Open House this Sunday, February 21st

Join The Nature Place at our next open house – Sunday, February 21st, any time between 1 and 4 pm.

We’ll show you the ins and outs of camp, give you a full picture of what we mean when we say ‘non-competitive and nature-oriented’, and share a little of the magic and wonder of a summer at The Nature Place.

Our open house takes place in the lower school building of the Green Meadow Waldorf School, 307 Hungry Hollow Road in Chestnut Ridge, NY 10977.

On top of the world - hiking in Harriman Park last summer

On top of the world – hiking in Harriman Park last summer

A Wonderful Experiment

Last summer we did something new at camp, or rather out of camp. In the past when we planned our day hikes in Harriman State Park we always put two groups of similar age together, i.e. groups B and C would go on a hike together, groups H and I, etc. It made sense and always worked out quite fine. At The Nature Place we love hiking!

Before last summer began, at one of our pre-summer planning sessions, we looked at our hiking program with ‘out of the box’ eyes. Or as we like to say at camp: we “opened our minds and said, ‘Ah’.” We saw new possibilities if we paired a younger group with an older one for some of the day hikes. It was fantastic! Everyone – campers, counselors, hike leaders – all agreed! Let’s do it some more.

On these hikes older campers helped younger ones. Little ones were able to show their older partners things that perhaps only younger or lower-to-the-ground eyes could see. The younger campers were smiling, happy, proud and looked up to their older hiking companions. I know that some of them felt, “Wow! This big kid is talking to me, and is even eating lunch with me on the mountain top!”. Older campers were not bashful as they started conversations/connections with the younger ones on the bus even before we arrived at the trail head. There were quiet hiking times, with really young campers sometimes walking down the trail, hand in hand, with older campers. Together we did ‘still-hunting’, took rest and water breaks, and told jokes and shared riddles.


The connections, the different ways of getting to know each other in the outdoors, helped out by the joyful surroundings of nature and the presence of kind and caring staff, were special to behold.

Days later back at camp when the two groups passed each other between activities, you can be sure there were many high fives, smiles of recognition, and shouts of “Hello!”

This summer every group at camp will go on a day hike with a younger or older group. Sometimes it’s not a big, new camp activity, or a flashy addition to our playground that makes an impact on the experience of campers at camp. Rather, it can be thoughtful insight and a subtle programming change that help make a summer experience even more powerful.

Ed’s Corner

A short while ago, right after the first week of February, I heard from others that they saw blooming(!), on our campus both crocus and snowdrop flowers.

Someone else shared they saw a flock of robins. Now granted, the robin flock could have been around all winter, but still, my first thought upon hearing this news was: I don’t feel that winter has even begun. Do you have a similar feeling? (Although this past weekend gave us a cold, seasonal jolt).


And for the last three weeks I have seen sapcicles hanging from branches and trunks of the maple trees lining the road in my neighborhood, a definite sign that the sap is moving – flowing – inside the maples! Cold nights and warmer days provide the stimulus for the sap to move, leaking out on warm days from small cuts in the bark or from fresh woodpecker holes or from branches where squirrels have chewed off the buds. This leaking sap then freezes into a sap icicle (sapcicle) during the night when it is colder and the sap stops dripping.

So what does all this mean for the upcoming maple sugaring season?! Some have already tapped a tree or two, and report that the sap is flowing freely. Will this be an early sugaring season? It sure looks like it – I just read last night that Adirondack sugaring operations have begun tapping, collecting and boiling – more than a month earlier than usual. Traditionally, we tap our trees sometime between the third week of February and the second week of March. But with the recent cold (or ‘normal’ winter) temperatures we’ve had, and then the sudden warming of weather, the time to tap is now!

