As the polar winds plunge south, driving summer into a faint memory, all of us - animal and plant - hunker down, waiting for warmth. Up until recently, the weather had been very changeable - mild, then cold, then back to mild, fostering the illusion of the possibility of a mild winter - no more - the cold has snapped seriously now and we dream of warmer days to come watching as the lost light slowly returns. Very cold weather has affected all of us in Waghkonk, solidifying the recent snow and turning what had melted into ice, forcing many to rummage through closets and car-trunks in search of various forms of ice-grippers, which are absolutely essential on all local trails right now. It's that typical winter conundrum - that which can be so uncomfortable - the cold, ice and snow - can also be a source of comfort and safety for many well-adapted native animals and plants, as well as a thing of great, subtle beauty - a cold, muted rainbow.
FAUNA & FLORA
Now the game is on for real - the game of life and death. The Ground-Cedar and other lycopodiums are mostly covered by snow now, as well as the seeds and stems of all of the Spring Ephemerals, Partridgeberry and numerous other ground-dwelling plants of our forest, frozen in time and protected temporarily from predation by White-tail Deer and the tramping of human feet (still, please stay on trails). Even the trees of the forest can face challenges at this time. Their sap is generally safe, ensconced as it is in roots deep under the frozen ground, awaiting (like us) the warmth of Spring. However, the youngest, thinnest saplings and trees can be vulnerable to the deep-freeze, even causing them on occasion to split open.
You can hear the trees "popping" on a brutally cold day - hence one Native American name for this month: The Moon of Popping Trees. In the harsh beauty that is our winter landscape, that which doesn't hunker down to survive has to hustle to get by. As I've mentioned in earlier posts, the snow will give the numerous small rodents some shielding from the predations of Coyote, Fox, Hawk and Owl but not complete protection as they've all adapted strategies for these conditions also. Speaking of "strategies", one that some humans will envy about now is hibernation - the complete one of local turtle-species, frozen in mud and the partial hibernation of the Black Bear, waiting to wake on a mild day (a mild day sounds good as the heater cranks up to beat back the cold). The most interesting form of suspended animation in our area (in my humble opinion) is that of the Wood Frog. In areas adjacent to vernal pools, hidden under frozen leaf-litter are thousands of Wood Frogs, antifreeze-like blood keeping their cells from bursting in the cold, waiting for the first signs of early spring to emerge among the ice floes in their pools. Amazing - amphibians on ice. Think about it. All of our other local amphibians (warm-blooded, requiring warmth) are solidly sleeping, never to emerge until the weather warms. In some ways, the most awesome of our waking winter denizens are the Small Birds - the Blue Birds, Blue Jays, Cardinals, Chickadees, Juncos and Sparrows - which, no matter how cold or windy it is, will always be out hunting for seeds or whatever else they can find.
It might be bitter, bitter cold - 0 degrees with a biting wind - and the Crows and Hawks will be sheltering in Hemlock or Pine, but the little ones will still be out there, puffed-up with all their down.
WAITING FOR WARMTH
As we all wait for warmth to return to the land, and we spend more time indoors, this is the season for study, for inner reflection, to take our last year's experiences, learn from them, crafting our new self for the new year. Some suggestions for involvement and study: Hudson Valley Almanac (www.dec.ny.gov); Catskill Mountain Rail Trail(catskillmountainrailtrail.org); Journey North (journeynorth.org).
WINTER WELL / THINK WARM THOUGHTS
In this time of stark beauty, I suggest that we all enjoy it as much as we can but I also suggest that everyone be very careful in this season. All of the elements are not as much our friend as in the summer, so please dress accordingly, particularly when on the trails. It's very important (as always) to wear proper footwear and to stay on the trail, whether icy or muddy. If icy, please wear Yak-Trax or some such.
If muddy, mud-boots. By going off-trail we not only endanger small threatened plants just under foot but we create erosion which the trail-crew will have to spend time and energy repairing. If venturing into the woods in the afternoon always have a light with you. While the light is (thankfully) not disappearing as fast as it was, darkness can come on you rapidly. Dog-walkers, please don't let Fido jump up on others. This is rude behavior any time, but it is downright dangerous when the footing is already precarious.
Everyone - Please have a good safe January. Keep warm and watch as the Light gradually returns. Thank you all for your continued support. My contact info. is: email@example.com and (845)594-4863. Please Like Dave Holden and/or Woodstock Trails on Facebook. Thanks again.
Take Care, "Ranger" Dave Holden