Category Archives: The Dirt: News & Events

Contrasts

As I write this in mid-November I’m looking out my office window at the magnificent, redder-than-red  leaves of a Japanese Maple. Others have recently said to me how striking the Japanese Maples appear this year, as if inside each there was an internal glowing furnace of red.

Maple aflame

Maple aflame

They truly may be a brighter red color than other seasons but they also may catch our attention more because of the contrasts. Most other leaves have fallen, or if they are still on their tree or bush they are of a muted color. Overcast, gray days also provide a contrast.

The natural world is filled with contrasts:  the seasons themselves, the weather, how it’s great to be out on a cold day and then soul-satisfying to come into a warm, inviting space, maybe even one with a fireplace or wood stove.


Maybe not a contrast but certainly something we didn’t notice until the leaves began to fall, is the hornets’ nest securely attached to the Ginkgo tree on the lawn behind Holder House. This lawn area serves as a daily dismissal site at the end of each of our camp days. I received no reports this past summer about the nest, nor were there any stings from this nest in the nurse’s log. So here was a new treasure for us.

 

Hornets' nest

Hornets’ nest

Bald-faced or white-faced hornets make their paper nest by chewing wood and mixing it with their saliva – giving us the idea years ago of making paper from wood. They eat flies, caterpillars, spiders, fruit, meat, nectar (for the larvae – pollen, too)  and yellow jackets. During mid-summer there can be up to 300 hornets (queens, workers, drones) in a large nest!

All the hornets die in the fall – except one or more newly inseminated queens. They don’t stay in the nest but overwinter under logs, rocks, in hollow trees, underneath the shingles of your house. When spring comes the queen(s) comes out of hibernation and begins to build a new nest and lay eggs. From these eggs the newly hatched worker hornets then continue building upon what she has started while she basically stays in egg-laying mode. The old nest is not reused.

Ginkgo tree with hornets' nest (left and middle)

Ginkgo tree with hornets’ nest (left and middle)

Perhaps you have heard stories of people, perhaps a teacher, carefully cutting down a nest in early fall to bring it inside. After all, it is a marvelous and beautiful piece of architecture. And then, because of warmer inside temperatures, some of the still-inside-but-thought-dead hornets crawl out of the nest, sometimes to actually fly around! In a classroom I can imagine this to be a teachable moment, but one perhaps filled also with shouts and screams and running around.

Many autumns ago I was driving back to Rockland after doing a day of outdoor education activities at a Westchester school. During my lunch break that day one of the teachers presented me with a huge hornet’s nest she had removed from an apple tree on her property. Always on the lookout for cool nature items to share with children, and not to turn down a special ‘gift’ meant for me, I gladly accepted it. I placed it right away on the front seat of my car, making sure I wouldn’t forget it. The day ended, I got into my car and proceeded west.

As soon as I began to cross the Tappan Zee bridge I saw just the slightest movement out of the corner of my right eye – from the area of the passenger seat. Before I looked, a thought quickly came to mind: the car’s interior, since lunch time, has been quite warm, my car having been parked in a spot that was fully in that afternoon sun. At this point I said a word that I shall not print here. Almost in slow motion I dared to move me eyes down and to the right. I could see a hornet beginning to crawl out of the hole, leg by slow-leg, as if she, too, were in slow-mo. I  then saw some other legs and head emerge. I said that word again. Two were now out on top of the nest itself, but moving, as I said, very slowly. Probably my imagination, but I felt as if they were looking at me! So here I am, in the middle of the Tappan Zee bridge, cars and trucks whooshing by, no where to pull over, and maybe soon to have MANY hornets buzzing about. And I could not imagine them being happy hornets, what with their having their home moved, probably jostled about a bit and perhaps somehow knowing that their time as earthly hornets was soon to be over.

I felt I was in some kind of monster movie – they do look very big up close. Very close. Two more came teasingly slowly out onto the nest and joined the other two just s-l-o-w-l-y walking all around the nest, circling it (making plans, a countdown?).

I pressed pedal to the metal, got to the other side of the bridge, pulled off, carefully took the nest out and put it in my trunk. Phew.

I still love hornets, give them their space, acknowledge their reason for sharing this planet with us and will no longer in fall put a hornet’s nest in my warm car.

Category:

Thanksgiving

Storyteller Chuck Stead shares a Thanksgiving tale with us for this month of November.

