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.

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!