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.

The Stars in Winter

Winter is a great time of year to go out and look up at the night sky: darkness comes early, winter nights are often crisp and clear, and some of the brightest stars in the sky make their appearance at this time of year. The constellations are also outstanding and many are easily recognizable. One of my favorites is Orion, the mighty hunter. My youngest son, Nathaniel, was born with Orion looking down upon him, and so his middle name, Orion, came down from the skies to us.


There are many books, star charts, apps, websites, etc. that can help lead you around the winter skies. So if you can find a fairly dark spot, go there, and before you go to one of the charts or guides, just look up, with wide eyes and with silence for at least a few minutes. And while you’re looking up remember this quotation from Neil deGrasse Tyson, astrophysicist, popularizer of science and Director of the Hayden Planetarium in NYC:

“I look up at the night sky, and I know that, yes, we are part of this universe, we are in this universe, but perhaps more important than both of these facts is that the universe is in us. When I reflect on that fact, I look up. Many people feel small, because they are small and the universe is big, but I feel big, because my atoms came from those stars.”

Garden Swarm


A swarm of bees

April showers bring May flowers. But what do May flowers bring? Pilgrims! And honeybees. This past Saturday a swarm of bees left one of our hives near the garden and took up temporary residence in a nearby cherry tree, fortunately not too high from the ground. Bill Day, our local bee expert, came with a few volunteers to gather the swarm and give it a home in our apiary (no easy task).


At the cherry tree


Some bees are still on the tree after the swarm has been caught

Bill put a hive box underneath the branch where the swarm was gathered, and then cut the slender branch, causing the cluster to fall into the box. There was a lot of intense buzzing in the air with many bees flying all around wondering what had happened. Our hope was that the queen, formerly in the center of the cluster, was in the box, which would draw the other bees to her. To our surprise, many of the bees began to cluster upon the same tree again, making us uncertain whether we had gotten the queen or not. There wasn’t any clear way to tell as there were so many bees in the box and yet so many on the tree. Even the bees seemed unclear about where to go. We waited and waited, and eventually the bees that had clustered on the tree made their way to the box. Bill took the box to his basement so the bees could calm down in the cool and dark environment.


Putting the lid on the swarm-catching box


Bees going in


These bees are fanning their wings to spread the scent of the queen inside the box so that other bees will know where she is


Bill tells the bees to go inside the box and points the way

On Sunday this new colony was introduced into its new hive within our apiary and all is well.

Garden Greetings

What’s happening in the garden? More than we know – even with the lingering cover of snow! Peter Alexanian tells us what’s happening in the Pfeiffer Garden, our particular piece of cultivated earth.


Back in February we (folks at the Pfeiffer Center) began sowing seeds in our heated greenhouse.  Having a heated greenhouse is indeed a luxury, but even more luxurious was getting my hands into the soil again, as this has been a very long and layered winter. By soil, I mean potting soil, our proven mix of kitchen compost, horse manure compost, and sand. Still, scooping up shovel after shovel of potting soil felt much more invigorating than shovel after shovel full of snow. As of March the onions, leeks, and scallions are looking well. Last week we sowed our early greens: kale, swiss chard, spinach, lettuce, and cabbage.  They’re so cute when they start to come up.

Early greens

Most of our apple trees got pruned, with the help of our adult class participants, except for the one that is fenced in in one of our gardens. The gates only open toward the inside and all the entrances were heavily blocked by snow and ice. Arg! We’ll burn all the cut branches and spread the ashes around the drip line of the trees, providing a healthy supplement of potassium.

Collecting pollen

Having a warm, sunny day gave us the opportunity to check in on our honeybees. I even caught sight of a bee with bright orange pollen on its leg, and I have no idea where she could have gotten it from as I haven’t seen a single crocus yet. Having all this snow around has slowed our activity quite a bit, nevertheless the greenhouse is already getting full of seedlings, and very soon we’re going to have to start moving really fast – REALLY FAST! That’s Spring . . . moving like quicksilver.

Checking in on the bees

Shoulder bee

Woolly Bear

Want to know how much snow we’re going to get this winter? All you’ve got to do is pick up a woolly bear, those fuzzy, black and brown caterpillars found crawling this time of year. American folklore holds that the ratio of black to brown on a woolly bear caterpillar will predict the severity of the upcoming winter. More black means a harsh, snow-filled, wild winter, while more brown predicts milder weather and less sever weather.

We’ll let you decide for yourselves. Below are two woolly bear caterpillars photographed over the last few weeks around camp. If you are able to take a wider sampling around your own home, please let us know if your results match ours or if your woolly bears predict something different.

Spring peepers peeping

A piece of peeping from our recent spring peeper hunt: Peepers


Be careful when you’re out and about at this time of year. You don’t want to be bitten by the ‘lion’s teeth’! We’re kidding about the biting part, but there really are ‘lion’s teeth’ to be found wherever there are dandelions: Dent-de-lion (French for lion’s tooth) brings us to our name, dandelion. To find these teeth, first locate the well-known yellow flower and follow the stem down to the ground. Radiating out from the base of the plant, sometimes very flat on the ground, you will find the toothed leaves. Some people think they look like little pine trees.

dandelion and its teeth

Did you know…
…that the first dandelions were brought to this country by the early European settlers?
…that the dandelion has been used for thousands of years as a spring tonic, liver support, a great source of vitamins, wine, and a coffee substitute? keep reading…

Earth Day

April 22nd is Earth Day, and being The Nature Place, we take this day seriously! While we think every day should be earth day (remember on Mother’s Day asking why there is no kid’s day, and being told that “every day is kid’s day”?), we like to think of April 22nd as a birthday celebration for our planet.

Earth Day Teach-In

The first Earth Day came about through the efforts of Senator Gaylord Nelson when he realized that this country did not have an environmental agenda, and keep reading…

Maple Syrup

In preparation for our March 3rd maple sugaring program we thought we’d offer some sweet facts and figures to get your sap flowing:


The sugar maple is the New York State tree.
Other maples will yield sap – Norway, silver, red – but their sap is not as sweet as the sugar maple’s. Maples will yield their sap when nights are cold and the days begin to get warmer – this time of year. The warmer days create pressure within the tree which allows the sap to flow out of a hole or wound in the tree. The colder nights create suction within the tree which allows the tree to draw in water and replenish the flow of sap. Maple sugar was once seen as a solution towards ending slavery by providing an alternative to sugar cane. It takes 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of syrup. Some maple trees have been tapped for their sap every February/March for over 150 years. Maple syrup is made in no other place on earth except here, in northeastern North America.

Looking for Green

white pine

During the just-finished holiday time it was almost impossible not to see green in the forms of wreaths, garlands, trees and more, inside and outside of homes, stores and malls. A continuation, some say, of our ancient ancestors’ activities during the longest nights of the year, the time of the Winter Solstice. Green, to remind them that the dark will not last forever, that life will continue.

During a January walk out-of-doors we can still see green in the form of our evergreen trees. By the way, pine trees are evergreens, but not all evergreens are pine trees! There are others such as spruce, fir, hemlock and more. You can tell pines apart from the other evergreen trees by looking closely at the needles. Only the pines have their needles in groups or small bunches, anywhere from two to five needles in a bunch, depending on what kind of pine it is. And a cone from a pine tree is certainly a pine cone but a cone from a spruce tree is a spruce cone, from a hemlock tree a hemlock cone, from Dairy Queen an ice cream cone, etc.
keep reading…