Week Two at Camp

Talk about some beautiful camp weather! Our whole second week of camp has consisted of cool mornings, warm afternoons, and bright, blue skies. Over the week, we had our eyes toward the sky, looking up to spot the few clouds that ‘snuck in’ now and again.

The theme of this past week was Branch Out. Campers and staff were encouraged to try something different, to extend out of their comfort zone, make a new friend, go out on a limb, to grow and stretch. Naturally, the week was also filled with all things tree and branch-related: nests, birds, squirrels, leaves, stems, sticks, twigs, and more! In fact, during one Morning Share we had four “expert researchers” share with us about which term they believed to be the proper name for those “things” on a tree–‘branches’, ‘limbs’, ‘sticks’, or ‘bows’. Each expert had their own firm opinion as to which word was correct. Luckily, the confusion was settled during the next Morning Share, when a rapper appeared and rapped his way through the controversy, bringing all parties together.

Some Quotable Quotes from the week:

  • Campers were making animal noises and it was getting really loud. A counselor said “now everybody be a rock” and the group became instantly quiet.
  • Bill Robinson’s animal program was going along quite well when he brought out a bird he had trained to hop into its cage. A camper said, “I need to train my brother to do that!”
  • Around a campfire on an overnight, a new camper said, “I’m grateful for my family and my friends… and all of you are my friends!”
  • A camper in woodworking, aware of the loud noise in the woodworking shop, said, “I wish we were making ear muffs.”
  • After learning about how the female tarantulas eat the males, one camper said, “When I get married, I will not eat my husband!”
  • Getting off the bus at camp, one camper said, “Goodnight to the past and good morning to the future, that’s what I say!”

Here is a glimpse at some of this past week’s activities:

  • In Music, campers branched out into other activities in a surprising way. They learned about invasive species and then wrote songs that they sang to ‘invade’ other groups and activities. Much fun was had!
  • In Nature with Ed, we made stick sculptures throughout campus, in sand boxes, in the woods, anywhere we could! I was amazed how all campers, of varied ages, really got into this project.
  • In Nature with Alex, campers learned about the life cycle of trees, and began to distinguish between different types of leaves. We wondered at the silvery glimmer of jewelweed held underwater, and learned about how to use it if we get any bites or poison ivy. Campers also heard the Hopi story of Coyote Woman.
  • In Nature with May campers played the ‘web of life’ game, learned all about snakes and bats, played snake/bat games, and told many tree riddles.
  • In Cooking, campers made vegetable/legume/potato dishes, and branched out of their culinary comfort zones by exploring some unusual seasonings. Younger groups made guacamole and tortilla chips, mid-aged campers (not middle-aged campers in their 50’s…) made a variety of vegetarian spreads and dips, and older groups made potato ‘burgers’ with Indian seasoning and cilantro and peach chutney.
  • In Outdoor Skillz, campers explored different methods of making fire – ranging from matches to using bow drills. Collecting proper materials, building and lighting well-built structures, and the one-match fire challenge were some of what we did.
  • In Art this week, campers learned about the Indian art of kolam. Using natural materials like rice, birdseed, and chalk, campers created beautiful mandalas, symbols, and pictures all around camp. Campers also made bubble wands out of branches, as well as collected materials to make trolls.
  • In Drama, campers formed invisible webs out of branches, listened to the sounds make by trees overhead, used stumps and sticks as prop prompts, incorporated tree and branch puns into skits, and worked with imaginative evolution – from seed to root to trunk to branch to a mighty oak.
  • Outragehisss Pets brought us a fennec fox, a tree frog, a tarantula that ended up on a counselor’s head, a bearded dragon, and the cutest, dust-bathing chinchilla.
  • In Games this week, campers played a cool, creative game of non-competitive, non-moving basketball, where two campers hold hula hoop ‘hoops’, and everyone else, spread across the large field, has to pass the ball along and get it to one of the ‘hoops’ without anyone moving their feet.
  • In the garden this week, campers identified all sorts of medicinal plants, made sun tea, and of course did some weeding, watering, and transplanting.