138044 CLIFFSIDE PARK, NJ MAPLE SUGARING DEMONSTARTION 2-25-15 Ed and Daniel Bieber of The Nature Place Day Camp demonstrated maple sugaring at the Cliffside Park Public Library on Feb. 25, 2015. KRYSTI SABINS/FREELANCE PHOTOGRAPHER

Ed and Daniel thinking, “Oh, please let the sap drip!” CLIFFSIDE PARK, NJ MAPLE SUGARING DEMONSTARTION 2-25-15 Ed and Daniel Bieber of The Nature Place Day Camp demonstrated maple sugaring at the Cliffside Park Public Library on Feb. 25, 2015. KRYSTI SABINS/FREELANCE PHOTOGRAPHER

If you are a backyard tapper and have everything you need, go for it. Tap – if you haven’t already – your tree(s) now that the day time temperatures are more or less above freezing, and the night time temperatures below that mark.

And if you are waiting until March 5th (our maple sugaring programs!) to become a backyard maple syrup maker, it will be fine to tap at that time, also. Maybe you would have missed the beginning of the season, but don’t worry, there is plenty to go around.

Strawberries Do Not Grow in Snow


Strawberries don’t grow in January. Certainly not in my garden or anywhere nearby.

Still, I can buy them on any given day and enjoy my morning yogurt with strawberries, even in deep winter. Unless, of course, I have made a decision to eat seasonally whenever possible…

The idea of eating locally and seasonally may seem like one of the new trends in our food culture, a choice made by those who understand the environmental, economical and health impacts of our food-related decisions. Ironically, it is also an option reserved only for those who can afford it.

Of course, local and seasonal eating is not a new invention at all. It is how people had eaten for millennia before the birth of modern agriculture, factory farming and extensive global trade. It never was a choice, it was simply a way of life, the one and only option for most of humanity.

For those who have to live and eat with the season without having any other alternative, the idea of strawberries in January may sound like a passage from one of my favorite fairy tales, that of The Twelve Months.

In this story, a gentle-hearted stepdaughter is sent in January to the forest to bring back strawberries. Her stepmother is hoping that she will never return. It is cold and the snow on the mountain is deep. But the girl keeps walking until she comes to a clearing.  What follows is a very powerful image that stayed with me well beyond my childhood years: There is a large fire burning and twelve men are sitting on stones around the fire; twelve men in a circle, from very young to very old. They are the personified months. An old man, the great January, is sitting on the highest stone, holding a wand in his hand. After hearing the girl’s story, January says the obvious: “Strawberries do not grow in snow.” Then he stands up, gives his place and his wand to a much younger man, June. June takes a seat on the highest rock, waves the wand above the fire and the snow starts to melt, the trees blossom, birds sing, and strawberries appear under the bushes….

When we choose to eat locally and seasonally as much as possible, beyond all the good rational reasons that lead to this decision we, I believe, also express some intangible, primordial longing for simplicity and a more transparent life. Life and time measured by the rhythm of nature just feels safe and comforting. A seasonal, local meal is so much more than sustenance, it is a story of the place, its climate and its people. Wanting to be part of that story seems just natural.

But what does the seasonal eater do when she craves a fresh vegetable salad in February? Fresh, seasonal salad at this time of the year sounds like an oxymoron. Luckily, the humble roots can save the day.

Even before refrigeration, there was the root cellar where carrots, turnips, beets, parsnips, potatoes, and other root vegetables and tubers were kept fresh through the winter months. Like an underground treasure chest, it kept the produce safe from frost and provided the right humidity to preserve its freshness.

Let’s bring up some beets, carrots and apples from our imaginary root cellar and make a simple, truly down-to-earth salad.

Beets, being a true child of Mother Earth, taste, I imagine, like the soil that nourishes them.  I like to say that they carry the flavor of the earth, but not everyone thinks highly of their flavor. Please give them a chance. In this salad, they are in the right company and they shine. Even those who tend to say “no, thank you” to beets might reconsider. The earthiness of beets and carrots, along with their natural sweetness, is balanced in this recipe with the pleasant tang of lemon juice. It only takes one bite of a crisp, tart apple piece for the whole combination to come to life. Feel free to add a handful of raisins, especially if you think their addition will make the salad more appealing to children.

