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By Robin Jovanovich

A lot of pilot programs never see the light of day, but not so the exceptional one launched by Rye Nature Center this fall. Lucky are the ten 3- to 5-year-olds who made the cut and are knee-deep in leaves and outdoor adventure five mornings a week at Forest Preschool.

On a recent morning, we gathered in the Nest Playground before setting off on a walk in the woods in search of trees to identify, by their leaves and bark, and logs to roll over and look under for millipedes, slugs, and other crawly creatures.

In the Tree House, we sat, mostly cross-legged, and sounded out the calls of nature. The theme was “H” words, and we did our best to act like horses that were pursued and stung by hornets, but then healed happily. We made it all the way to “I” words and did a good job itching.

On our way to gardening duty, we paused in the Cubby Room long enough to check on the goldfish.

With the arrival of fall — at last — Taro Ietaka, Director of Conservation, really needed some extra hands in the Garden. That day’s assignment was two-fold: “to bring in plants to make the classroom even more beautiful, and to plant ones that will provide a buffet table for birds and bugs” — winterberry, holly, switch grass, blue joint grass, among them.

Every young gardener was given gloves, watering cans, and trowels and wasted no time before digging in.

It took close to a year to create this richly layered program. Under the clear-eyed guidance and steady hands of Allison Bedosky (Education Director) and Rachael Pothula (Early Childhood Education Specialist), preschoolers are exploring every corner of nature’s playground and growing more comfortable with its rhythms and rhymes.

The Nature Center is holding a Forest Preschool Open House Saturday, November 4 at 10.

 

By Jana Seitz

I have sustained more injuries loading and unloading my bike into the back of my truck than from any other activity I’ve undertaken. I regularly jab myself in the ribs with the handle bars, schlonk my hips on the derailer, and stab my shins on the pokey pedals as I throw my bike in again and again in search of the old rail trails. I have “discovered” the most magnificent paths, all well within an hour’s drive, and hiding in plain sight. These trails are no secret to avid bikers and locals as weekends find them jam-packed. But on weekdays they’re almost empty…just myself and a few fellow girls makin’ the rockin’ world go ‘round.

The tricky part is figuring out where to access, where to park, and how to run shuttle if you’re taking a friend. Studying maps, browsing travel mags and trolling the internet are a fine start, but you really just have to throw and go…. figure it out by just doing it. I try to hit it right after 8 a.m. school drop-off, aiming to slide home just in time for 2:30 pickup (three out of four isn’t bad). I always have a backup pick-up plan, just in case.

These trails are great examples of a successful re-purposing of land: recycle/re-use as times change. In Westchester County, the New York Central Railroad ran freight and passengers between Putnam County and the Bronx via 23 stations from 1881 to 1958. The “Old Put” was slowly dismantled and today is divided into connecting paths, smoothly paved for recreational use:

The Putnam County Trailway (7.5 miles from Brewster to Baldwin Place in Somers) becomes the North County Trailway (22.1 miles from Baldwin Place in Somers to Eastview in Mount Pleasant), where it intersects the South County Trailway and runs 14 miles to the New York City border.

The entire rail line roughly parallels the Taconic Parkway, then doglegs east at Carmel to parallel Route 6, snaking its way through wetlands and woods, towns and neighborhoods, and over rivers and reservoirs. Old railroad stations are still standing and restored in Elmsford, Briarcliff, Millwood and Yorktown Heights. You’ll pass through a fair share of industrial parks and cemeteries too, as railroad throughways were historically built on less desirable land.

I’ll make it easy for you, a “Rail Trails for Dummies” if you will, highlighting two of my favorite legs which you can do on your own, avoiding the need to run shuttle and still making it home in time. Bring a backpack with water, phone, maps, and a bike lock if you have it.

Brewster to Carmel on The Putnam Trail (about 5 miles, one way, the hilliest part of the entire rail trail – there’s no shame in walking your bike uphill):

Begin by driving to the Mobil Station (The Drewville Mart) at 2495 Carmel Avenue, Brewster. Park in bikeway parking lot right across Route 6 at the start of the trail (look for signs). It crosses the beautiful Middle Branch Reservoir, skirts the Fred Dill Wildlife Sanctuary, and takes you to the hamlet of Carmel on Lake Gleneidia, where it bisects the start of the North County Trailway. Head downhill at the bisection, off the trail into Carmel to explore.

Have lunch at Millie’s Café at 16 Seminary Hill Road (Route 6 and corner of Church Street). Minor bike repair is at Village Bikes (97 Old Route 6). Beautiful old cemeteries and churches abound. Pop into the Putnam County Courthouse, built in 1814. Or bike about a mile south on the North County Trailway to the bridge over the Croton River, a great spot for a picnic. The round trip gives you plenty of time to get home.