Hobbies this week included animal exploration, climbing, drumming, extreme mucking, knife skills, farm, music olympics, note holders (woodworking), making pumpkin ravioli, skit builders, wall hangings, wild food foraging, making magic boo boo cream, and stick masks.

There were many onsite overnight camping trips on our Mary Dailey field. These onsite overnights solidify basic camping skills, and are full of magic. The fireflies rival the stars in twinkling brightness, the crickets and birds sing sweet twilight songs to ready campers for bed, and the morning sun comes in over the treetops with the promise of a new, full day at camp ahead. Our onsite overnights are filled out by a visit from Paul Tappenden, wild food forager, and by Scott Louis, who brings campers knowledge, stories, and songs about the stars gleaming overhead.

Getting sticky on an overnight

Next week at camp is themed Be’an Green. Besides fun with vegetables in the garden, at the farm, and in the kitchen, we’ll explore what it means to live greenly on the earth, sustainably and with respect. I have a feeling it will be a pretty corny week, with plenty of bad vegetable puns.

Next week also finds groups I, J, K, and L sailing the sloop Clearwater, three hours on the Hudson River learning all about the river’s ecosystem and history.

Our Cedar Pond canoeing overnights begin next week. Groups learn canoeing skill on a beautiful peninsula in Harriman State Park, right on lake Tiorati. Besides beginning our canoeing adventures, there are four onsite overnights, three backpacking trips, and two day hikes coming up next week.

The week will conclude with a performance by the wonderful environmental performance art group Arm-of-the-Sea Theater.

Harvesting garlic

Birds with Brian Robinson

This summer, we’ve been happy to bring back our optional lunch program through our neighbor, the Threefold Cafe. The cafe has worked hard to create a lunch program that lives up to our sustainability standards, and besides that, their food is super yummy! You can find out more about the cafe camp lunch program here.

We’re just four short weeks away from the end of camp, and it’s hard to believe how quickly this time passes when we’re having so much fun! If you’d like to enroll in our one-week offerings that take place that week after The Nature Place has ended, August 13th – 17th, the time is now. You can see information about Farm & Garden DaysArt & Earth, or Passages, and of course you can be in touch with us if you have any questions.

I hope your family has been enjoying camp as much as I have. What a pleasure and privilege it is to be learning and playing outdoors, with friends, all summer long!

See you next week,


Week One at Camp

Our first week of camp has been plenty hot, with short periods of strong rain, long stretches of bright sun, and the excitement of getting to know fellow campers, counselors, and the streams, trees, hills, and dales of camp.

At the end of each week of camp I’ll send you a letter telling you about highlights from our recently concluded week, as well as sharing some things to look forward to the following week.

This week was ‘Taking Care’ week, which has been the theme for our first week of camp for thirty-three summers in a row! At our annual winter retreat we often debate whether we need to freshen up our first week’s theme – should we rename it ‘caring’ week, ‘connecting and sharing’ week, ‘treating things with respect’ week? None of these have exactly the right ring to them, and they also don’t encapsulate our intentions for the first week quite as well as ‘taking care’ does. Some traditions are worth keeping!

Our first week of camp sets the stage for a successful summer: we learn how to take care of ourselves (with sun protection, hydration, hand washing), how to take care of our friends (with kindness and respect), and how to care for our earth (because there’s no replacement).

At the start of each day, we are introduced to these ideas at Morning Share. During Share this week we had an appearance by The Hydrator, who overzealously brought water to those in need. On Thursday morning we met the new Thurston on Thursday (who bought the rights to the name from the NPDC production studio after last year’s retirement of the ‘real’ Thurston). Morning Share is a consistently goofy time at camp, and the whole camp singing our special birthday song, accompanied by a visit from the flower fairy, makes each morning complete.


When a camper says something particularly apt and often unintentionally funny, at The Nature Place we call that a ‘quotable quote’.

