Here are my bi-monthly columns for dirt magazine:

July-August 2014                  more

As the firestorms of public education start up again, there are just two words which might offer some relief. No, not “core curriculum”.  Try “Loose Parts”
It’s a catch phrase in my world of Nature Play for something very old and very common: Just make a pile of interesting stuff; or better yet, let children hunt and gather the piles of stones, sticks, dirt, sand and random man-made things.  Humans are basically hunters and builders; We collect, organize, order, re-order. We artists are just more obsessive and obvious about spending time making patterns with stuff.  But everybody has to do it.  It is the original core curriculum.
So create real places and times for play, unstructured, profoundly aimless play as a balance to the school day, the video games and cell phones.  Loose Parts is a needed meditation. It is the best way to start this school year.   Here’s some help:
1. Many of the area sawmills have a scrap pile for the taking.  Try the one on Bellvale Rd in Chester just off County Rt 13. You can burn what you don’t play with!
2. I use these in a public school K-1 class I’ve been volunteering in.  I drill a few holes in wood and offer some found twigs, vines, yarn or even dryer lint and it’s the start of a wondrous and sometimes scary world of troll and fairy houses. Sometimes they turn into odd boats to sail in a local pond or stream.  There’s an important unpredictability to this whole thing.
3. Visit a Loose Parts area, Grasshopper Grove, at the Hudson Highlands Nature Museum
You’ll get ideas on how to make your version, at home or at a local community area.
4. Finally, Nature Play is a growing movement in the world of concerned parents. Google it.
Learn more about the importance of play; how play is different from recreation and sports and how all of us, adults and children NEED play.  Writer Brian Sutton-Smith describes it this way:  “The opposite of play is not work.  It is depression.”     


May-June 2014                               more

Sometimes it just happens. You’re in the car. You make a turn, come up over a rise or cross a stream.  (often some water feature is involved) You feel unusually alive! The Celts called this The Fifth Province, “the Land of No Land.”
It may be the light, the time of day, your mood or a mix of it all. Let’s start collecting and sharing those mini road trips around Orange County.  I asked several friends- Jim, David, Russ, Jerome- to help me out.  Here are three special roads you can take as dreamy detours to where you are going or what to go.
Johnson Rd, Goshen/Chester 
This is off Rt 94 just outside Chester. It’s a left turn into the middle of a working farm, --  the Johnson Farm; then a dead end onto Craigville Rd. It’s left to Goshen. But a right takes you by all those old houses perched on the edge of Seely Brook and you end up back at Rt 94, (the old Lenape Indian route). It’s left to Washingtonville or right back by the beautiful Roe’s Orchard and Farm Stand. If you’re there at the right time, do smell the apple blossoms or drink the cider.
Mineral Spring Rd, Cornwall.
This is the middle part of a road with three names. It starts off on Rt 32 in Central Valley as Smith Clove Road, then it’s Mineral Spring Road, then it turns into Angola Road before ending again at Rt 32 after passing through Black Rock Preserve. The detour onto Old Mineral Spring Road is worth every bump. (Stop at the falls if you have time.)  Then past the Hudson Highlands Nature Museum and Jones Farm, one of the county’s best family farm stands.
Brady Rd and Bowen Rd, Warwick
If you’ve found this intersection, no words are needed. Look, there’s Brady Mt and the Brady Farm and that stone wall.  Then down Bowen to the lowest point where it crosses Fuller Brook and easy access to the 255-acre Fuller Mt Preserve with two trails including  1¾ miles through a ravine and up to stunning vista of the Warwick Valley.
And you?  What’re your favorites? 


