Week Six at Camp

We closed the 33rd year of The Nature Pace on a good weather note, unlike the beginning of the week when scattered thunderstorms and drenching downpours graced us at camp. Thursday night, the night of our Remembering Summer Slideshow, was beautiful, with a gentle breeze and clear skies. It felt like maybe, just maybe the best night of the summer.

Watching our end-of-camp slideshow, in the same spot I’ve watched it for now 33 years in a row, always pulls on my heart, and makes me feel bittersweet about the end of camp. The tenets of the night have stayed the same – the katydids, the bright stars, and the joy/sadness shared by campers, families, and staff closing out a summer together.

Our camp harvest day up at the farm also had us taking advantage of Thursday’s great weather, when we all hiked up to the fields of Duryea Farm to harvest onions. Accompanied by guitars and signing and laughter, l’ll bet we picked about 2,000 pounds of onions!

Coming back to camp from the farm we took a woodland path, a few groups at a time traveling down it in silence. We were trying to spot the group Q campers and counselors, who were hidden and camouflaged along the way, blending into the forest on either side of the path. You could look straight at them and only see the woods!

Some Quotable Quotes from our last week of camp:

  • On a hike a camper stopped to feel the breeze and said, “Ahh, nature’s air conditioning.”
  • During a guided meditation hobby a camper said, “Did you open my third eye? Because I think I felt it open.”
  • A mother encouraged her child to write a thank you note to her favorite counselor and the camper replied, “Oh, I can’t express that in words!”
  • A child who became frantic at the top of the climbing tree, “My people are potato farmers not tree climbers!”
  • “Happiness, I found it right here” said a camper pointing to her heart.

We are truly grateful that you’ve been a part of our camp family this summer! You can expect to hear from us now and then over the year. Besides sending out the Dirt (our monthly newsletter) September through May, we’ll also send you some gifts to remind you of the warmth and fun of camp. These will include a cookbook of Eva’s yummy recipes from the summer, a winter solstice card (signed by your camper’s counselor, shhh…it’s a secret), our end-of-summer slideshow, and a few flower seeds in the springtime which you and your child(ren) can plant to grow and get ready for next summer, 2019.

If you’re already ready for next summer, you can catch the early bus to bargainsville and enroll as an early bird for The Nature Place in 2019, saving 10% on camp tuition.

On Saturday we had our staff party at the Threefold Cafe. This is always a special time where we get to recognize all the hard work and dedication of our counselors and activity leaders and support staff. We eat a yummy meal together and then watch a funny, heartfelt staff slideshow. After the slideshow, right before departing, an apt analogy was brought up. We, the year-round and core summer administrative staff, are like a sourdough starter. A sourdough starter is necessary to make a loaf of sourdough bread, but without additional flour and water and maybe a pinch of salt, there’s no bread, only the potential for it. The counselors and activity leaders and support staff that work with us for our brief, intense summer season are the difference between a great sourdough starter (just sitting on the shelf) and a fresh, delicious loaf of bread – they really make the final result possible. Within this analogy, we noted that this year the loaf of bread was especially delicious!

It does feel that this just-ended summer was an especially connected one, and that feeling of connection and purpose shared joyfully between staff, campers, and families is a gift I am truly grateful for.

 

Thank you for being an integral part of the living entity that is The Nature Place!

Sincerely,

Ed

Week Three at Camp

The weather this past week at camp has been just beautiful! Temperatures were in the low 80’s and the air was dry, with crisp, cool mornings. These finest of summer days were possible after Tuesday’s dark, intense rainstorm, complete with plenty of thunder and lightening. The gorgeous days since have been so perfect for time spent outdoors, in the height of nature’s blooming, green growth, that it almost feels like camp could just roll on forever.

But, the truth is, we’ve got just half of it left! There are three adventure-filled, wacky, fleeting weeks of The Nature Place Day Camp still to come.