Here are a few quotable quotes from this week:

  • A camper was stung by a wasp, and afterward said, “I actually enjoyed it, it was a new experience!”
  • A camper was running a ‘nature store’ after lunch time, announcing to potential customers, “Buy nature, with nature!” Another camper then came up and gave her two acorns in exchange for the rock she was ‘selling’.
  • In a getting-to-know-you game, a counselor said, “Stand up if you have a sibling!” Nearly every camper stood up. The counselor soon found out that ‘sibling’ had been widely interpreted to include fish, dogs, cats, bearded dragons, pigs, chickens, and plants.
  • A camper, lying on the floor, was asked by a counselor, “What are you doing down there?” The camper replied, “I’m practicing my backstroke!”.

Here’s a sampling of some of this week’s activities:

  • In music with Rocki, campers learned new songs and accompanied them on simple instruments.
  • During Nature with Alex this week, campers identified hazards in nature, especially living ones like plants, fungi, and animals. Campers were challenged to find three plants that had three leaflets and that weren’t poison ivy.
  • In cooking with Eva campers baked savory whole wheat scones, and through this explored the process of chemical leavening and the importance of grains in different cultures.
  • In Outdoor Skills with Joe, campers learned how to move silently through the landscape, using stalking and silent movement techniques.
  • During Archery, campers learned safety protocols and worked on their accuracy with the bow and arrow.
  • In Drama with Janet, campers did the hula hoop pass, the hand squeeze pass, and created skits about soap, bugs, and sun.
  • In Nature with May, campers identified different animals and plants, learned about predator/prey systems, and played all sorts of games to understand these concepts!
  • At Games this week, campers played cooling water games, untangled the human knot, and played group tag games.
  • In the garden, campers went on a scavenger hunt to learn what is growing there, and planted seeds (beans, corn, lettuce, chard, kale, and collards).
  • During Farm, we harvested (and ate) the season’s last snap peas and helped with farm tasks!
  • This week, Outragehisss Pets brought in grasshoppers, a snake, a hedgehog, two scorpions, a small lizard, and a baby alligator.
  • Our storyteller Chuck Stead told a tale that involved finding a frozen snake in winter, a continuation of a tale he’s been writing about in our monthly Dirt publication through the year. Chuck, Ricky, Dougy, and Cindy brought the snake back to Uncle Mal’s store, where it unfroze by the heater, and then it came alive!

Hobbies this week included making dream catchers, embroidery, water games, knife skills, mucking, a panini party, chickens, nature’s keepsakes, and more.

With the 4th of July holiday falling mid-week, we had just a few day hikes and camping trips. Groups hiked up Long Mountain, via the Long Path in Harriman State Park, and climbed Indian Hill in Sterling Forest. We had one onsite overnight, one backpacking trip, and a rain-slogged trail-building experience that certainly won’t be forgotten!

Next week at camp will be our first full week of the 2018 summer season. It’s hard to believe we’ve only been in camp for one short week. Once we’re up and running, it really feels like camp has just been continuing since last summer, with a brief, forgettable pause for the cold of winter.

Next week there will be four day hikes, four onsite overnights, and three backpacking trips.

Bill Robinson, wildlife rehabilitator, will join us next week, bringing some of the animals currently in his care. This often includes big birds of prey like hawks, owls, vultures, eagles, and falcons, and bear cubs and alligators too.

Thursday of next week, July 12th, from 7:15 – 8:15 pm, is our family program ‘Songs around the Campfire’. You are invited to come back to camp (you can bring friends, family, and neighbors) to learn and sing some of the songs your children have been singing at camp.


Busy with the logistics, silly fun, outdoor immersion, and the general unique energy of camp, we’re already thinking about our one-week program offerings happening after our six weeks of The Nature Place.

There’s still room to sign up for Farm & Garden Days, Art & Earth, and Passages (our teen rite-of-passage wilderness program). These programs run from August 13th – 17th, and are specialized weeks that expand upon a few of the many things we do at The Nature Place.

Have a wonderful, temperate weekend, and we’ll see you at camp next week.