Savor the season. Enjoy winter’s bounty.


Winter’s Bounty Salad
3 cups grated beets (about 4 small to medium beets)
1 ½ cups grated carrots (about 4 medium carrots)
1 large, crisp, tart apple, cubed
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice or to taste
1 teaspoon olive oil
handful of raisins (optional)

Combine grated beets, carrots and chunks of apple. Add olive oil and lemon juice. Mix gently. Sprinkle with raisins, if using.


Eva Szigeti operates Pinebrook Garden Day Care, child-care centered around hands-on homesteading activities and free creative play. She also offers cooking and fiber craft classes for children and programs for homeschoolers.  For the past three summers Eva has been teaching cooking at The Nature Place Day Camp.

Chocolates and Flowers

Valentine’s Day meant my dad Walt would go down to Trudy’s Drug Store in Suffern and buy my mom Tessie a big heart-shaped box of chocolates. Inside the box the chocolates were individually wrapped in little accordion-cupped papers. There were dark, milk and white chocolates, and they were all filled with something. There were nuts, mints, jams, caramels and various sweet, chewy mysteries. Ricky and I learned from my sister Muffin how to pierce the flat bottoms of a chocolate in order to test its contents. Soft, chewy things were usually disgusting while hard ones were usually good, although this was not a fixed rule. One year the mint chocolates were not firm, instead composed of a delicious, almost honey-like substance, while what appeared to be nut-filled chocolates turned out to be shriveled, dried figs. The rule to invading the heart-shaped chocolate box was that Tessie had to have first dibs. Which usually didn’t take too long – she always opened the box as soon as Walt gave it to her.


This year Walt offered to take Ricky and me with him to buy the Valentine box of chocolate. Previously this had been something he always did alone. So we jumped into the truck and rode down to Suffern. Trudy’s was a drug store that also sold boxed candy, and was the place to take your camera film to have it developed into pictures. In those days cameras had little rolls of film that had to be sent out for developing into negatives and prints. This usually took at least a week. Sometimes you would drop off a roll of film and months would pass; then one day in the winter you would walk into Trudy’s to buy some aspirin or deodorant or something like that, and someone behind the counter would say, “Hey, you still got a roll of film back here waiting for you!” And you’d say, “I do?” And then you would pay for it and stand around in Trudy’s looking at the pictures and saying, “I’ll be damned – look at us in the summer time!”

So we followed Walt into Trudy’s and watched as he picked out a big heart-shaped box of chocolates. Cindy Maloney and her mom were in the store and they were looking at a wooden crutch, covered with a foam pad so you could lean on it under your underarm. We knew what this was about. Cindy’s dad John Maloney had badly sprained his ankle chasing her little brother Mort across the ice in front of their house. We knew this was a sore subject so I figured we weren’t going to say anything, just as Ricky, who had been studying the rubber bottom of the crutch, walked up to Lorraine Maloney and said, “Maybe you ought to get rid of that rubber tip and sharpen it to a point so he can walk on the ice?”

Lorraine said, “Maybe you ought to mind your own business.”

Ricky said, “I don’t got a business. I’m a kid!”

Cindy turned him around and moved him back beside me. “My mom is not happy about my dad’s ankle. She’s getting him the crutch so he’ll go back to work. He is driving her crazy.”

I said, “Well, maybe she ought to get him a Valentine’s box of candy…”

Cindy looked at me and said, “Oh yeah, Chucky, and what are you getting me?”

There it was. I somehow didn’t see it coming. I was just talking with them and next thing I knew I walked right into that one. I had to think quick. I said, “Well it’s nothing you can eat.” I said that because I knew if I bought her chocolate Ricky and I would eat it first.

She grinned and said, “So I’ll come over for it later today.” She turned to her mother and looked back and said, “And I’ll bring you something, too.”

Ricky said, “And what about me?”

She looked at him. “Well you’re not my boyfriend, Ricky.”

“No I’m not!” He agreed and added, “Not in a million years!”

She nodded and walked off.