And to top it all off, after The Nature Place ends, there are three one-week specialty programs taking place August 13 – 17:

  • If your camper especially enjoys the hands-on nature, garden, and farm experiences at The Nature Place, Farm & and Garden Days would make a great addition to their summer lineup. Cow-milking, horse-plowing, gardening, and a pizza party extravaganza are just some of what makes up this program. Plus, we’ve added a new extension created for younger campers ages 5 and 6.
  • If art and nature-inspired creativity are what excites your camper, our new Art & Earthprogram is just the thing. Taking place in the painting studio at the Red Barn, and mixing hands-on creative work with materials from and time in nature, this new program is for the nature-loving artist.
  • If your camper is a teenager age 13 – 16, looking to find community, a renewed sense of self, and meaning through a strong relationship to the natural world, Passagesis designed for them. A wilderness rite-of-passage experience for adolescents, this program combines survival skills and techniques for securing shelter, food, fire, and water with deliberate time for community-building, self-reflection, and ceremony.

 

Now, before we get too far ahead of ourselves, here are some Quotable Quotes from our recently completed 3rd week of camp:

  • An acorn fell off a tree and hit a group E counselor on the shoulder. A camper said to her, “You should feel lucky, because the tree chose you and gave you a gift!”
  • Pouring water into a pot on an overnight, one camper said of the stream of water, “That is a parabola. Most things in nature are.”
  • Upon seeing Drama Jon for the first time this summer, and knowing that Jon’s wife just had a baby, a camper said, “Look, there’s Papa Jon.”
  • After visiting the garden, campers came away wearing beautiful “necklaces” containing the seeds of each of the Three Sisters in a transparent bag. When lunchtime came, a young camper sat down to eat, took off the necklace, and carefully laid it out in the sun. The camper explained, “Now the seeds can eat while we eat…and they eat sunlight!”

 

This week’s theme was Be’an Green. We had songs, activities, events, and Morning Shares relating to living sustainably on our planet earth.

Activities this week included:

  • Nature drumming in Music with Rocki. Campers played high and low nature ‘instruments’, boomwhackers, and other percussive items to play patterns, and took turns conducting some favorite camp songs.
  • Being green in the Nature Pond in Nature with Alex. Campers explored animal and plant life at our algae-covered, wooded nature pond, finding dragonflies, frogs, turtles and many types of insects. Campers learned about the predator/prey systems and life stages of pond inhabitants, and a mucky time was had by all.
  • Beans and greens all around the world in Cooking with Eva. Campers prepared all sorts of different bean salads, plated on beds of salad greens. Mediterranean, Thai, Mexican, Italian, and Greek bean salads were a few of the varied options.

  • Learning trapping techniques in Outdoor Skillz with Joe. Younger campers were treated to a ‘show and tell’ of many of Joe’s greatest treasures including a deer skull and buttons made out of deer antlers, obsidian tools, arrowheads, a pouch made from squirrel pelt, coyote tracks, and more.
  • Shooting our best shots in Archery.
  • For older campers, learning the art of kokedema and creating a hanging kokedema ball in Art. These were constructed by making mud/clay balls, inserting a small plant in this soil ball, coating the whole thing with moss, and then tying string around it all, with additional strings for support so that the kokedema ball can hang nicely (in front of a window of your home, perhaps). Younger campers learned the art of paper making by giving new life to shredded, used paper. They then pressed this paper into molds and sprinkled them with wildflower seeds, to create plant-able art that will grow pollinator-attracting flowers. Talk about be’an green!
  • All sorts of theater/communication games in Drama with Janet. These included MILL, blink and switch, eagle eye, honey, evolution, green bean hunts, reenactments of ‘Jack and the Bean Stalk’, and many more bean skits.
  • Playing games with Nature May that taught us about the life of coyote pups and the perils of pesticide bio-accumulation in predator birds, as well as exploration in the Nature Pond with nets and keen eyes – discovering dragonflies, snapping turtles, and frogs.
  • Oodles of non-competitive games with Leah. These included ships and sailors, blob tag, cat and mouse, the igloo game, and the handshake game.

  • Building bean teepees in the garden. Campers learned about the three sisters (corn, beans, squash) and other kinds of companion planting, and created supports for plants that climb, using sticks and bamboo to form a teepee shape, as well as using other plants like corn or sunflowers as supports. Campers also made seed necklaces that will allow the seeds of the Three Sisters to sprout inside and then be transferred to a pot or garden.
  • Petting baby guinea pigs, Hamlet the pig, an Iberian ribbed newt that can poke its ribs through its skin in self-defense, and an armadillo in Outragehiss Pets.
  • Rhythmic games and joyous drumming with Mashobane.