Naturally yours,


#GivingTuesday #SpreadMagic

This year, #GivingTuesday, a global day of charitable giving, falls on November 28th. And this year, The Nature Place has a request:

The newly established Nature Place Day Camp Campership Fund was created in the hopes that, through the support of those whose lives have been touched by camp, we can give the Nature Place experience to even more children who would not otherwise be able to attend camp. Through our partnership with the American Camp Association, The Campership Fund accepts tax-deductible donations of any amount, and the funds go directly to camper tuition for families in need. If your life, or your child’s life, has been impacted by a summer spent at The Nature Place, we hope you’ll consider spreading the magic and passing on that gift to another child.

We have a fundraising goal of $10,000 for the first year of our fund. Look in your inbox and via social media on #GivingTuesday for the launch of our Campership Fund page and for donation details.

Introducing Our New Year-Round Program!

We are so excited to announce the launch of our new Primitive Living Skills program. Click on the image below for more information about weekend series for children, adults, and families!

Ed in The Journal News

Ed Bieber has been leading kids in the outdoors for decades, introducing about a quarter million kids to the wonders of nature, and making our mission at The Nature Place a reality every single day. As many of you know, Ed is currently undergoing brain surgery that could reduce and reverse some symptoms of his Parkinson’s disease, which, recently, have been keeping him from fully doing that which he most loves. This week, The Journal News published a wonderful article about Ed’s journey as an outdoor educator, the surgery, and what he hopes to do as soon as he’s recovered. Take a look here.

Garbage Can Challenge – October Update

Okay, so, the moment of truth: how much garbage did you produce this month? What’s your family’s baseline? I’ll tell you, if you tell me :).

Well, that’s not exactly how this newsletter thing works, but I would love to hear from all of you with a comment on this post!

Our family (2 adults and one baby) produced 1 large outdoor garbage can this month, and A LOT of recycling. Along with tracking our garbage this month, I did start to pay attention to recycling more. Our county sent a very helpful magnet about what can be recycled where we live, which I referred to after writing to you last month. I must admit, I realized there were things that I had been throwing away that could actually be recycled. I then found that we had heaps of plastic recyclables, which I am far from thrilled about. Ultimately, I’d like to cut down on our plastic consumption overall, even the kind that can be recycled. I will be thinking about this over the coming weeks and months.

Now that you know our baseline, you might be asking, “So? What’s your goal for the challenge!?”

Drum-roll please…
My family garbage goal for this year is: to cut our garbage in half! Is that realistic? I am not sure. We are going to try though, and I know we’re going to learn a lot doing it!

How about you? How much garbage did you produce this month? How much would you like to reduce your trash by? Any initial thoughts on how?

Let’s get the juices flowing!

Helpful tips for diverting items from the garbage can:

  • If you aren’t clear on what you can and can’t recycle, a quick google search of ‘____ county recycling’, should get you to a list. I recommend posting this list near your garbage/recycling area. Here are some lists I’ve collected to get you started: NYC RecyclingRockland County RecyclingBergen County RecyclingWestchester County Recycling. Also, if you are looking to recycle something odd or unusual, like batteries, auto fluids, electronics etc., you can go here and type in the item and your zip code to find a location to recycle them near you!
  • Check every piece of trash before throwing it away. You might be surprised at what can be recycled!

Good luck to us all!

Garbage Can Challenge – YOU IN!?

This past spring, a few of us camp administrators got together and watched the movie Plastic Paradise (Warning: watch before you think about showing this to your children, there are some graphic parts). It was truly horrific, BUT equally inspiring. The film spells out that unless we, the consumers, stop buying plastic, it will not stop being made! And, if you haven’t guessed it – our plastic use is way out of hand and causing major environmental ramifications. Did you know that if current plastic production and disposal patterns continue, there will be more plastic, by weight, in the oceans than fish?

So, how much garbage does your family produce? In a day? A week? A year? Do you have a sense?

I’ve recently been so excited by the stories of families who’ve committed to living a zero or extremely low waste lifestyle. I’ve also heard of other families that only allow themselves to produce enough waste to fill up one garbage can… for the entire year! What courageous and conscious decisions!