March-April 2014                                 more

The smells of Orange County?
New mown hay, manure on the fields, campfires, wet dogs, apple blossoms, forsythia, horses, goats, cows, chickens. We remember with our nose. It’s our most powerful and primitive sense with more than 1000 receptor types alerting us to chemicals in the air.  What do they mean: safety? food?, beauty? danger?  The nose is tied to the “emotional brain” more than any of the other senses and creates quite a deep and lasting impression in memory.
You are invited to help make a profile of Orange County from its smells, odors, scents,
Right away, you’ll notice a very poor language or vocabulary for smells.  We can describe what it’s like, or what produced it, but there are very few words for smells themselves.
Do our villages, towns and cities have distinct smell markers?  Pine Island, at certain times of the year really does smell like onions; the scent of apple blossoms dot many areas of the county as does that wincing smell of freshly spread manure.  The malls have their smells and the home improvement stores and the car dealerships. The grocery stores are ripe with layers of scents colliding from aisle to aisle. The Newburgh waterfront and the shoreline of the Hudson has its smell: algae, fish, and a bit of sludge? So too does the creosote on the miles railroad ties. And the farms and farm stands!
There are a darker odors often tied to industry, like the skunk-like pyridine odors from the now closed Nepera Chemical Plant in Harriman.  And what’s that perfume scent near the railroad tracks and the wetlands in the old section of the Chester Industrial Park?  There are seasons when the insecticides and herbicides on farms and golf courses remind us where we live. .
Email me at Dirt to keep this story going.  The smells are all there tucked deep in our old brains.  Are there some smells that are now gone?  Where are there mystery smells?  Like that cocoa scent that lingers at a pullover halfway up Hoyt Road in Warwick each summer.  And the smells of each season?  And holidays?  Please share what you know about the smells of where we live!


January-February 2014                                  more

Special places, called “thin places”  are usually closer than you think.  There are probably several around your home. We all have the need to mark certain spaces as different and special.  This is not a girl-thing or a guy-thing.  We all do it.  We must create order to help us remember. They help us tell our stories about who we are, where we came from  what we value, who we are becoming.  Such places are called  “home altars” or  “workbenches“.  They are literally, laboratories, where people work (labor) and pray (oratory). It happens in homes, garages, basements and  in yards. It is a kind of spirituality we all participate in. Its roots are in alchemy and shamanism, where making things and doing things were ways into other worlds, other realities. There were not products or chores. The useful and the spiritual were tightly connected.
Look around at your tables, desks, window sills, shelves, near your computer, car and truck dashboards.   These are places that concentrate energy, focus memory and attention.  That’s the way they function as altars.   Can you see the hand and mind that has carefully placed and arranged the items there? Can you see an order, a story emerging? 
My wife made one such place with objects she returned home with after her mother died.  After a year they’ve now made their way to a drawer.  That’s the interesting thing about these places, they hold and discharge meaning. They are not static.  They reflect our moods and needs change as we encounter the swells of living.  Sometimes they help us quiet down and remember; other times they work to re-energize and get us going.   
I remember clearing out my father’s work area after he died.  It was a special experience: a mix of sadness, intimacy and initiation.  I got to see and touch parts of who he was, how he presented and organized his life; I got to feel more about his need to save and prepare for the unpredictable future and finally, I got to possess some of those packages of washers, boxes of screws and a hammer.  I still have them in my workshop, er home altar.
And you?  Pictures of your home altars?       


November-December 2013                             more

Sometimes you don’t have to hike or kayak or even plan to visit thin places.  Sometimes those special places just appear or seem to find you.
Thin Places can really happen anywhere, anytime.  It’s that moment when the light is right, the mood, the whatever… and then, what could be seen as ordinary, casual or accidental takes on that “ah-ha” or special  meaning.  It’s a combination of what’s out there and what we bring to the moment. We often discover a story or part of a story that interests us because it’s a part of our story.
Here are three such  places which struck me.  What I like about these kind of thin places is that they will not be there for very much longer.  The sun will come out, or the rains, the street sweeper, the janitor.  You become aware that you are seeing a fleeting moment.  That’s a very alive feeling.
This first one is just a record of another presence in my yard; a reminder that I don’t really “own” my land as much as I might like to think; that I get visited.
Photo  Snow Tracks
The next is one of those street thin places.  There are a lot in New York City. This was in Warwick on a Sunday morning after a Saturday night near some bars.  So what’s the Story? Is there a one-gold sandaled graffiti artist planting weeds other places?
Photo  Gold Grafitti
The next one is something I wait for and it happens maybe twice a year.  Sometimes it’s with snow, sometimes with rain.  It’s usually early in the day, when there is light, but not much hot sun.  There’s the moment when temperature, shadow and light conspire to make a moment of beauty and illusion
Photo BarnShadow
Actually, this is just what haiku is about.  There’s a direct, momentary observation of nature-now and then some awareness of how it is like or unlike your experience and then the snap of the shutter and somehow the ordinary becomes special.
You must have a few of these in your cameras. Share them?