Hobbies this past week included archery, chickens, drumming, knife skills, climbing, making lip balm, project runway (a la Nature Place), cooking secret brownies, wild food foraging, wildlife scavenger hunt, wood working (making book ends), and more.

We were all treated to an incredible special performance on Friday afternoon by Arm–of-the-Sea Theater. Using spectacular puppets, scenery and props, with an original live score that had us all singing along, this brilliant performance taught us all about ‘Dirt: The Secret Life of Soil’, including the world of mycelium, microbes, soil chemistry, soil-dwelling insects, plant life and more.

Speaking of treats:
Story Night with Chuck is happening this coming Thursday, July 26th. Come back to camp and join us at 7:15 pm to hear master storyteller Chuck Stead tell beautiful, hilarious, place-based stories of his youth growing up in the nearby Ramapo mountains. You may have heard bits and pieces of his stories from your children; now, come and hear a whole one. This evening event is great for the whole family (you can bring friends, too), but we recommend it for children ages seven and older.

 

Next week‘s theme is ‘Oh Deer, There’s a Whistle Pig in the Garden!’ What is a whistle pig, you ask? It’s another name for a groundhog or woodchuck, which can be tragic guests to a garden, eating up anything in sight before you can blink twice. There’s also a lot to be learned about them! Did you know groundhogs can climb trees? You can get a sense this week will be animal-centered, whether it be deer, whistle pigs, actual pigs, or other. Our grand plan is to have Coco, our neighbor’s mini pig, star in Morning Share, wearing a whistle around her neck, of course.

Next week there will be two day hikes, two almost overnights, four cedar pond trips (canoeing and camping), and two backpacking trips. Group Q will be doing a four-night backpacking trip, tracing the route of the original Appalachian Trail through Harriman State Park.

The forecast promises rain and thunderstorms, which will keep us in the spirit of muggy mid-summer. Where last week’s cool mornings seemed to hint at autumn, this humid, perfect swimming weather, with thunderstorms rolling through in the afternoons, should keep us well-oriented toward the proper season. If you see a few yellow or brown leaves that have left their branches prematurely, or if you notice the flowering Queen Anne’s lace, pale blue chicory, or see the soon-to-blossom golden rod, just ignore it for a while longer. While the summer season is slowly beginning its rotation toward autumn, we’ll make hay while the sun is high, reveling in the friendships, adventure, and freedom of camp.

 

Thanks for spending some of your summertime with us at The Nature Place. I can’t think of anywhere else I’d rather be.

See you on Monday,

Ed

 

PS. The Threefold Cafe’s camp lunch menu has grown! Staying sustainable with stainless steel lunch tins, and always with gluten-free and vegetarian options, they’re now offering:

  • Sunflower butter & mixed berry jam on soft wheat bread
  • Sliced roasted turkey breast on whole grain bread with mayo, lettuce & Swiss cheese
  • Café’s organic hummus, organic shredded carrot, house pickles & lettuce on ciabatta roll
  • Tuna salad sandwich w/ pickles & lettuce on soft wheat bread
  • Fresh plain bagel with cream cheese
  • Fresh sliced ham & Swiss cheese on croissant with yellow mustard.

The Cafe is really the cat’s meow.

Garbage Can Challenge – May Update and Sign Off

Ayla Dunn Bieber tells of a fowl plastic encounter, shares some bright sustainability spots, and signs off for the summer…

There has been a steady hum of busy birds around our house these past few weeks: nests being built, eggs being laid, baby birds being fed. We are lucky that a family of robins has graced us with their presence the past few years and has built a nest in a bush next to our garden! It’s at the perfect height to catches glimpses at their progress as we walk by.

True story: A few weeks ago, Odelia and I were walking by the robin’s nest to check on it’s perfect blue eggs, when we noticed the mama bird looked to be in distress. We waited and watched and quickly noticed that her leg was caught in something! She was frantically trying to get her foot freed as she flapped and struggled. I got as close as I could, without disturbing her more, to try to see what she was caught on. Sure enough… you guessed it, folks… it was a strip of PLASTIC! Determined to help this mama bird, Odelia and I ran into the house to get a glove and pair of scissors. Just as my hand neared the scared bird, she took one last plunge and freed herself!