Chuck

Chuck

My mom Tessie was not known for her cooking. Her meat was dry, her beans watery, her potatoes lumpy but she found salvation in her apple pie. Her pie crust was light and delicate and still firm, and a slice was packed with warm, sweet apples like a little vessel from heaven. Few folks favored Tessie’s apple pie as did my friend Ricky Cramshaw. For Ricky, whose own mother and grandmother produced a delicious Thanksgiving meal each year, the end was always a slice of Tessie’s apple pie, for as his grandmother used to say, “Everything is better with Tessie’s pie.”

Thanksgiving – with the deep chill, the last of the muddy rust forest as the world adjusted to dark grays and brown in wait for the first snow – was the traditional first week of gunning season for deer. The sight of woolen wrapped men carrying shotguns into the woods, the distant sound of twelve gauge ‘pop’ and the return of men dragging a buck cleaned of its interior, this was the eve of winter. Thanksgiving, not unlike the Fall Harvest, not unlike the Algonquin Gamwing, was a ceremonial meal heralding survival, community and the continuance of family.

Tessie started her meal preparations the night before, and the first guests to arrive an hour or so after noon the next day were tasked with arranging tables and chairs, plates and utensils. Leading up to the three o’clock meal an expected bustle of energy filled the cramped little house in our village. This despite the fact that no one had any delusions as to the quality of Tessie’s spread. She was a black-hearted Irishwoman who did not cook food as much as kill it, but there was always her apple pie in the end. Everything was better with Tessie’s pie.

As we came to settle in, Walt and a couple of uncles finished their smoke and sauntered in to one end of the table. Cousins found seating and snatched a fresh roll or two while talking about their different schools, plans for the holidays and gossip about distant relatives. And then there was Patty. A friend of my sister’s, she sat across the way and was very quiet. I did not know this girl, only Terry knew her. She was invited at the last minute, something about needing cheering up and about her family not understanding. I thought she was very pretty in a far-away kind of way. As we neared desert time, the supper dishes were being cleared and the men started to talk about the Vietnam War, there was some disagreement and that was when Patty got up, left the table and went out the back door. The pies were about to be laid out along with ice cream, milk and coffee. Ricky Cramshaw walked in from the back door all filled up with his parents’ meal and looking for Tessie’s apple pie.

He came to me and said softly, “Some girl is on the back porch crying.”

We went out the back door and there we found this Patty person sitting on the edge of the porch, crying softly. I stepped closer and said, “You want something?”

She looked at me, her eyes all wet, she said, “He got killed in Vietnam.”

“Your boyfriend?”

“Yeah, I guess. We wrote letters. I only met him one time. He was sweet and he was lonely. I liked him. He got killed in Vietnam.”

I didn’t know what to say to her. She wrapped her arms around her body like she was giving herself a hug. Ricky went back inside the house. I stood very still with the sounds of Thanksgiving family coming from inside and me and this Patty girl being outside in the cold and the dark November afternoon on the back porch.

Again she said more quietly now, “He got killed in Vietnam.”

Then I heard the back door open and shut and Ricky stepped up to sad Patty and gently he placed a dish of apple pie next to her and he said, “Everything is better with Tessie’s pie.”

Category:

Fall Fruit Newtowns

It is well into fall, and for the past few months I have been gathering, preserving, drying and freezing wild foods in preparation for the winter. The other day I arrived home from a foraging trip with some wild apples and a pocketful of barberries. It was a friend’s birthday and I decided to make him some pastries. After weeks of processing acorns and feeding them to my mill, I had several bags of acorn flour in the freezer. Since I’d use any excuse to do some baking, I decided to make some Autumn fruit newtons.

 

Barberries

Barberries

Autumn Olives

Autumn Olives


Back in the beginning of October I had gathered about a gallon of Autumn olives, which I had bagged up and put into our freezer. I thawed some of them out to then add to the barberries and apples for making the filling. I also had a bag of hickory nuts that I had gathered from a particularly generous tree. I mixed my fruit ingredients together in a pan, added a little water and some organic sugar and cooked it up until it had reduced down to a thick consistency. Next, I made my pastry dough using a mixture of acorn flour and all-purpose flour (to help bind it). Even with the binding all-purpose flour, it was still quite challenging to wrap the pastry around the filling without some cracking, but I soon had a tray of newtons ready to go into the oven.