September-October 2013

Thin places are moments in space --and time-- when you can feel very alive.  And one characteristic is that they are not forever. The come and they go.  Tempus fugit and all that. Those weather furies, Irene and Sandy, have been helping us understand all this. So, for the moment, it’s possible to explore the backside of Sugar Loaf, NY by kayak.
Sugar Loaf, that sleepy hamlet of arts and crafts, got a modest creek dammed up a few years ago by the local beavers. That damming and run-off and big storms has created a yet unnamed body of water that has claimed several acres of real estate in Sugar Loaf. So just behind this quaint arts and crafts world is yet another world of green-slimed water, ducks, herons, fish, growing aquatic plants and dying hardwoods.  It’s a vital, raw, almost  primal place.  There are no Park Rangers, Army Corps of Engineers, nor Department of Environmental Conservation officers--yet.
Four of us put our kayaks in near an old parking lot which now looks like a boat ramp.  It took some maneuvering and squeezing to get around sodden fallen trees, but finally we got into a good half-mile of open water to paddle around in and explore. There were no unusual aha moments, just the subtle feeling of being a part of some new and old nature soup.  There were surreal moments when we were in kayaks with a freight train going by one way and Canadian Geese the other way.
The edges of this pond are shifting and new access opens up every once in a while. You can get there from the back of the main street in Sugar Loaf or from the Citizens Foundation property on White Oak Rd which has cleared a path down to the area and is promoting a bog garden.  Part of the pleasure of this experience is the hunt, your hunt for access.  Opportunities to explore newly forming natural habitats are rare and this seems to be the time and place to experience it. It feeds that sleeping primitive in all of us.


July-August 2013

Some thin places—those places and moments that make you feel quite alive—can get made and not just found. That’s the energy behind the idea of “placemaking,” figuring out ways to build and rebuild spaces so that they enhance human experience.

One such recently-charged place is Grasshopper Grove, a half-acre pre-school Nature Play area that I helped build at the 175-acre Hudson Highlands Nature Museum in Cornwall, NY.

Nature Play is one of the responses to that catchy phrase Richard Louv coined a few years ago: nature deficit disorder. It implies that children (and adults too) are missing out on some very basic human nourishment by the increasing time spent indoors, with technology or even outdoors in highly organized leisure and sports activities. Humans are genetically built for life with nature.



Nature Play areas have been the reaction to the colorful, plastic, cushioned directive playgrounds found in most communities and schools. Nature Play leans more towards the unstructured and disordered. Yes, there are things to do at a Nature Play area, but it is also a nice place to just be and see what happens.

Grasshopper Grove is the first such place in the Mid-Hudson region and even among other Nature Play areas it is special in the great number of features it offers. They range from the simplicity of a dirt pile and logs to climb and jump on to a rustic gazebo and Adirondack trail hut. But the heart of all this is what’s called “loose parts,” just an area that has stuff in it: bark, branches, log ends, pine cones, driftwood…whatever is found around. Loose parts honors a very old and nearly forgotten human skill. All people, children and adults, can figure things out. Just show them the stuff and they’ll find something to do with it. Nature Play areas return the experience of real play and appropriate risk to a child’s life.

