Category Archives: The Dirt: News & Events

Cider Pressing Program & Open House

During this fall season our events are all about pressing apples into cider. We made some delicious cider recently at the Hungry Hollow Co-op’s Farmer’s Festival and Green Meadow’s Fall Fair, and will be making our best batch yet (we hope!) at our upcoming pressing program at camp.

Nature Place Open House and Cider Pressing Public Program
Saturday, November 1st, Cider from Noon – 1 pm, Open House 1 – 4 pm

Sipping cider

Sipping cider

Join The Nature Place Day Camp for our very own cider pressing public program: apples through the ages, an appearance from Johnny Appleseed (complete with his tin pot hat), and plenty of apples to grind and then press into fresh cider. Come by for a fun program and fill your cup with some sumptuous cider.

Grinding apples

Grinding apples

After pressing cider, stick around for our autumn open house to learn more about The Nature Place. We’ll take you on a tour of camp, view photos from summers past, and answer any questions you might have. Families can stop by our open house any time between 1 and 4 pm.

307 Hungry Hollow Road, Chestnut Ridge, NY 10977


Fish 0 Monarchs 12

The October days of late have had cool nights, blue sky days with lots of puffy fair weather clouds and a sun, that when you’re out in the middle of the day, shines on you with the kind of warmth that makes you say “ah-h-h”, does that feel good!  Yes, it’s the same sun that in the summer on a 90 degree plus mid-day would make us seek shade and elicit quite different kinds of verbal responses.

Ed and Nathaniel

Ed and Nathaniel

I had promised I would take Nathaniel and his two friends fishing.  So off we went to the newly-discovered-for-us fisherman’s parking lot and access to the Ramapo River. The Ramapo River flows along the western side of Harriman Park and while going to and from the park trails we have passed this access area before but never drove down into it. It’s quite beautiful, almost nobody else there, open areas along the shoreline where kids and adults can easily cast their lines. This is a wide part of the river and the few times we have been there it felt like a pond -  the water was still because of lack of recent rainfall. And the view across to the eastern bank, with trees, shrubs,  wetland vegetation of all types and darting dragonflies, reminded me of scenes I encountered during some of my Canadian wilderness canoe trips. Wild, colorful, beautiful.

This site would definitely qualify if I were asked to imagine “what might the perfect fishing hole look like?” Now mind you, not “perfect” in numbers of fish caught – the last time we were here Nathaniel caught a solitary sunny.

And not perfect in terms of noise. In fact upon first stepping out of your car you feel as if you are within some kind of surround sound booth whose dial has been turned to highway, car and truck noise plus occasional railroad trains speeding by!

You are in the middle of and very close to (without leaves you can see right in front (or back of you) the following north-south noise corridors: the very busy NY State Thruway, to the east. To the west is busy NY Route 17 and on many weekend days ‘very’ can be added as people go to and from The Renaissance Fair in warm weather and two family ski areas in the winter.

And wait, There’s more. The tracks of the Erie Railroad Main Line are parallel to Route 17 at this point, in fact they are between you and 17. And I would call them active tracks, i.e. trains seem to speed by on a regular basis.

Now I have to be fair, even though it’s not a noise producer except in times of heavy rain, there is the north-south flowing (at least here) Ramapo River itself.

Oh yes, the fishing trip that day. We went up the Thruway, got off at 17 north, through Sloatsburg and Tuxedo and then we had to wait in a long line of cars going to the aforementioned Renaissance Festival. Everyone turned left at the Route 106 intersection. We were the only car that turned right. We immediately crossed over the railroad tracks and then an immediate left down to the river access area.

The boys threw out their lines. Nathaniel, having to use a borrowed pole that day, was a bit down and not into it but he helped the other boys with their hooks, bait, etc.

And then we saw the first one – a monarch butterfly, majestically orange and black, heading southward! I saw my last monarch two years ago. You can read about the plight of the Monarch butterflies in a previous piece we wrote in the Dirt, which you can read here. Just recently I read that the monarch will probably be put on the endangered species list.

Then we saw another, and still another – stopping along the shore for a nectar break; resting on a leaf; wavering a bit to and fro and sometimes up and down while flying – but, ever southward, each of the 12 we saw. The boys, especially Nathaniel, turned to looking for monarchs since the fish were not biting. My heart was filled with joy, the boys were excited, all of our senses focused on each passing monarch. Nothing else existed for us during each sighting – truck, car, train noises included.

While driving home I began to think of another (the 5th) north-south corridor at this spot besides the roads, tracks and river: the path/route/aerial highway that the monarchs are following south. We were on or in or part of that pathway today. I wonder what other kinds of pathways or ‘flows’ of nature we are in or sometimes part of : solar rays, energies of different types, gravity, the earth’s magnetic field, water cycles, weather patterns, nature spirits, spirits of place. And if we consider the electronic transmissions that must pass through us by way of all of our electronic devices… well, there’s a lot going on, happening to us, just by the fact that we are on earth.