For me, these inspiring challenges feel a little out of reach right now. I try to pay close attention to recycling and composting, but the garbage still fills up faster than I expect it to, and to be honest, I am not even sure how many cans of garbage we fill in an average week or month.

Knowing I definitely wanted to make some degree of change, I began asking myself: how can I reduce the garbage our family produces in a real and tangible way? And, what will make me commit to a goal for the long run? Then, I thought of all of you – our camp community, who I know also care deeply for the earth! It is always helpful to work together and get through challenges as a group.

If any of this is resonating, tell your children, get them on board, and start the challenge with us!

Here’s how to get the ball rolling and keep it going all year:

Step 1: Figure out how much garbage your family is producing as a baseline. You could weigh your garbage bags before you put them out for pickup, or simply count how many bags you toss each time. Notice how much of your waste stream is made up of single-use plastics – plastics that are used only once before they are thrown “away” (i.e. plastic bags, produce bags, straws, coffee stirrers, plastic wrap, etc.).

Step 2: Set a reduction goal you think is doable for your family, that will push you to try some new sustainable choices.

Step 3: Over this year, keep track of your garbage consumption and see if you can meet or surpass your goal!

I propose that we complete our baseline garbage tracking and our family goal setting (any ‘1 garbage can for the entire year’ families out there?) by the next issue of The Dirt, say, mid-October.

For the rest of the year, in each month’s Dirt, I will post about how my family (Daniel, Odelia and I) is doing with the challenge. I’ll also write about things we find helpful along the way!

If you’re in, please visit the Garbage Can Challenge page of our blog to reply with a ‘Yes! We are joining the challenge!’. I encourage you to reply regarding what your garbage goals are and, in future posts, how the challenge is going. This community sharing will help all of us all stay motivated and on track! I’m really looking forward to reading your posts. Pictures of your garbage (and/or recycling and compost) are also most welcome!

SO….WHO’S IN? I know Emily Selover, our Sustainability Queen, is!

I’m very excited about this,


Warm, beautiful summer

The summer camp season that just finished was especially memorable. Maybe it was the general, contagious feeling of belonging that spread to everyone at camp – good spirited, relaxed, engaged; maybe it was Banana week, maybe this season had great hikes and camping trips/garden programming/swim instruction/art projects, etc…. likely many of the summer’s good memories are due to the truly exceptional staff that graced us with their constant care and presence.

Below are a few of the kind, descriptive words that parents shared with us this summer.

She has come home saying things like, “I love snap peas!”

Everyone is patient, kind and present. One of the best parts is that all the counselors and staff seem to be enjoying themselves.

…the non-stop chatter, the bright eyes, the scraped knees, the tangled birds nest hair, the grubby shorts and the spoils of nature with which they returned – herbed salt, harvested garlic, tie-dyed t-shirts, dream catchers and so on.

I immediately noticed a lovely and relaxed aura around him since he started camp and it has definitely added to his sense of wonder in the world.

I am convinced that this camp will make a difference in her life forever.

I wanted to let you know that all 3 of my children had a beautiful first experience at The Nature Place. They came home happy, peaceful and full of new knowledge that they wanted to share with me. I love that they come home energized rather than over-stimulated and irritable from a long day.

Camp is technically over but soon my oldest child will be assessing camping gear, planning on days to do trail work with friends and looking at all of the fossils, minerals, and stones he’s collected. My younger one will wear her tye-died shirt, sing “Mellow, Yellow” ad-nauseam and show her friends how to do some of the string art she learned. Eventually, they both will ask how many days until camp starts? And so the annual countdown begins.


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Early Bird Special

No, it’s not three eggs, home fries and toast… it’s 7.5% off of camp tuition for summer 2017 if you pay in full by October 1st (two weeks away). Sign up as an early bird here.


"It's still hungry... and I've been stuffing worms into it all day."

“It’s still hungry… and I’ve been stuffing worms into it all day.”

Three Photos from Week Six!


Mud Person

Round and round