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Taking first steps

by Abby Calderon

Editor’s note: As part of monthly homework assignments, students are asked to share class reflections. This post is taken from Abby’s November 2022 reflection of a plant walk led by co-founder Richard Mandelbaum at Minnewaska State Park Preserve in Kerhonkson, New York.

A beautiful blue lake and a beautiful blue sky with numerous autumnal trees.
Minnewaska State Park showing off all the shades of autumn.

The class started by us stepping into magical surroundings. The air was crisp and perfect and we were welcomed by such beautiful fall colors it was like walking into a dream. Field guides in hand, we started our walk.

For me, it was the first in-person class, and the first time I got to interact with both my peers and Richard. It was also the first time that I stepped into the wild to be able to identify plants.

In the first couple of minutes, I learned more from listening to Richard speak than I’ve learned about plants my entire life. His knowledge and eagerness to share and teach is inspiring; you come to see plants and herbs with a different eye when you hear someone talk about them with so much reverence.

We started learning about the different types of oaks, their properties, and how to identify them, then we walked into a clearing to have lunch and do some identification in groups. I gained a bit of confidence in my own capacity to identify the tree in front of us (black cherry or Prunus serotina). It took us about 20 minutes to do so, but the feeling of being able to correctly identify it was indescribable.

A white man stands in front of a tree with a book under his arm.
Co-founder Richard Mandelbaum shares a snippet of his vast plant wisdom during the walk.

At one point during the walk, some of my peers touched poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans). Richard reached for another plant and explained it could cure the rash and itch caused by it, making us notice how nature has it’s own remedies.

The field walk was the best way to start the weekend since it filled us with energy for the next couple of days. At some moments, especially in the shade I started getting cold and it was harder to pay attention, so I learned for the next field trip to be extra prepared.

At one moment, we stepped into a lookout with an infinite view of the trees and Catskill mountains. We took a couple of minutes of silence to just be with nature, listen to the wind, and connect. It filled me with wonder and peace, and felt like energy and life returned to my body, as well as an immensely feeling of gratitude and awe to God and nature.


Abby Calderon is a registered dietitian by trade and a second-year student at ArborVitae. She loves combining her passion for health and nature to promote wellness through sustainable nutrition choices. You can follow her on Instagram @ibd.dietitian.


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