As my imaginations about this were really pumping up, the boys reminded me what was just ahead: Auntie Ell’s garden and farm center, and – the reason for traditionally stopping – it’s bakery with great homemade doughnuts. Okay, the boys want me to tell you, apple turnovers, too.

It was a great day. Someone once said they all are. Maybe we just have to look at them in a different way.


Telling Stories

From Chuck’s Journal, October 2014          

There is a chill in the air. The summer season has come to a close. Along the river bank the great sycamore tree is among the first to turn the color of its leaves. For us kids of Ramapo this tree was the Button Ball, named for the spherical seed pods that hung from its limbs like holiday tree ornaments. Along the Ramapo River above the Fourth Street Hillburn Dam, swimming holes were designated as Little Button Ball and Button Ball in respect to their depth. Further up river there was a third swimming hole known as Forty Foot. Over the years there was great debate as to the origin of this name. Despite much support for the claim that the spot once was forty feet deep, the sweep of the generally slow flowing Ramapo maintains a sandy bottom of seldom a greater depth than twelve feet. But there stood a grand cluster of boulders on the west bank of Forty Foot, and for the truly daring a high flung rope swing from a strong Sycamore limb offered what some claimed was a forty foot drop to the water! (Again this was at best a twenty foot drop.) Along about early October the Button Balls turned, no more black snakes could be found at Forty Foot’s boulder clutch, and only the hardiest of us dared to jump in on a warm day as the mountain springs feeding the Ramapo changed the river to a temperature below forty degrees.

Telling stories

Chuck telling stories

Fishing had changed, legal seasons ended, and spawning was long over, the underwater menu was in transition. With that chill there was a deep forested scent of game. Hunting season would soon be upon us. October was a month of preparations, of tracking sign, of following the thick pungent scent of wildlife as they were now sweating, signing, leaving musk and castor to mark for mates. Hunting, like trapping, is mostly about nature study, about habitat education and eventually taking game. For the uninitiated the ‘killing’ part of hunting is hard to accept, it brings forth images of a defenseless Bambi made an orphan by ruthless mankind. As I learned it, hunting and trapping was about entering into the animal world both as predator and companion. In today’s language this would be referred to as sustainable, but in my deep history it felt like sufficiently taking what is required to survive and leaving behind the same so that the prey, too, can survive. It is a dynamic of exchange.

At this time of year my childhood was alive with the forest scent of decay, rotting leaf mold, and the dusty spores kicked up from dried grass. This was not a decay of dying in the Western sense but a decay of renewal from which life re-emerged.

Ricky Cramshaw and I followed my dad Walt into the woods along the northern stretch of the Torne Valley. He found a deer trail and slowly lead us along, making note of the heart shaped tracks of the cloven-hoofed animal that lead us deeper into the forest. Near to a magnificent beech tree, its leaves all a fire of tarnished yellow, Walt found scattered dung and the thick odor of urine. He hunkered down and sniffed it. He turned to us and said, “It’s a doe and she’s ready to talk family with a buck.”

Ricky said, “You mean she wants to get married?”

Walt smiled. “Yup, she’s looking to get hitched.”

Yes, this time of year is not about decay or change that ends the cycle. Cycles do not end. The changes from the sycamore’s leaves to the odorous doe urine are about furthering the adventure.

Come hear Chuck tell Autumn Tales at a benefit for the Historic Clarkstown Reformed Church on Sunday October 19th at 1 pm; at the church on 107 Strawtown Road, West Nyack NY, 10994. Donation at the door for ages 12 – adult is $10 and for ages 5 – 11 is $6.


Shelling Acorns

Paul Tappenden shows us what’s seasonally wild and edible in our area

Recently I wrote about acorn flour. Since then several people have asked me how I go about turning acorns into flour, and this time of year is ideal for gathering acorns.

The most challenging part of processing acorns is the shelling. It can be monotonous and time consuming, so over the years I have looked for more efficient methods of removing the nutmeats. In the early days, when I only gathered small amounts of acorns, I was content to use a nutcracker or pliers. As acorn shells tend to be rather elastic, they don’t crack easily, and when they do they can be hard to peel (unless they have been partially dried). However, pliers tend to end up squishing the nut meat. I tried squeezing them from the ends, but they are harder to grasp between the jaws of the pliers.

Acorns in drying racks

Acorns in drying racks

Next, I tried hitting the tip of the acorn with a hammer, but it really wasn’t that much quicker, and a lot more risky, unless one makes a jig to hold the nuts (hands-free).

When I started gathering acorns in large quantities, those methods were way too time consuming, and messy, so I explored a bulk method, by putting bunches of acorns into a canvas tote bag, then thumping on it with the end of a length of 4 x 4′ fence post. But, of course, it was very messy, took several tries to break them all, and it really wasn’t any quicker in the end.