Millwood to Yorktown Heights on North County Trailway

(7.7 miles one way):

Head to DeCicco & Sons, 230 Saw Mill River Road, Millwood. There is a bikeway parking lot just past DeCicco’s on the right (look for signs.) Park and hit the trail north. It crosses over the New Croton Reservoir, through wetlands and into Yorktown Heights. Have lunch outside at the Trailside Café (1807 Commerce Street, Yorktown Heights – bike rack across the street), explore the town, find the old railroad station, and head back.

If you have the time and inclination, do the whole trail system from stem to stern, about 43 miles, or figure out your own path as it all becomes clear. For maps and brochures, call Westchester County Parks at 864-7275 or visit www.westchestergov.com/parks. Stuart Farms, Turkey Mountain Nature Preserve, and the Kitchawan Preserve can all be accessed from the trails.

Al fresco dining spot

Trail above the Middle Branch Reservoir

Bridge over the New Croton Reservoir

 

The Monster in My Garden

By Mitch Silver

The guilt was overwhelming. After all, my wife Ellen and I had planted different kinds of milkweed to attract them in the first place. And, once they were here, they really enjoyed our zinnias.

We hadn’t seen monarch butterflies for several years, and were saddened by the decline in these once abundant creatures. So we were delighted when they came back in 2017.

And then we found the wings. No body, just wings, lying on the deck one morning. Old age? Hardly. A green stick about four inches long was all but hidden among the zinnia stems and leaves. And in her mouth was another already headless butterfly, being devoured down to the nub.

I was on my way out to the store. When I returned, a second set of wings had fallen to the deck. And there was the praying mantis, lurking once more in the zinnia stems like Cary Grant hiding among the cornstalks in North by Northwest. Except, she wasn’t hiding. She was waiting.

By the time I put the groceries away, another innocent member of the Lepidoptera family was flitting from one zinnia flower to the next. And there was that “preying” mantis just an inch away. So I did what I had to do: I yelled at the butterfly to get out of there.

It had no effect. Can butterflies hear? This one certainly didn’t. So I brought out the big guns, my lungs. I took a deep breath and blew the butterfly off the flower. And that’s when the mantis turned and glared at me, its spade-shaped head sporting a pair of beady, malevolent eyes. I retreated into the kitchen.

Now, I know mantises are supposed to be helpful, that they devour unwanted pests. What’s more, I couldn’t stand guard there all day, blowing away the very visitors we’d been at such pains to invite to our place. That evening and all the next day, Ellen and I stayed inside, believing we had to let things take their course, like photographers on the Nature Channel.

But the following morning, we understood our benign neglect was, in fact, malign: a total of a dozen wings littered the wooden planks of the deck. At this rate, the species would be extinct before it could ever migrate back to Mexico. Extreme measures were called for.

So I went across the road and asked my neighbor with the vegetable garden if he’d had any butterflies this summer. Joe said no. Then I asked him if he wanted a praying mantis. He said, “Sure. They get rid of unwanted pests.”

I went home, grabbed a leftover Stop and Shop bag and scissors, and strode out to the deck. The green monster (sorry, Red Sox fans) was still there, ravenously eyeing another butterfly. With what I like to remember as a swift movement, I whipped the bag down over zinnia and mantis as I snipped the stem at the base. Then I turned the bag and its cargo over, knotted the plastic ends together, and carried the bastard over to Joe’s place. He seemed happy with the gift, and told me he would open the bag over his rhododendron in back. He could open it over the jaws of Hell as far I was concerned.

But, maybe, I’m too sensitive.

A butterfly enjoys the zinnias off the back deck.

The mantis turns to give me a withering stare.

The body count.

Monstrous pumpkins from around the country — some weighing more than a ton — will arrive at the New York Botanical Garden October 21 and be on display through Halloween. Meet the growers and learn more about growing your own friendly giants.

The Garden Education Center of Greenwich is proud to sponsor the Greenwich Dahlia Society’s 10th Annual Dahlia Show. As always, this show promises the visitor a fabulous sea of exceptional blooms in an array of stunning colors and varieties by growers all over. It is truly a sight to behold!

The show is open to the public Saturday, October 7 from 2-4 and Sunday, October 8 from 10-3. The dahlia sale begins at 3 on Sunday.

Admission is free but donations will be gratefully accepted. The Center is located at 130 Bible Street in Cos Cob.

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