- See more at:
Some Thin Places--- those moments and places that make you feel quite alive-- can get made and not just found.  That’s the energy behind the term “placemaking” --  figuring  out why and how to charge a piece of land so that it moves and energizes the people who visit.
One such newly-charged place is “Grasshopper Grove” a half-acre Nature Play area at the 175-acre Hudson Highlands Nature Museum on Angola Rd in Cornwall.  “Nature Play” has been one of the responses to that catchy phrase Richard Louv coined: “nature deficit disorder”.  For many people--and particularly children-- more and more free-time is either plugged-in, in organized sports or otherwise non-nature activities.  Nature Play areas have been a reaction to the plastic, cushioned, directive playgrounds.  Nature Play areas lean more towards the unstructured and the disordered.  Yes, there are things to do, but it’s also just a nice place to BE and see what happens.
Grasshopper Grove is the first such area in the mid-Hudson region and even among other Nature Play areas, it is special in the great number of features it offers ranging from a dirt pile, a water feature, hills and bridges and logs to climb and jump on, to a rustic gazebo and Adirondack trail hut.
But the heart of all this is what’s called “Loose Parts”, just an area that has stuff in it: bark, branches, log ends, pinecones, driftwood… whatever is found around.  Loose parts honors an old and nearly forgotten bit of human experience.  People--even children, or especially children-- can figure things out.  Just give them the stuff and they’ll find a way to use it.  It may not be the expected way or even an appropriate way, but that’s what nature play is all about.  It’s allowing and encouraging exploration.  Nature Play areas return appropriate risk to a child’s life.
Although Grasshopper Grove is designed for pre-school children (and their parents), anybody needing a remedial dose of the playful and the natural will enjoy a visit  The Nature museum, with its trails,  is set against a beautiful view of Schunemunk Mountain, the tallest in Orange County. Just go there. It’s is open on weekends till 4pm. There‘s  a $3 admission and a friendly “greeter” is there to help people find many ways back to nature.


May- June 2013

Once you start finding them, you can’t stop looking for them.  I’m talking about natural water springs. Our region is full of them.  A spring is a place where water breaks forth and emerges onto the earth’s surface.  It may end up in a pool, a lake, a marsh, a stream or a steady flow of water from a hillside. If it’s slow it’s called a “seep”.
There are several very public springs in the area. There’s the Orange Turnpike Spring on that very same road between Monroe and Harriman near the entrance to Indian Hill.  The Blooming Grove Spring is on Rt 208 near Clove Rd and the Sunoco station.  The Raynor Spring is in Warwick at the corner of Brady and Cascade Rd. And there’s a very beautiful spring and waterfall off Old Mineral Springs Rd on Mineral Springs Rd. between Central Valley and Cornwall.
Using these springs for drinking water is questionable.  Local and County officials say the springs, sometimes called “raw water“, are not routinely tested and there’s really no way to protect them from groundwater runoff, microbes, viruses, or naturally occurring elements like uranium.  Nonetheless, there are regulars at these springs who’ve filled up water jugs their whole lives.
But there’s much more to springs that just water for drinking.  Maybe because we humans are 90% water when we are born and as adults we are still about 65-70% water.  Many traditional societies honored springs by making offerings to them or considering their waters healing to bathe in.  In Goshen, there was the famed Cheechunk Spring, a mecca for visitors in need of the healing waters.
On a more practical level, most dairy farms had springs and “spring houses” to cool the milk.   Borden Dairy, once in the village of Warwick, used the spring of Spring Street for cooling its milk.  That spring is still running today, from the property of  St. Anthony’s hospital under a few Warwick streets.  Street names are often the clues to what beneath
So, thirsty or not, hunting natural springs can bring you in touch with history, mystery and the powers of hidden water.  Please comment and share your experiences of spring waters with us. What have you found? 


March-April 2013

There is always a dark side to special places. Those very same parks and preserves that awe us can also invoke dread. After Sandy, I visited a few of these places in the area.
Lewis Woodlands is that well-hidden park in the Village of Warwick. In Hurricane Irene, its sweet babbling brook, the Witches Brook, raged into downtown Warwick washing out roads. In Storm Sandy, a dozen of the already aged-out trees finally gave up. Broken and uprooted, they still now look like some steroid version of pick-up sticks. What was once a genteel estate garden with a gentle carriage path, now seems a derelict woodlot.
Warwick’s Stanley Deming Park is the village playground with many big old brittle willow trees. During Sandy, one fell and demolished the pedestrian footbridge right near the swing set.
At the Fuller Mt Preserve on Bowen Rd just off Warwick Turnpike, a few very large and dramatic trees have uprooted in a scale worthy of The Lord of the Rings. A hemlock has blocked the blazed trail requiring some inventive bushwhacking and a massive forked pine has fallen across the creek creating an inviting bridge for the daring.
In none of these places is this loss tragic. No lives were lost, nor homes destroyed. So a visit to these places allows for something subtle, dark and rare. It can be a physical, poetic experience. Just beyond the practical thoughts of clearing, restoring, replanting and repurposing the downed wood, there hovers the presence of the holy. I use “ holy” in the way theologian Rudolf Otto describes it as a "non-rational, non-sensory experience or feeling whose primary and immediate object is outside the self". It’s the experience of mystery: both terrifying and fascinating at the same time. So those downed trees, reshaped streambeds, crushed bridges and blocked paths are invitations to consider the amoral ferocity of nature and the relentless presence of change, endings and beginnings. You probably can’t photograph it or plein air paint it, but you can feel it. It’s that feeling of being alive –right here and now--and being grounded.
All this from a walk in the woods? Yes.