Cutting acorns

Cutting acorns

Then a friend told me that he simply cut them with a knife and peeled off the shells, so I gave it a try. At first I halved them sideways, but it was hard to coax the nut out, even using a pick. So I tried cutting them lengthwise. This way, I was able to pry out the nut pieces with ease. So, this has now become my chosen method – to date. I always drop the shelled nut meats immediately into water, to stop them from oxidizing (turning brown).

Sliced acorns

Sliced acorns

I’ve also found that putting the nuts onto a board with a V-shaped groove in it holds them in place and makes cutting easier. Anyway, gotta go. Lots of acorns to shell.

Now that we’ve learned how to properly remove the shell from an acorn, Paul’s previous article on making acorn flour and yummy treats with that flour will come in handy. Gathering acorns now, while they’re abundantly strewn across the forest floor, will provide plenty of shelling and grinding work for barren winter months.

Paul Tappenden is the Rockland Forager. He leads identification walks once a month in our area. See regularly updated blogs, videos, events, and what he and other foragers, herbalists, and naturalists are up to at


Ed’s Corner

Bang! Clunk!

When I hear these sporadic and loud sounds on  my outside deck I know, 1. that the oak trees are beginning to drop their acorns, and, 2. It’s time to get the apple press out because the apples are ready now just as the acorns are. The apple and the acorn are both fruits, that is, they developed from flowers and contain a seed or seeds that can grow into new trees. But it’s the fruit from the apple tree that I will seek – the apple.

As I lug the press out of storage in the barn it feels good that cider making marks for me the changing seasons and allows me to connect with and participate in the year’s movement. I want to be more than a bystander as the earth revolves around the sun. I feel as if it is a celebration of sorts, a ritual, an anchor to fall, something dependable that also ties me to the past. Why do I do it? Because a year of seasons has passed and now its fall, again, and time for cidering.

Ed Pressing Cider

Ed pressing cider – photo by Fernando Lopez

And the cider is delicious! I like to use a variety of apples and press them all together. The amber liquid that gushes from the bottom of the press into our waiting pot seems happy to have been released from it’s former apple homes. Do you know that if you sip your cider slowly you’ll be able to taste fall, winter, spring and summer, for it takes 4 seasons to make an apple. You might even taste the rain from the storm that fell on the orchard last July.

This amber liquid is called apple cider. If I filter this cider then it is called apple juice. You can think of cider as apple juice with the pulp.

There are many stories and sayings about apples: the tempting fruit in the Garden of Eden; the fruit that conked Sir Issac Newton on the head and started him thinking seriously about gravity; the poisoned one that caused Snow White to take a long chill until a handsome prince came along; ‘an apple a day keeps the doctor away’ (you know, this could be much cheaper than the current Obama plan.)

And there was, of course, Johnny Appleseed. Supposedly, according to legend, he was friends and talked with the wild animals; wore no shoes; wore a pot on his head; preached the good words of the Bible to whomever would listen. He walked and walked all around the mid-west, handing out apple seeds and trees. The Native Americans were known to be kind to him, and to leave him alone. They stayed clear of people who seemed a little ‘off’. I’m not saying that he was, but …

We will learn about Johnny and apples and cidering during our apple cider pressing programs we have scheduled this fall. You’ll even get a chance to meet Johnny!

I hope to see you at one of our upcoming events.

Turning the press

Turning the press

Here’s a bushel of nifty apple information:

  • The early Native Americans had only crab apple trees to pick from, the apples probably being small, hard and not sweet.
  • European settlers, as early as 1630, brought seeds and small trees to this country that provided the first sweet, juicy, flavorful apples we know today.
  • So, when we say “As American as apple pie”, there is really, in the bigger picture, not a long history to that statement. We could say instead, “As American as maple sugar and syrup”, for the Native Americans were making maple sugar well before the first Europeans set foot on the continent.
  • Those first European apple trees were probably not too productive for there were no honeybees in this country to serve as pollinators. Later immigrants brought over with them the first honeybees.
  • The Native Americans called these first honeybees ‘English flies’.
  • In colonial times apples were known as ‘winter bananas’ and ‘melt-in-the-mouth’.
  • There are over 10,000 kinds of apples in the world.
  • The birthplace of the modern apple is Kazakhstan in Central Asia.
  • Charred apple remains were found in a stone-age village in Switzerland.
  • In 1796 a farmer in Ontario, while walking the “back 40″ of his property, came upon a kind of apple tree he had not seen before. He decided, because the apples had such a special flavor, to propagate the tree and to plant more. His name – John McIntosh.
  • Each year, China grows half or more of the world’s apples. The U.S. is second.
  • In the U.S. Washington State grows most (60%) of our country’s apples.
  • Apple ‘cider’ is what we call the juice that comes directly from pressing the apples, without doing anything to it. Apple ‘juice’ is that same juice, only filtered.
  • ‘Hard’ cider is cider that has been fermented and contains alcohol.
  • The most common drink during colonial times was one that was plentiful and could keep/not spoil: hard cider – morning, noon and night, adults and children!