I got closer to the nest and realized the robin had used this piece of plastic, weaving it among the twigs, to build her nest (not uncommon). I pulled the piece that was not compactly woven within the nest out and had a sinking feeling. It took me a while to figure out what kind of plastic it was, later realizing it was a shred of plastic material from an old tarp. This is an item I would not have thought of as ‘unsustainable’, but as it goes, once my eyes have been on the lookout, I have since seen more of these same shreds of plastic littered around other places as well. This story has a happy ending thought, as the eggs hatched and we have been enjoying watching the baby birds being fed worms and getting bigger! This is sadly not always the case. Let’s use this story to inspire more awareness and action. It’s certainly got me thinking about tarps, for one thing…Do any of you have/use any tarp alternatives? I will be doing some research on canvas tarps!

Sustainability is catching on all around us, in new spaces and in exciting ways. It is becoming hip, which while it can be annoying because we have to watch out for ‘green washing’, definitely has it perks. More people are getting on board every day, in ways big and small. Our favorite restaurant in Nyack, O’Donoghue’s, just switched to paper straws. This is huge, because when one business makes a move, more are bound to follow! Are you seeing any broader changes around you?

Camp is right around the corner and we have some new things planned for this summer with sustainability in mind. Here is a sneak peak of a couple:

We will be partnering with Green Camps, an organization that’s ‘leading the environmental sustainability movement among camps in the U.S. and Canada.’ We’ll be increasing our camp programming around ways that we all can make small changes that help our Earth, both at camp and at home. We’ll also be working towards a Leave No Trace Youth Program accreditation, as we continue to educate campers in the Leave No Trace ethic and the fundamentals of stewardship.

I’m so looking forward to seeing all of these efforts in action and to partnering with all of our camp families to really make a difference!

Through all of the ups and downs of this garbage can challenge, it has been an honor to take this journey with you this year. My hope moving forward is to hold tightly to what I have learned and continue the process of changing habits towards increased sustainability in our home. I know our family can do better than our 1/2 can of garbage per month, where we have remained for the later half of the challenge. May this summer bring your family, and mine, a little breathing room to try some new sustainable choices!

With sustainability ever on my mind, I sign off for now…
Ayla

 

Be Straw Free! Debrief with Sondra and Emily

In February’s Dirt, Sondra Grewe deGraft-Johnson and Emily Selover invited us to join in their pledge to be straw-free for the whole month of March. Did you participate? Here they debrief the challenge and share future goals for the #StrawFreeNPDC movement and the larger sustainability movement!

Sondra: You’d think that eliminating a small piece of plastic from your daily life would be pretty easy, but actually it’s not as easy as you might think. In March, I joined the NPDC challenge to use zero plastic straws for the entire month (and hopefully, beyond). I knew it would pose a bit of challenge for me, since I eat out a few times per week and those occasions are generally where straws come into my life. In fact, the amount and frequency of people eating out and eating on the go has really been on the rise over the past 10 or 20 years, and has contributed to single-use plastic being so pervasive in our society.

Most of the month was a success. I would say that during a regular month, before attempting to reduce my straw usage, I probably would have used about 12 straws in a month. This month, I would say I encountered about 3. Being proactive and speaking up about my wish to not have a straw worked well in places where you take your food to go. I actually bought a pack of paper straws for desperate instances where having a straw avoids major inconveniences (Hello, I had to try a Playa Bowls smoothie when they first opened!). In sit down restaurants it could be more tricky, as sometimes they bring water with a straw IN IT to you BEFORE you have a chance to say anything. But overall the majority of March went well.

At the end of March I traveled to see my family in Kentucky. On the way home from the airport, we stopped at a family-owned Italian restaurant and were placed with the friendliest of servers. When I explained my straw situation and shared my awareness with him, I thought I had finally hit the jackpot of servers. He was so excited! He agreed that he was trying to reduce his plastic use as well.