January-February 2013

Many special or “thin” places are delicate and subtle. You have to quietly feel your way into them. That’s a big part of why they are special. It may be the light that day, that particular turn on a trail or the relationships of natural features. Many times, a thin place for one person is just a “whatever” for another.
Then there’s Indian Hill just at the top of Orange Turnpike between Monroe and Harriman. I am trying very hard not to spoil the shock and delight of the discovery of what’s there. Let me at least say that there are stone walls. The most prominent has been called “Broadway” or “The Boulevard” There are several competing and intersecting explanations for how and why all that stone got there and got put the way it is. First, you have to experience it. And, right now, when the leaves are off the trees is the best time. After seeing it and walking it, you’ll understand better its allure. Even though naturalist Doc Bayne has his theories about the walls and what was needed for different kinds of farming by its first 18th century farm family, the Southfields, he still calls it a “mystery”. Words like “slaves”, “underground railroad”, “Indians”, “mining”, “waterworks” and “Irish-style stonework” still creep, yea, lurch, into discussions.
Whatever the “facts” might be, Indian Hill is a living testament to that dreamy interplay of nature and human nature that creates Thin Places. It’s a place that feeds the need for beauty and the imagination. Thanks to Scenic Hudson and others, the 490-acres of Indian Hill is now part of Sterling Forest State Park . There’s a parking lot and blazed trails.
If you still need convincing, there are some huge really grand old oaks there and it’s quite near the Southfield Furnace, one of the best-preserved structures from the days of mining and smelting in the region. And while you are up on Orange Turnpike, Arrow Park is just across the road. It’s a unique historical combination of an Arts and Crafts mansion, a Socialist summer camp and profoundly beautiful park.


November-December 2012

Being with The Hudson River
I have friends who are active in the Hudson River: Tom swims in it every day, Mike wind surfs, Shari kayaks. I just get drawn to the River usually when I’m near it, crossing a bridge, in a town nearby. It beckons: “Hey, buddy, got a few minutes?” There’s the smell, the colors, the temperatures, the wind or breeze and then there’s the stuff, the foam, the bottles, pods and driftwood. Oh, the driftwood on its way from Somewhere to Elsewhere! It’s dreamy, yet there’s that ever so slight edge of dread. Will the River get me? It’s that same thing that happens in the woods: a slight overlap of generosity and danger; indifferent beauty.
I thought that I was not alone in this. So a few months ago, through the adult ed program at Mount St Mary College in Newburgh, I offered a Sunday morning “course”:
Join Rustic builder Daniel Mack on the banks of the Hudson River for a few hours of smart fun. We’ll meet at Plum Point off Rt 9W at 10 AM and with a few simple tools and a good eye, build from the driftwood we find and collect there. You might make a bench or a sculpture. You can leave it there or take it home. Dan will teach about the various kinds of tools and techniques he uses to make driftwood creations.
There were about 8 of us. At Plum Point, just south of Newburgh, there are 2000 feet of sandy riverfront in a 100-acre park, Some people jumped right in, literally. Others kayaked in from somewhere else. There were careful sharp-eyed beachcombers and burly log-loving guys..
We played and worked and played for a few hours and went home. Oh, we did leave something there to remind people of the greatness of the Hudson; of the delight of just being WITH the River for a while. It balanced and twirled in the wind. Sort of like the way we felt.