Outside we followed Walt, with his Valentine’s gift, back to the truck. Walt, who had heard us kids talking, tossed the box into the truck and then walked us up to the Florist’s Shop. We went in there and he picked out two roses, a red one and a yellow one, and he had them wrapped individually. He then said to me, “Here you can give this to Cindy”, and he handed me the red one. He looked to Ricky and said, “Yellow ones are for friends on Valentine’s Day, so you can give this to her as a friend.”

We took our roses and Ricky asked, “Is Chucky going to marry Cindy?”

I said, “Nope.”

Walt said, “This ain’t about getting married, Ricky. This is about keeping the peace.”

We climbed back into the truck and Rick asked, “But were we at war?”

Walt said, “No, but this keeps you from going to war.”

Later that day, close to supper time, Walt gave Tessie the candy box. She opened it and as soon as she took off the heart shaped lid you could smell the scent of mixed chocolates. She examined one and ate it. Ricky and I were both allowed to take one. We studied the little lumps of sugary delight and then carefully made our choices. I ended up with a hard mint chocolate and Rick got a chocolate caramel. As he chomped down slowly, working his teeth through the hard caramel, we heard Cindy come up onto the back porch. I let her in and she handed Ricky and me each a small envelope. Tessie then offered her a chocolate and Cindy managed to choose one containing almond clusters. I then opened my envelope and found not a card but a black and white snapshot of Cindy standing by a tree. Ricky then said to her, “Whaa ou gaa me for? I ain’t ou oy-friend?”

Despite the hard candy he talked through she understood and said, “No, you are my friend, that’s all.”

He opened his envelope and found a snapshot of a dead fish. He was thrilled and showed it to Walt and Tessie proudly.

We then both gave her our roses and she smiled and kind of turned away. Ricky, who had by now finished his caramel, followed her around and said, “Hey what are you crying for? Don’t you like flowers?”

She tried keeping away from him but he followed her across the room, so Tessie announced we could each have another chocolate. We all returned to the box and studied it carefully.

Ricky said, “I think there’s one of them lousy coconut ones in there.”

I said, “Or maybe one of them cherry flavored ones that taste like cough syrup?”

Cindy said, “Or something crispy, but you don’t know what it is.”

That was the worse, getting something you don’t know but feeling obligated to eat it anyway. I slowly moved my fingers toward a roundish dark chocolate one and Cindy said, “I don’t think so.” So I took up a chocolate square. It turned out to be a little wafer dipped in chocolate, nothing special, just a plain wafer. Cindy found a mint and Rick eagerly grabbed up a dark round one, tossed it into his mouth and then shouted, “Coconut!”

Open House, Animal Program, and Camp Fairs this weekend – February 6th and 7th

This upcoming weekend is a busy one for The Nature Place, with plenty of opportunities to meet us and learn more about camp.

On Saturday, February 6th, we’ll be at PS 321 in Park Slope for the school’s annual Camp Expo. Stop by PS 321 (180 7th Avenue, Brooklyn) any time between Noon and 4 pm to meet Scott and Daniel and learn more about The Nature Place Day Camp. This event gets pretty busy, so you might have to search us out (it’s worth it).

On Sunday, February 7th, we’ve cloned ourselves in order to be in three places at once! (No, not really….)

  • From Noon until 1 pm Outragehisss Pets will be at camp (307 Hungry Hollow Road, Chestnut Ridge, NY 10977) for our annual winter animal program.
  • Our Open House will begin right after the animal program, running between 1 and 4 pm.
  • If you live in Manhattan, we’ll be at Congregation Rodeph Sholom’s for a camp fair on the Upper West Side, between Noon and 3 pm.
  • If you live in Westchester, we’ll be at the Crowne Plaza in White Plains, 66 Hale Avenue, between Noon and 3 pm.

That’s so many events, you’d be hard pressed to find a way not to meet us this weekend!

Until then

Not the most outrageous of animals...but still very mooving

Not the most outrageous of animals…but still very mooving