My first round of water was great – no straw, no problem. But, when he brought us refills, guess what was in the glass?!! A big, ugly straw. And in those situations, what can you do? The straw has already been used. Here I am, trying to be an example to others and yet, as I sipped my drink, I felt like the biggest hypocrite. But I realized when you are dining out, you have so little control.

So lesson one from this month – try to eat out less. Thus, more control. Lesson two – don’t be hard on yourself! Celebrate the good you are doing, don’t dwell on the negatives. I can be thankful for every opportunity I have to share my straw mission with other people, like in the case of the server in Kentucky, who really liked the idea. Lesson three- Try to increase awareness of our own habits that get us in trouble. The server was beyond friendly, he had all the Southern hospitality you would expect, but his habits were so ingrained and sometimes human error comes in to play. Those habits and routines we all have are what we each need to challenge day after day until they disappear. We have to train ourselves to make new, better habits! I’m trying to be more conscious of all my plastic consumption and think about what I can do to reduce it in every place and in every way.

Emily: Yes! To Sondra’s point about having less control–you’re relying on other people’s memory and like she said, servers have so many things to keep track of! I had a similar experience. I was out with a couple friends and we all made a point to tell the server, “no straws please”. “Oh yeah! I like that! Have you guys seen the turtle video?”, the server asked, referring to a very graphic viral video of a sea turtle with a straw stuck in its nostril. We all agreed about how horrible it was, and the server even noted that he was a vegan. But when the waters arrived at the table…they all had straws!!!

Giving straws to patrons in restaurants is a customary practice in many places (I realized this once I started paying attention). So customary that it seems to be second nature and servers do it completely out of habit, even when we request otherwise AND have full conversations about it with them! And who can blame them? They have to be on top of so many details at any given time! When we were debriefing this experience, I realized that perhaps we need to take bigger action than just asking for a strawless drink. Perhaps it would be more effective to speak to the owners and managers directly about shifting their establishment’s straw policy. Maybe if servers asked first, “would you like a straw?” more people would say ‘no thanks’ and we would eliminate the issue of getting a straw we did not want before even having the chance to deny it. It would be a win-win for everyone, not only on the environmental front, but also, what owner doesn’t want to save some money by eliminating a cost that’s often unnecessary?

I actually did a bit of research on this and found a statistic from Ardvark (a paper straw company who advocates that restaurants provide straws only on request). They found that, restaurants “that offer straws on demand reduce straw consumption by 40%, diminishing the increased cost of switching to paper straws and allowing restaurants to save money while saving the planet.” Basically, they’re advocating that not only should restaurants only offer straws upon request, but when they do offer straws, they should be paper ones. I like that! The way I see it, as soon as restaurant runs out of their last plastic straw, they should be restocking in paper straws only.

I’ve been getting really fired up about beginning a grassroots campaign in my community to get restaurants to be more straw aware! They could even display signs with their straw policy and why they have it, to spread even more awareness. Hey Dirt Reader, Do you know restaurant owners in your local community? Would you be comfortable speaking up to your local business association or chamber of commerce about a new local straw policy? Who’s with me!?

Sondra and Emily: Here’s what we can take away from all this: We can’t despair and we can’t give up, despite how discouraging it can be to see a straw in your own or someone else’s glass. We have to remember it’s a process and it starts with all of us educating others! Even just telling those closest to us can start the trend. Sondra’s husband Kobi has been declining straws in her company and we can only hope he is doing it when he’s at work as well. Emily’s friends are all afraid [in a good way :P] to even say the word ‘straw’ around her. In addition, we have to get back to the motto of our childhood – Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle. It’s a topic for a whole other time, but we’ll leave you with these hope-inducing ideas from Green Peace Australia for even more R’s than just the classic three. On that note, Happy Earth Day to all and we hope you’ll continue on this straw free journey with us!

Did you say no to straws during the month of March? How’d it go? We’d love to hear your experiences!!!

