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Special Section Archives The Altamont Enterprise, November 25, 2010

Nature Center puts the wild world and its bounty in kids’ hands as families celebrate Thanksgiving

By Saranac Hale Spencer

HELDERBERGS — Nature’s bounty, in its many forms, was in the hands of children last weekend.

Since it opened 10 years ago, The Emma Treadwell Thacher Nature Center near Thacher Park has brought history and harmony with the natural world to families in its annual Thanksgiving celebration.

This year, a campfire at the back of the center drew a crowd of lively youngsters who saw the various ways that acorns can be prepared over open flame and used for food or toys. 

The kids laid claim to their own acorn tops, made of an acorn stuck with a stick, by writing their initials in magic marker.  Then, they would compete, again and again, in an age-old game.  On a slightly curved slab of wood they each spun their tops — the last top spinning was the winner.

Before roasting the acorns, staff and volunteers at the center offered a program on bees.  Through each of the lessons they give, said Nancy Engel, director of the center, they try to instill in children the idea that nature isn’t foreign — the example of a beehive can illustrate cooperation.

Inhabitants of modern-day society aren’t very connected to nature, she said, but the idea behind programs like Nature’s Thanksgiving is to show people that we are related to the world.

One of the reasons Laurence Montalto, who had dozens of his own hand crafted tools and instruments on display, began his living-history business was to “show what we’re losing,” he said.

For a while, Montalto was on the academic track, he said, after studying aesthetics and art criticism.  Several years after getting his Ph.D, he realized, “I was becoming like the people I despised,” triangulating his career.  So he left and went to the woods for a year, he said.

He learned a lot about living off of the land during that year in the Catskills, he said.  He began his business, Native Ways, after a teacher spoke to him while he was exhibiting his wares at the Ashokan Center.  Since study of the Iroquois is part of the state’s curriculum, the teacher brought him to her school to show her students the replicas he had made of native tools.  He was paid $600, which sparked the idea for the business.

It’s a way of going back to nature, Montalto said of what he does, explaining that Native Americans made use of everything.  They wouldn’t waste a single part of a deer they had killed, he said.

The idea behind the Emma Treadwell Thacher Nature Center’s Thanksgiving celebration came from a book called Thanksgiving Address, which Engel got as a gift from Mike Tarbell, a Mohawk who works extensively with the Iroquois Museum in Howes Cave.  The message is that it is important to have communication with the natural world in order to stay in balance, Engel said.

Of the center’s annual program, she said, the “theme is connecting children and families with nature.”

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