September-October 2012


It’s important to feed our sense of the land and develop our own set of special or “thin” places. It can’t happen just once or even once in a while. Regular contact with different, special places in nature keeps us sane.
The Orange County Land Trust in the business of finding, protecting and making available just such places. One of my favorite places is the Fuller Mountain Preserve on Bowen Road about a mile off the Warwick Turnpike just before the New Jersey border. These 250 acres were part of a 5000-acre hunting preserve put together in 1891 by Colonel Victor Audubon Wilder, a Civil War veteran and successful New York businessman. Even in this fraction of the original tract, there are echoes “other” times: a few natural glacier-carved rock shelters, likely used by generations of native Americans; evidence of lime-kilns, charcoal-pits, stone walls and foundations from family settlements. Anthropology students at SUNY Orange are currently excavating a site from the late 19th century finding bits of household items.
Like most of this region, Fuller Mountain was clear cut in the early 1800s for farming, lumber, fencing and wood for charcoal and lime kilns. It has grown back as home to a rich diversity of local animals, plants and trees. The Preserve extends on both sides of Bowen Road with one side heading up Fuller Mountain for an amazing view and the other side following a creek. The late afternoon light in this bottomland area is mesmerizing. It has also clearly enchanted those two mysterious local stone-stackers who have left a growing collection of sculptures or cairns in the woods and in the creek itself
What I especially like is the dynamic, active quality of the Land Trust. It’s always inviting people onto their lands not only for hiking and birding, but also for Just Play. At the Hamptonburgh Preserve a few years ago, we were invited to show up and just see what happened. We had some impermanent art supplies: chalks and colored strings and had a day playing in the woods. Now they are organizing a full moon kayak event and those wild edible plant walks after which you swear to change your whole life.
Their mission is simple and poetic: “To preserve the fields, forests, wetlands, ridgelines and river corridors in and around Orange County through voluntary land conservation.” Their service and friendly access to a diversity of land is profound. Take a look


July-August 2012


Thin places are often on the edges. Really, the edges. Pacem in Terris, just off Route 94 on Fancher Road in Warwick, is a few acres on the edge: of the Wawayanda Creek, of the railroad, of a junkyard, at the intersection of three rural roads. Situated over a fresh water spring, an old stone grain mill has been turned into a “trans-religious” sanctuary. There are regular musical events, sculpture gardens and sitting areas. Enchanted? How could it help being so!

On the day I visited, it was a multi-sensual event. The air was thick with the smell of fresh creosote from new railroad ties mixing with dying lilacs. The rains had swollen the creek and the old stone watermill was being rebuilt. A tractor trailer was chugging up the driveway to the junkyard, or “recycling center,” next door. The ironic vitality of the place was overwhelming.

Poet Lynn Hoins first visited in 1982 and immediately felt that “land speaks and how at times in life you encounter places that offer just what you need, just where you need to go.” She’s written about this in her book, Called by Stones.

Pacem in Terris, named for the major work of Pope John XXIII, was the home of spiritual teacher and writer Frederick Franck (1909-2006) and his wife Claske. I first met them in 1972, just after his now classic book, The Zen of Seeing, was published. A few quotes:

“I have learned that what I have not drawn I have never really seen, and that when I start drawing an ordinary thing, I realize how extraordinary it is, sheer miracle.”

“Art is neither a profession nor a hobby. Art is a way of being.”

Pacem in Terris is a living, growing testimony to the importance of the spiritual, the natural, the cultural and the idiosyncratic. It’s open every day from May to October. You must go there.     Thin places beguile and inspire. Share yours at

May-June 2012


Whether from childhood or today, everybody can tell a story about a Tree. Trees are creatures that invite us into thin places: that zone where we feel something “else”. For the Celts, trees were entrances to the Otherworld, the Land of Fae. Because of their size, their longevity, their generosity with shade, wood and food, trees have always been an intimate part of human life. They have a trunk and limbs – like we do. Human history is full of special trees: Council Trees, Treaty Trees, Wisdom Trees, Scary Trees, Sacred Trees.

But since Hurricane Irene and that October snowstorm, most people around here do not see trees as kindly. People’s fear and anger at trees have resulted in quite a bit of pre-emptive cutting in the last months.