Emergency Sandwiches

Our cooking instructor, Eva Szigeti, ponders our recent storm and finds the bright side of a darkened home…

We were already getting ready for the spring when a late season snowstorm struck. First, there was light snow for hours with little accumulation. Then, suddenly, the snow started coming down fast. In just a couple of hours, our backyard turned into a winter wonderland. It was a beautiful sight. The trees frosted with freshly fallen snow looked majestic. Then there was more snow, and still more. Under the weight of the heavy, wet snow, the branches bowed and came closed to the earth; then, some gave up and met the ground. Large branches, one after another, were coming down. Then a large tree fell. The old mulberry tree was suddenly gone and, with it, the prospect of an early summer day mulberry feast. We will miss that tree, and so will the birds and deer passing through our backyard.

Like many others, we lost power. We were in the dark for two days and two nights. Considering all that can go wrong in extreme weather, we were just fine. No one was hurt, there was no damage to the house. We were a little uncomfortable, but safe. A room temperature of 50 F is not desirable, but again it is not a tragedy either.

The first night without electricity was even fun. The children were running around with flashlights preparing extra blankets for the night. They built a hideout under the table and moved in, flashlights and all. The house suddenly seemed to them much more interested and exiting. It felt like a campground. No screens, or devices, not even books. The goodnight story was told, not read.  My son promptly suggested that we should have a night without electricity every week. Well–a night without lights and devices, but with the heating and the refrigerator running.

The second night without power was harder. The novelty of the situation had worn off, and the house no longer felt cozy. It was cold. We fantasized about our old house and its wood burning stove that had, in similar situations, provided not only comforting heat, but also light entering the room through its glass door. It had even provided a surface for cooking. And now here we were with no heat, no lights, no internet service, no power to operate appliances and gadgets.

Do we rely on electricity too much? ‘Yes’, is certainly the answer. We can, for sure, implement measures that would lessen our dependence on electrical power. However, to what extent these measures would be possible and practical varies household to household. To eliminate the need for electricity entirely does not seem like a realistic solution at all. We can certainly be better prepared for the next short-term power outage like the one we just had, but there is little we can do as individuals in case of a long-term power outage, which would very likely cause significant distress to the fabric of our society.

While having these scary thoughts, and feeling helpless, I found some comfort in the idea of making a chicken soup to warm us. Luckily, the stove in our kitchen is a gas one, so the burners were working. I just needed a match to light them.

While I was putting up the big pot of chicken soup to simmer for our evening meal, the kids opted for grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch. We sliced the bread, prepared the cheese and took out the panini press. Everything was ready to go. Oops! Not the panini press. It needs electricity. It was time to improvise. That day, we made grilled cheese sandwiches in a cast iron skillet on the stove-top. Although emergency-situation meals are often a far cry from their regular selves, these sandwiches actually tasted much better then their panini press relatives. Snowstorm or not, we will surely make them again.

As it often happens, there are tiny crumbs of something good lurking even in unpleasant or difficult situations.

 

Stove-top Grilled Cheese Sandwiches

For 4 sandwiches:

8 slices of bread
1 cup grated cheese (you may need more or less depending on the size of your bread slices)
2-3 tablespoons finely minced onions or green onions
1 clove minced garlic (optional)
some cream cheese or mayo
2-3 tablespoons olive oil for the skillet

Use good-quality stale bread. Soft fresh bread will absorb too much of the oil, resulting in greasy sandwiches. This is a perfect recipe to use up bread that is no longer fresh.

For the cheese: cheddar, jack, Swiss, fontina, or muenster can be used (or a combination of these/whatever cheese your fridge has to offer).

Mix the grated cheese with minced onions and garlic, if using. Spread a thin layer of cream cheese or mayo on all the bread slices. Spread grated cheese mixture on four of the slices. Use the other four slices to cover the sandwiches.

Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a cast-iron skillet.  Place the sandwiches in the skillet. Cook until golden brown, about 3 minutes. Flip, add more olive oil if needed. Cook until golden.

For a full meal, serve the sandwiches with a salad and an egg sunny-side-up.

So Long, Sweet Summer…

With school underway and tinges of yellow and orange cropping up in our trees, its plain too see that fall is upon us and summer is gently waving goodbye. And what a beautiful, magical, exploratory, nature-ific, fresh, funny summer it was. Here are a few treasured memories from this summer, to carry us through the months until we can be reunited again.

