual flowers are a good choice. Seeds of basil, parsley, dill, or greens (to be grown as micro-greens) work well for containers. If you wish, you can create your own seed mix.

Use the template below to cut out the paper for the seed packets. You can use plain white paper, construction paper or even wrapping paper. Fold the paper along the middle fold. This will be the bottom of the packet. Put some paper glue on the side flaps and fold to seal the sides of the packet. Decorate the front using pencils, crayons or stickers. Remember to include the name of the seeds the packet is intended for. Fill the packet with seeds, fold the top flap and use glue or use a sticker to close it up.

This is a lovely birthday party activity for younger children!

templatepicture

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”.

IMG_7313

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