Fruit thickening in the pan

Fruit thickening in the pan

It felt good to make a batch of tasty, wild fruit-filled pastries, using flour that I had made myself. Finding foods in nature can be most gratifying, feeding both the body and the soul.

Freshly baked fall fruit newtons

Freshly baked fall fruit newtons

Category:

Events, Open Houses, & Camp Fairs

Beginning after the new year we’ll be hosting public programs for campers and their families, and for anyone else interested in experiencing a ‘taste of camp’ before summer begins.

Winter Tales with Chuck Stead
Saturday, January 17th. Noon – 1 pm.

Chuck

Chuck

Chuck Stead is a master storyteller, weaving a web of characters and scenes from his childhood growing up in the nearby Ramapo Mountains. Populated by animals, spirits, mountain people, and more, Chuck’s tales are knee-slapping, laugh-out-loud funny, goose-bump inducing in their poignancy, and enjoyed thoroughly by children and adults alike.

Maple Sugaring
Saturday, February 28th. 10 – 11 am and 2 – 3 pm.

Sap sucker

Sap sucker

Join The Nature Place as we learn all about maple trees and maple syrup, tap our own trees and taste the sap, watch sap boiling over a fire, and then taste freshly made, hot maple syrup over ice (accompanied by a dill pickle, of course). Participants will take home their own spouts, along with instructions on how to tap maple trees and make syrup at home.

This year we’re offering this program twice, once at 10 am and then again at 2 pm. 

Outragehisss Pets
Saturday, March 28th. Noon – 1 pm.

Holding a python

Holding a python

If you like animals, then this program will have you barking, chirping, and roaring with glee. Every summer at camp Outragehisss Pets brings their multitude of animals to The Nature Place, and now you can get your hands furry without waiting until June. Join us for an hour of snakes, spiders, chinchillas, and an array of other surprising animals.

Spring Peeper Hunt
Saturday, May 2nd. 7:30 – 9 pm.

Peep!

Peep!

As darkness falls The Nature Place will lead intrepid explorers into the swamp in search of spring peepers – tiny frogs with big voices pealing out into the warm spring air. Using our ears and echo-locating abilities, and equipped with boots, flashlights, and a sense of adventure, we’ll search for spring peepers by following the loud ‘peep!’ of their mating call through the hillocks and brambles of a nearby wetland. Come prepared to have fun and get a little dirty!

 

Open Houses

The best way to learn more about The Nature Place is by coming to an open house. We’ll take you on a tour of camp, give you a full picture of what we do and why we do it, and answer your questions about the ins and outs of camp.

Open Houses are located at Green Meadow Waldorf School, 307 Hungry Hollow Road in Chestnut Ridge, NY, and you can stop by any time between 1 and 4 pm.

Saturday, January 17th
Sunday, February 15th
Saturday, February 28th (this open house runs from 11 am – 2 pm)
Sunday, March 15th
Saturday, March 28th
Sunday, April 12th
Sunday, April 26th
Saturday, May 9th
Sunday, May 24th


 

Camp Fairs

Do you live in Manhattan or Brooklyn and want to find out more about The Nature Place? Come meet us at a camp fair, ask us questions about camp in person, and get a feeling for what we do. All camp fairs run from Noon until 3 pm.

Saturday, December 6th
Upper East Side – St. Jean Baptiste High School
173 East 75th Street

Sunday, December 7th
Upper West Side – Ethical Culture Fieldston School
33 Central Park West

Saturday, January 24th
Upper East Side – St. Jean Baptiste High School
173 East 75th Street

Sunday, January 25th
Upper West Side – Congregation Rodeph Sholom
7 West 83rd Street

Saturday, February 7th
Morningside Heights – Bank Street School
610 West 112th Street

Sunday, February 8th
Cobble Hill – Brooklyn Heights Montessori School
185 Court Street

Saturday, March 7th
Tribeca – Borough of Manhattan Community College
199 Chambers Street

Saturday, March 8th
Park Slope – Berkeley Carroll School
181 Lincoln Place

Saturday, March 28th
Upper East Side – St. Jean Baptiste High School
173 East 73rd Street

Sunday, March 29th
Upper West Side – Congregation Rodeph Sholom
7 West 83rd Street

Category:

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

Category: