Something to let go, something to hold onto

A few nights ago, I lay awake unable to sleep. My eyes darted around searching for answers in the dark. What if the yurts don’t arrive on time? What if there’s a root we can’t dig around? What if we go over our budget?

What if, what if, what if…

In life, things build up: work, family, struggling to find the balance between the two, bills, and self-generated doubts. What if I could let go of the “what if’s”?

Yesterday, I climbed Jenkins Mountain with my younger sister Mallory. Mallory is well known for her smile and upbeat “can do” attitude. On trail we talked candidly about the unknowns in our lives. There were no preconceived images we had to uphold among the trees and ferns.

On the summit, we looked off to the high peaks. We sat down and stretched our legs. It felt good to sweat and it recharged my spirits. I picked up a stick and broke it in half. I instructed Mallory to do the same.

“Think of something you want to let go.”

Mallory closed her eyes and thoughtfully meditated on the idea. I twirled the stick between my fingers.

“I want to let go of self-doubt,” I said and tossed the stick over the edge. It fell out of sight.

“Pleasing others,” she laughed. “I want to focus on me.”

I nodded and two sticks remained.

“Now, think of something you want to hold on to.” I said.

My mind reflected on the week and what got me from one day to the next.

“Faith,” I said. “Belief that it will work out the way it’s meant to.”

“Patience,” she said. “It’s okay if it takes a little longer than expected.”

We tucked the sticks in our small pack and headed down the trail—both a little lighter on our feet.

Exercise: Something to Hold Onto, Something to Let Go

Want to give it a try? It helps! You don’t even have to climb a mountain (though it is pretty scenic).

Find a place in nature that speaks to you: Mountain top, meadow, lake, river, fire side or forest.

Find two objects: One to represent something you want to let go and the other to represent what to hang onto. Objects that work well: Sticks, rocks, leaves, feathers, flowers, and pine cones.

Clasp the two objects in your hand and think about what’s happening in your life. For the object to let go, think about what’s dragging you down or making you anxious or worried. For the object to hang on to, think about what’s giving you strength or making you happy.

Let it go: either out loud or in your mind, say what you are letting go of. Throw the object away from you (over the edge of the mountain, into the lake or into a fire). Take a deep breath and think about what it means to let that go.

Hang on: Say what you are hanging on to. Carry this object home with you and put it in a special place. Every time you see it, it will be a pleasant reminder.

How to make Adirondack potpourri

Dark skies and pink blooms

A painted turtle slides home

The calm of the storm

Today the world is alive with fragrance. Rains have soaked the sandy grounds and wild roses are in bloom. When the sun shines, blankets of pine needles emit a sweet candy-like smell. Now imagine walking along a gravel road with roses on one side and pines on the other… wonderful, huh? Here’s a simple plan for capturing that moment…

What you’ll need:

2 containers: one for rose petals and one for pine needles

2 cooking trays

A sunny deck or window sill

What to do
  1. Find a patch of wild roses. They love to grow along the roadsides! Collect a handful or two of pale pink petals that appear a bit wilted. Harvest from roses that are on their way out instead of from new blooms; the petals come more easily off the bush. Put the petals in a container or bag.
  2. Find a grove of pine trees. Look along the roadside for orange needles. Collect a handful or two of dry pine needles.
  3. In a shallow cooking pan, lay out the petals and needles. Put the pan in a sunny spot and allow your bounty to dry out for a day or two. Rotate the pan and fluff the contents.
  4. Once dry, layer the roses and needles in a small mason jar.
  5. Whenever you need a break or refresher—smell the roses and needles!
Fun tips

Use other natural materials as well. You can even add some sand or soil.

Rose and pine potpourri makes an excellent present for someone who loves the Adirondacks!

Studies have shown that the smell of earth makes us happier and healthier (certainly works for me).

If you can’t get outside as much as you’d like to, bring the outside inside. This is a great addition to an office desk.

How to make a birch bangle

My favorite tree is the white birch. The bark is striking and its properties are multidimensional. For example, you can use a piece to make a fire or a basket. Today I’ll explain how to make a bangle (a bracelet that slips over your hand) out of birch bark.

In the Adirondacks, you’ll see a lot of yellow and paper/white birch trees. They’re a deciduous hardwood, belong to the genus Betula, and are found in the Northern Hemisphere in temperate and boreal climates.

How to make a birch bangle
  1. Find a piece of properly harvested birch bark that is about 1’x1′.
  2. Test the piece for flexibility. You should be able to bend it in a circle without cracking it. Harness your inner Goldilocks—not too thick or too thin, but just right.
  3. Soak the birch for 2-3 hours, then dry it with a towel and lightly brush off any dirt.
  4. With a pair of scissors, cut the bark to a desired width. It’s important that you cut with the natural bend of the bark. Go with the grain.
  5. Wrap it around your wrist to measure for the final cut. The bangle should be loose enough to slip over your hand, and tight enough that it doesn’t fall off.
  6. Cut for length.
  7. If you want to decorate your bracelet, this is the perfect time. Pick your medium: acrylic paint, colored pencils, markers, crayons, pens or charcoal. Be creative!
  8. Line up the ends of the bark and overlap them by 1 inch.
  9. With a needle and sinew, make two or three X stitches where the bark overlaps.
  10. Enjoy your bracelet! And remember, it’s made of nature and might break. When it does, you can use it to make a fire. If you’re in a survival situation, it might save your life. Remember, your bracelet contains the power of fire!
Tips for finding a good piece of birch bark

Properly harvested bark is not peeled from a living tree or removed from public state land inside the park.

  • Check the ground around a grove of birch trees after a good wind or rain storm.
  • If you know someone who cuts wood, or if you discover a detached birch limb, peel the tree. Take a knife or hatchet and cut against the grain. Carefully peel the bark off. Sometimes it will catch and rip in areas where there might be a knot in the wood. This bark will work the best because it’s fresh and flexible.
  • If all else fails, you can buy sheets of birch at rustic furniture shows.

The yurt inquisition

Roots grow deep and strong

Soil sticks to my running shoes

My skin darkens brown

Cherry Valley, NY – I’m kneeling next to my grandmother, planting tomatoes. Wind pushes across the lower fields and cools my skin. This is my homeland and the sirens sing me back every planting season.

Cherry Valley soil is different than Adirondack soil. It’s nutrient-rich, dense with clay and strewn with flint. After a hard rain, it clumps to your shoes. My grandmother removes a young plant from the tray and places it in my hand.

“So, tell me about the yurts. Yurts? Did I say that right?”

I nod and tuck the roots into the hole I’ve dug with a deer antler. My family has heard rumors of the Osgood Pond Semester and they have lots of questions. And they’re not the only ones…

Osgood Pond Semester Top 10 FAQs

What’s a yurt?

A yurt is a round dwelling traditionally used by nomadic people in the steppes of Central Asia.

What are they made of?

Yurts are made of furs, skins and canvas. Ours will be a combination of canvas and tarp.

Will there be running water?

Nope. Each yurt will have two 5-gallon jugs for drinking & cooking water. Hand wash water will be obtained from Osgood Pond. The yurts will be equipped with hand-washing stations and biodegradable camping soap.

Will there be electricity?

Nope. At night we’ll use headlamps and lanterns to find our way.

What will you do for heat?

Each yurt will have a small wood stove.

When are they built, and when do you move in?

The yurts will be raised around June 23 and (if all goes well!) Andy and I will move in June 30.

What will you do for showers and laundry?

We’ll have access to the facilities at Paul Smith’s College, although I have a feeling we’ll be using the beautiful Adirondack lakes and ponds for bathing during the summer months.

How many students in the program?

There are eight students in the program.

When do they arrive?

The students will arrive August 19, one week before regular classes begin.

Can you live in the yurts during the winter?

Yes. They stay nice and toasty, and handle large snow loads well.

The Biggest Question: Why?

After the logistical questions, I’m often asked, “Why do you want to live in a yurt?”

This question gives me pause because I have so many answers. Sometimes I comment about our changing global environment or the excellent opportunity for hands-on outdoor education. Sometimes I think about where I grew up, playing in fields and building forts along the riverside.

My grandmother hands me the last plant in the tray. “Well, I like the idea of it,” she says. “It will teach the students the meaning of hard work.” She grew up a scrapper surrounded by brothers. She’s a small woman, but she’ll grab a chicken and chop the head off without flinching. I think of the eight students in our inaugural program and of the typical student who chooses Paul Smith’s College — they know the meaning of hard work. They thirst for it.

That may be the leading reason why I want to live in a yurt. It’s going to be hard. And the hardest things we tackle in life are usually the most rewarding.

St. Regis Mountain and the ties that bind

Black flies buzz and bite

Garter snake slithers away

I’m glad snakes eat bugs

I lean my bike against my office wall and flip on the computer. After checking emails, I open a Word document and stare at the screen. Nothing comes. No words, no inspiration. The to-do list on my whiteboard grows. Out my window, the blue sky and sun taunt me: get out of that cement box!

With a water bottle, apple, extra layer and visor I slip on my pack and pedal to the Mount Saint Regis trailhead. Subarus and hatchbacks line the sandy parking lot. The heat builds and black flies nip my ears. The trail feels soft and duffy from lack of rain. My mind begins to prioritize. Problems that appeared unsolvable rotate into place. By the time I reach the summit, I possess an action plan for when I return to the office. I high-five the fire tower and turn to see Curt Stager, a familiar face.

Curt is a paleo climatologist, ecologist, writer and professor at Paul Smith’s College. As a student, I looked up to him because he’d written for National Geographic. Those golden magazines were my holy grail on rainy childhood days. My father dedicated an entire closet in our house to them – from those pages, I learned about the world and the beautiful, intriguing people with different faces, colors, and rituals that inhabit it.

The ties that bind.

We sit on a rock facing the valleys, ponds, lakes and mountains to the South. The wind keeps the black flies at bay and Curt offers me a hunk of cheese. He points to a patch of land where pieces of native pottery were discovered. How do you tell the story of people who have gone before us? How do you use their knowledge? What binds us together as humans through time and place? This is not the first time I’ve had these thoughts on a mountain top. There is something metaphorical about getting above a situation and seeing it with new eyes. Eagle eyes.

“What’s your favorite part about teaching?” I ask.

“The students.”

I nod. As we descend, he tells a story about a young man who sat in the back of the classroom and seemed disengaged. All signs and first impressions pointed towards the student dropping out or failing the class.

“Turns out he was a Latin scholar and bored to death.”

He points to a shallow pond.

“See the ripples?”


“Those are mosquito larva.”

Oh, joy. I think to myself. Whether it’s a person, piece of pottery, or pond—there’s always more beneath the surface. So, what is it that ties us together? Fire? Drums? Or the sheer desire to escape four walled cement rooms for inspiration

Want to hike Mount Saint Regis?

Directions from Paul Smith’s College:

  1. Turn on to Keese Mill’s Road from Route 30
  2. Travel 2.6 miles to the parking lot on the left
  3. Cross the bridge, walk the access road for .10 miles and look for the trailhead on the right
  4. Hike 3.3 miles to the summit
  5. Enjoy!

Thunderheads and fiddleheads

Birds sing a rain song

Clouds swell over unfurled birch leaves

The earth greens over night

Thunderheads are rising in the distance. Across the pond looms a dark patch of sky that spreads like a bruise. Earlier this afternoon we got our first quenching rain – the type that surprises you with its arrival and drenches within seconds. Fortunately I was sitting in the Forestry Cabin, learning about soft tissue wounds from Doug, our SOLO Wilderness First Responder instructor. Water funneled off the roof in torrents and we leaned forward as it drowned out his voice.

Every year, WFR teaches would-be rescuers at Paul Smith’s College how to respond in the wilderness during an emergency. It’s ideal training, because part of the Osgood Pond Semester is backcountry expeditions and adventure. The first time I took a WFR course was five years ago when I was beginning my career as a wilderness therapy instructor. Lots of people ask me: what’s wilderness therapy? My short answer to that is: nature doing what nature’s good at — teaching us stubborn mortals lessons.

One principle to live by is here and now. In other words, focus on the moment. That’s why I love wilderness and weather. Both realign us when our minds wander – whether that’s delving into the past or guessing about an unforeseeable future.

I’ve learned my greatest lessons in a classroom without walls: on a foam pad, hunkered down in lightening position; at the mercy of the storm, watching and counting; in a garden, planting tomatoes alongside my grandmother.

So here I sit, waiting for the storm to descend or pass over Osgood Pond.

While I wait, I cook.

On my way home, I noticed a patch of fiddle heads. It’s a perfect time of year to get them before they unfurl. In the meadow and along the trail, I plucked some dandelions and added their leaves to the mix. The earth is greening and there are many delicious elements to that!

Rules to eating wild edibles

  • Don’t eat what you don’t know.
  • Take a field guide book – or better yet, take a field guide human who has harvested the plant before. My grandmother taught me the basics.
  • Guessing’s not good enough.
  • Avoid overharvesting the plant. Take a few and move on — there’s likely another plant nearby.

Dandelion and fiddlehead pasta stir fry

Perfect for a rainy, stormy spring night in the Adirondacks


10 fiddleheads
2 handfuls of dandelion (or more to your tasting)
½ cup chopped onion
½ cup chopped pepper
2 Tablespoons cooking oil
2 cups pasta sauce
1 box whole wheat pasta
Seasonings to taste and preference (Suggestions: Oregano, salt and pepper)

Kitchen Gear

1 large frying pan
1 large cooking pot
Stirring spoon


  1. Fill large cooking pot ½ way with water. Add a pinch of salt, set burner to high and bring water to a boil.
  2. Coat frying pan with cooking oil. Set burner to medium. Sauté chopped peppers and onions for 5 minutes or until tender, then add fiddleheads and dandelions. Once tender, add pasta sauce and set burner to low.
  3. Add pasta to boiling water; cook until pasta is al dente.
  4. Remove pasta from heat; drain the water and rinse pasta under cool water.
  5. Add oil to the rinsed pasta.
  6. Cover in sauce and serve.
  7. Enjoy!