KidsPEEC is a blog focused on nature, science, environmental topics, and happenings at the Pocono Environmental Education Center (PEEC).

A Naif in the Forest by Darrell Berger 

Wing Tips to Hiking Boots: Musings of a New, Full-Time Poconos Resident

One of my first purchases upon finding myself a weekend forest dweller seven years ago was a bright hunter orange hat and vest. I also bought vests for my dogs. It makes sense to tell everyone who might see us rustling about, especially in the fall, “Leave me alone. Don’t shoot!” So far, so good.

Hunter orange is a good color for this, as the eye picks it up so quickly, and it stands in such bold contrast to the rest of the forest. That’s why I’ve always wondered about those few strokes of bright orange that appear in nature, in places other than fall foliage.

One is a little fellow, at most about two inches long, that is common around creeks and streams. This photo was taken, however, right at our back door. The added rain must have allowed this little juvenile eastern newt to wander farther from his hometown in Hornbeck’s Creek.

His coloration does the same for him as hunter orange does for me. It says, “Leave me alone.” Me, because I’m not a deer. The newt, because his skin is toxic. His orange utilizes aposematism, or “warning coloration.”

With luck that newt will live 12-15 years. Like most of us, Eastern Newts are more vivid as teenagers. The orange will fade to a dull olive or green in adults, though they will become as long as five inches.

The brightest orange mushroom around here is the aleuria aurantia, or orange peel mushroom. However, this orange is a false signal, like a deer wearing hunter orange. Sometimes called orange fairy cap, they are edible, though without much flavor or nutrition.

Most of the forest resolves into a mottled taupe, with rare, vivid exceptions standing or slithering about. The young eastern newt’s coloring is a protective warning. The orange peel mushroom’s is deceiving, having little to offer beyond its eye-catching appearance. The newt survives by being poisonous, the mushroom by being bland. Thus the forest neighborhood is much like any other.

** Warning: Please do not pick & eat mushrooms, or any other forest plant, without the advice of an expert.




A Naif in the Forest by Darrell Berger

Wing Tips to Hiking Boots: Musings of a New, Full-Time Poconos Resident

Violet the Corgi has a perfunctory bark for the UPS van. She has a more annoyed one for any squirrel that attacks the bird feeder on the deck, or any deer grazing in the yard. Twice I have heard a much louder and more urgent report that turned out to be directed to a raccoon at the feeder.

One particular night in late spring I assumed her bark was caused by a considerably larger and more annoying raccoon. I opened the door so she could scare it away, and followed her onto the deck.

I saw the feeder in pieces, the iron rod that had held it bent to a forty-five degree angle. I heard a rustling to my left, at the end of the deck, about ten feet away. Then I saw the bear, and the bear saw me. We locked eyes briefly. He executed a Fosbury Flop over the railing to the driveway below. He disappeared into the night.

In the foyer at PEEC there is a stuffed bear close to his size, 250 pounds or so. In the following days I received much good advice about bears. Don’t put out bird feeders in the spring. Keep your garbage cans inside after the snow is gone. Secure garbage cans with bungee cords. Everybody here has a bear story or several.

My wife and I have been weekend people in Dingmans Ferry for seven years, taking our garbage back to the city. Since I retired last fall and moved here full-time, we consider the bears as never before. My first encounter required only a bit of adrenaline, no blood. Violet was proud to have scared the moocher away.

I now feel like a real resident of the forest, no longer a visitor. Though I am a beginner and have much to learn, I have passed the local rite of initiation: I have encountered a bear, eye to eye.


Newark Students conduct enzyme field research at PEEC with University of Tennessee


High school students from Malcolm X Shabazz in Newark spent 3 days at the Pocono Environmental Education Center (PEEC) conducting field research with Dr. Andrew D. Steen from The University of Tennessee.  The students collected and tested water samples looking for five different protein degrading enzymes, which are key in the conversion of plant material into carbon dioxide (CO2) and are important for understanding the global carbon cycle. This was cutting edge research the students actively worked on, as four of these enzymes had never before been measured in freshwater.

The field research at PEEC was funded by a Teacher Innovation Fund Grant from the Foundation for Newark's Future.

Attached is a video of Dr. Steen interviewed by Saskieya A., a senior at Malcolm X. Shabazz High School:

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