In our area there are many special trees. Often they are protected in the cemeteries. The 65-acre Warwick Cemetery on Route 94 at Route 17A, designed by landscape gardener B.F. Hathaway in 1866, has many features of a garden and several unusual trees, including a dramatic row of ancient sugar maples. But the more powerful trees are hiding in plain sight in fields, in woods and even in backyards. One of my favorite is an oak tree just off Route 94 at the intersection of Pennings Lane and Hoyt Road in Warwick. It’s down an embankment, across a stream and just up the rise. It’s big. The circumference is six feet and there is a stand of smaller trees surrounding and protecting it. But that’s only one tree around here. Dirt invites you to send a picture and a few words about the tree that makes you dream.


March-April 2012

Sometimes the thin places are more a way of looking at things, than an actual place. There was a significant pocket of surrealist art-making in Orange County in the 1940s and 50s. It centered in Sugar Loaf at a farm bought by Kurt Seligman, a Swiss artist and member of Andre Breton’s group of Surrealists who emerged just after, and in reaction to, the horrors of World War I. Breton described surrealism as “a tiny bridge over the abyss between dream and reality.” It was a very hopeful art movement which believed that within every person is the capacity for wonder and play. Its purpose was to model a greater freedom of the human sprit through practiced contact with the unconscious. Frida Kahlo called surrealism ‘the magical surprise of finding a lion in the closet when you were sure of finding shirts.’
Seligmann and his wife Arlette donated their 55-acres to the “Citizens of Orange County.” It’s a beautiful almost garden-like setting with trees, water, farm fields and old structures and the graveyard where the Seligmanns and the older farmers are buried beneath a huge ash tree.
So the intriguing feeling of the place is a combination of its topography, farming history and the energy left there by such visitors as Marcel Duchamp (who shot three bullets into a small barn wall, Alexander Calder who worked with Seligman on the very same etching press that’s still there and recently restored. Also, Max Ernst, Meyer Shapiro and many other artists of the times came and went from Sugar Loaf. Who Knew!
It’s now home to the Orange County Citizens Foundation and the Orange County Arts Council and they welcome visitors. Recently, a group of artists has started meeting there monthly to explore the history and future of Surrealism in Orange County.
It’s at 23 White Oak Rd. in Sugar Loaf.   More at

January-February 2012


Thin places change. For several years, I’d been climbing the area around Fitzgerald Falls, off Lakes Rd on the Appalachian Trail at the power lines on the border of Chester and Greenwood Lake, NY. After a short walk through some wetlands, the white blazes take you to the 25-foot falls. The local Indians considered the sound of rushing water the “voice of god.”

But if you take the blue blazes, you go up to a ridge to a spot my hiking friends described as an old Indian sacred site. It was a circle of stones with an opening to the East. I was told that was the “eye of god.” We would walk by this and nod on each hike. One year we went with a larger group of people.
There were a few families with children who knew this story and also on this trip was a local Native American. The teens had run ahead as we reached the stone circle. They started shouting and waving. When the rest of us got there, we saw what had been an open circle of carefully placed stones, was now a pile of stones with beer cans and charred sticks with ATV and dirt bike tracks all over. We Anglos were incensed, shocked. Our Native American friend looked and just said: “Oh, like Spengler says: ‘The Land Demands.” I have looked and looked and have never found that quote by German philosopher Oswald Spengler, but the lesson of that day was profound.
Sacred spots need continued initiatory activities. Those dirt bike/ATV people had found and used that thin place for their own “ceremony” with fire, spirits and loud noisy machines… a real initiation. I was there recently and it’s still in use.


