Ed’s Corner

Wow (with-out words) Moments

We just tapped our last maple trees for this season and the forecast calls for a continuation of the great sugaring weather we have had – cold nights and warmer days. This has been a wonderful year for collecting and boiling sap, and we’ve thoroughly enjoyed our tapping time here at camp and throughout our nearby communities.

Looking up at maples

Maple Sugaring is, by far, our most popular public program. Perhaps it is the getting out-of-doors after a long winter; participating in the seasonal rhythm and change; learning something you can do at home as a family; enjoying that ‘amber aristocrat of all sweets’ – maple syrup. The first part of our program is indoors, learning about the history and biology of maple trees and syrup, how to identify maples, tools needed, etc. Then with high expectations the whole group marches over to an untapped sugar maple. Surrounded by a very quiet circle of people of all ages, with drill in hand, I start to slowly drill at a slight upward angle and say to myself, “Oh, please let it have been cold enough last night and warm enough right now for the sap to drip!” That quiet hush is still over the crowd, and after about 10 seconds of drilling we notice the bark beneath the hole getting wet. It’s a dripping day! There is laughter, some chattering and then a deep silence again as I take the drill out and begin to hammer in the spout. Once it’s in one can feel the charge in the air as the crowd waits for that first ‘official’ drop of sap from the spout. It comes slowly down the spout, seems to wait an extra second hanging at the spout’s edge and then falls to the ground. There is an audible gasp from the crowd. And many exclamations of ‘wow!’.

The first drop

Sometimes there are no words to express what we are experiencing. We can’t find them or we feel they wouldn’t do justice to what is happening. I interpret ‘wow’ as ‘with-out words’. Words are symbols, not the real thing or event, and words sometimes only lessen the experience of reality. Rumi says that “words are like fingers pointing to the moon and we think that they are the moon.”

Along the same line, Vincent Van Gogh said, “It is not the language of painters but the language of flowers which one should listen to, the feelings for the things themselves, for reality is more important than the feelings for pictures.”

Still-Hunting this past summer (without words)

At The Nature Place we fervently believe in providing opportunities for children and adults to experience many ‘wow’ moments, magic moments, and the world of nature is certainly teeming with wonder for us all.

So we go from Rumi to Van Gogh and now to Calvin and Hobbes:

We look into Calvin and Hobbes trudging, sled in hand, through newly fallen snow.

Calvin: Wow, it really snowed last night! Isn’t it wonderful?
Hobbes: Everything familiar has disappeared! The world looks brand-new!
Calvin: A new year.. a fresh clean start!
Hobbes: It’s like having a big white sheet of paper to draw on!
Calvin: A day full of possibilities!
Calvin: It’s a magical world Hobbes, ol’ Buddy…

… and as they both are sitting on the sled, going down a hill, Calvin says, “…lets’ go exploring!”

And I invite you all to come exploring with us.

The Force

Just Can’t Wait …

… for some of those buds to open and reveal their flowers? Well, we can force things a little. At this time of year if we cut a small branch off certain shrubs/trees/bushes and put it into a vase of water, indoors, the buds will open and give an early sneak peek at what is to come. The plants that lend themselves best for this ‘forcing’ include forsythia, pussy willow, red bud, magnolia, crab apple, cherry, honeysuckle, lilac, dogwood and wisteria.

May the force be with you

Skunk Cabbage, with Paul Tappenden

Local wild forager (and frequent Nature Place collaborator) Paul Tappenden usually tells us what’s wild and edible in and around our area every month in our newsletter, The Dirt. This month he tells us about Skunk cabbage, not a wild edible, but rather, a wild smellable.

Even though February seems to be a pretty bleak month of year, it is that magical time when you will find strange, exotic blossoms appearing throughout the woods and marshes – the flowers of the ubiquitous skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus).

Although they are not edible, they are worth making the effort to see. Mind you, you’ll need to put on a good pair of boots and make your way into the nearest bog. If you look carefully, the colorful pod-like blooms will reveal themselves to you. Once you recognize one emerging from the mud, you’ll begin to notice more. Before long, more and more will appear, some growing singly and others in clusters, varying in size, shape and color, each with its own personality.

Skunk cabbage is what is known as a thermogenic plant. It can adjust its own body temperature, so much so that it can be up to 50 degrees warmer than its surroundings. This allows it to send out its somewhat fetid (skunk-like) aroma on cold days, attracting flies that seek the warmth of the encompassing spathe making up the outside of the flower. Flies will often pass the night in the warm interior, inadvertently gathering pollen along the way, which they carry to the next flower they visit.

Paul Tappenden is the Rockland Forager. He will be leading identifications walks once a month in our area beginning in March. See regularly updated blogs, videos, a calendar of events, and what he and other foragers, herbalists, and naturalists are up to at www.suburbanforagers.com.