Inga Howe-Geniesse

A Visit to Mashomack Preserve: On The Giving Tree and The Joy of Being a Kid

Going to Shelter Island, especially with a child, is a wonderful off the beaten path adventure for kids (and adults) living in the Hamptons. The excitement of going on a ferry– even if it takes just 5 minutes from Sag Harbor– is so wonderful that it evokes the sensory feeling of being a child (to say nothing of the excitement it inspires among kids, as this island of magnificent beauty and rare plants exists a mere 90 miles from New York City).

I recently made a trip to the Mashomack Nature Conservancy, known as the “Jewel of the Peconic”, for a reading of Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree— a formative children’s book for the ecologically-minded and a beautiful metaphor for the supportive network of natural processes that sustain all human life, especially here on Shelter Island.

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Inga Howe-Geniesse

Mashomack has 12 miles of gorgeous coastline as well as 2,100 acres of woodlands, creeks, and fields worth exploring. The preserve’s events calendar is packed with wonderful workshops and regular activities for young and old. On our visit, we gathered outdoors in the shade of some tall Oak and Maple trees and sat on wooden benches while the birds sang and chirped away while the storyteller, Mimi, began to read.

Mashomack Preserve has 12 miles of gorgeous coastline as well as 2,100 acres of woodlands, creeks, and fields worth exploring.

The significance of The Giving Tree being read in this locale is not lost on me, as I cannot think of a better way to introduce impressionable minds to the idea that nature gives selflessly, always. I start sobbing a bit, as I felt a certain sadness about this very deep story, which is so appropriate to our time…the notion of nature giving, rather than taking, is a parable designed for child that is best heeded by adults. In the course of the story the tree takes nothing from the boy; its boundless giving enriches his life profoundly.

After finishing the story, we divided into groups that received little booklets with tree leaves printed throughout their pages. We went on a nature walk with the goal of identifying various trees (white oak, red oak, birch, etc) which was as instructive and exploratory for kids as it was for the adults.

After discussing the different leaves, the kids were ushered into a little log cabin to gather around a big table covered with a white painting sheet and dozens of colors of paint. The kids were asked to paint the leaves and use them to print on the paper. As a result, we left with beautiful artwork and deep feeling of contentment, having spent two beautiful hours at this wonderful preserve engaging with nature, internalizing, and ultimately turning it into a piece of art that we could bring home as a memory of the day. We will definitely be going back soon.

For more information on the Mashomack Nature Conservancy and its programming, visit their website

Mashomack Nature Conservancy
Shelter Island
47 South Ferry Road

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