November-December 2011


Some Thin Places are fragile. I was planning on writing about the all-season delight of the mile-long walk on the Appalachian Trail Boardwalk off Glenwood Road in Vernon, NJ across a flood plain and the suspension bridge over the Pochuck River. I have been doing it for years, walking a crooked path low through wetlands, over a river and back onto land. Here’s what it looked like:
Ah, but that was before Hurricane Irene. It’s returned to a form of the pre-historic lake it used to be. The Boardwalk was all made by volunteers over a 7-year period after 17 years of planning and acquiring the land. It was designed, smartly, to float up a bit during high water, but the waters of Irene were way too much and actually displaced the whole boardwalk. The New York-New Jersey Trail Conference is gathering people to help fix this and many of the natural trails in the region. You can help.
And some Thin Places endure. I’ve been visiting area “rock shelters”. These are natural caves where there is evidence of human use for thousands of years. Yes, I want to sit where they sat! “They” are bands of Delaware or Lenni-Lenape Indians… and who knows before that? Just outside Florida, NY off Rt 17A on Quarry Rd at a “Protected Area” sign, the land rises to the famous Dutchess Quarry Caves which have been dated back 12,000 years. It’s a huge cavern. Others on the property were blown up years ago by the quarry owners. There are many smaller shelters around which have been dated to the Late Archaic period, about three to four thousand years ago. One is in Warwick just off Brady Road and Magnolia Lane. Just before the first house on the right on Magnolia Lane, you can bushwhack up a small hill to “Mount Lookout” the rocky outcroppings that form the shelter. Go find it and sit! A great autumn moment!


September-October 2011

Somehow we find them. Places, landscapes, resting spots where just being there makes us feel different. These are called “thin places”, where the border between here and there, now and then gets dissolved.
One little jewel of a place is hiding right in the Village of Warwick. Lewis Woodlands is off Robin Brae Ave which is off Rt 94/Maple Ave on the way to Florida. It used to be part of one of the big estates that has gotten split up in the last century. These 14-acres hold beauty, mystery and wide history in the easy ½ mile loop of an old carriage path.. You enter across a small field and a footbridge over Witch’s Brook, a clear, narrow finger of the Wawayanda creek. (Actually, all the small water bodies in the region were once just called The Wandering River. They all made their way to the Wallkill. This was so confusing to the more literal-minded settlers, that they began to name and re-name each little branch as it if was distinct. Well, this is Witch’s Brook. The Mayor of Warwick told me as a boy playing in these woodlands there was an old woman living in a small house further up and, that’s really why it was Witch’s Brook.)
But that’s only the beginning. I took Tom Brannan, a local surveyor and archeologist, there a few years ago and he excitedly found what looked to me like just a pile of stones. He verified that, yes indeed, this was a pile of stones created before the American Revolution by a British survey team mapping the colonies. But there’s more! Someone keeps making small cairns---balanced rock sculptures- along the path. Regulars in the Woodlands claim to have never seen who it is, yet always the cairns are fixed and altered. Finally, there’s a craggy area with big boulders that features chert, that black mineral used to make primitive points and tools. This is a small but easy-to-visit quarry. There’s more! Go see, feel for yourself.

And, any and every time you can, find the intersection of Brady Road and Bowen Road on the Warwick-New Jersey border. Oh, the stone walls, the dipping roads and views!

July-August 2011


Thin places are places that feel different, where you can sense something else. It may be your own garden in the early morning or as the sun sets, or a lookout, a road, a special water feature, tree or rock that “says” something each time you see it. Here are a few of the thin places I know about, all within two miles of one another.

Route 94, the major route between Sussex and Orange counties, was also the major trail for the Lenape, the last Native Americans to live in this area. Off this road are some of the great thin places in the area. In Vernon at Maple Grange Park, on Maple Grange Road, is the now protected 40-acre Black Creek Site, a major Lenape Indian campsite. More than 15,000 artifacts, some dating back to 8,000 BC, have been found there. Sussex County Community College is doing archeological field work there this summer.

Near this camp, just down Canal Road off Maple Grange Road, are several chert quarries on the Appalachian Trail. Chert is a stone used for making tools and projectile points. You can recognize it by the way it’s found sandwiched in layers with other rocks. Most of the chert I’ve seen around here is black, though it can be white, grey or even red.

High Breeze Farm on Barrett Road, off Route 94 at the Vernon-Warwick border, is a triple delight. It is the closest you can get to what a 19th century farm looked like because it was operated as one by Luther Barrett until 1986. Secondly, it is a living museum of Lenape artifacts and there’s a little pull-off on Barrett Road just above the farm, where you are treated to a wondrous view of the mountains north and west of here.