Back to School

Chuck Stead, our beloved camp storyteller, recalls daydreaming during class in Catholic School, and what his Third Grade Nun had to say about it…

It happens at the end of every summer. Come September, there is the ritual return to school. The beginning of my third year at Catholic School was much like the year before. Marching in well-ordered lines from the playground/parking lot into the tan-bricked school building and up into our first-floor classroom, we were returned to our formal training. Ricky Cramshaw, Cousin Buzzy, and Cindy Maloney were across the street at the public school, which was called the Washington Avenue School. But I was sent to the Sacred Heart of Jesus school, where my mother Tessie hoped I would be inspired to lead a sacred life. My dad, Walt, didn’t care which school I went to, as long as I skipped as many days possible and spent them in the woods.

Our teachers were called Nuns, and they were women who wore black and white robes with hats that were called Habits. Ricky observed that they looked like penguins (and they did, sort of). My First Grade Nun was an elderly woman who didn’t seem to know why she was there. My Second Grade Nun was an exceptionally short woman, who was one of the toughest Nuns I ever met. But the Third Grade Nun was just the opposite. She was tall and gentle and she sang out constantly—beautiful psalms and hymns while we were doing lessons. She even taught us to sing. She was the first woman teacher at this school whom I was not afraid of.

During the first week of school, I found myself assigned to a desk near the window. The maples had yet to turn and the squirrels were busy running about the branches and pulling on fresh, new acorns. No matter what the subject, my thoughts drifted away and out the window, first to the squirrels in the trees and then further on to the woods back home. At mid-morning of each school day there was a recess, wherein all the kids were marched out to the hall and then each one took a turn to visit the bathroom, whether you needed to or not. On the third day of third grade, when we marched out to the hall, this singing nun (whose name was Sister Barbara Ann) stopped me and looked into my face and said, “Master Stead, for the past three days I have seen you stare out the window and drift away into the trees out there.”

 

I nodded my head in agreement, since there was no sense in hiding what she already knew. But then she said this, “And I can see by your face that you go beyond the trees to some other place.”
Again, I nodded, but I was now scared that she could see inside me.
She said, “Where do you go?”
I spoke slowly and said, “Up the mountain to look for animal tracks.”
“What kind of animal tracks?” she asked.
“Squirrel, opossum, coon, cat and dog.”
“Why?”
I told her, “Because that was how nature writes its story.”
She looked at me and her face was full of wonder. She said, “I’ll tell you what, Master Stead, when I see that look in your eyes and think you are searching for animal tracks, I won’t call on you, OK?”
I nodded my head in agreement.
Then she said, “But sometimes I will need to call on you to help me answer things about places and arithmetic and about double negatives…”
I said, “I ain’t got no double negatives.”
She smiled and said, “I don’t got no negatives neither.”

She then stood up and sent me to the bathroom. And for the rest of the year, I knew there were times when she saw that I was looking out the window, and she did not call on me. Sister Barbara Ann was my first favorite teacher, for letting me go away when I needed to.

Click for a Cause!

Help the Pfeiffer Center get considered for a major grant to expand Neighbor to Neighbor!

Neighbor to Neighbor is an after-school program where students from a local public middle school work, play, and grow food and community, with Green Meadow High School students and the Pfeiffer Center gardeners.

Each summer, six of these middle school students are then able to attend The Nature Place, where the sense of community deepens, and many often return to us as staff down the road.

Please, help us further connect kids to each other and to the land through this exciting opportunity.

Visit www.pfeifferkids.org, and please vote for our project every day through May 12.

Many, many thanks!

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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.

Rose

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!”

Maple Sugaring Hints and Tips

Our two maple sugaring programs tomorrow are sure to be sweet! The first one is from 10 – 11 am, and the second from 2 – 3 pm. Toward the end of the program, after everyone’s had a taste of syrup on ice (along with a dill pickle), we hand out a sheet full of maple sugaring hints and tips. All the information we provide during the program (how to identify maples, the right type of tapping weather, how to drill the hole, hang your bucket, and much more) can be hard to remember, so this take-home reminder comes in handy.

If you can’t make it tomorrow you can still download our hints and tips here, to help you in tapping your own maple tree at home.

Download our Maple Sugaring Hints and Tips

Listen hard enough, and you might hear the sap running through the tree!

Listen hard enough, and you might hear the sap running through the tree!