The seasons speed by just like the racing, ice-cold water of a spring freshet. Our days go back and forth, varying from the placid, clear pools of a quiet day, to those other more tumultuous days that are like raging, frothy waterfalls. Indeed, life is much like a stream (of consciousness?) flowing past, always going downstream, hurrying to the sea, seemingly never to return to the mountains - entropy personified. One analogy would be fitting - it is important that we live each day to its utmost because we're never going to get to do it over again.
It is all a Great Cycle, though. If, indeed, we are all like tiny droplets of water in that vast stream of life, perhaps we really do get a "do over" in a certain sense: after all of us trillions (bazillions?) of water-droplets intermingle and flow all the way down to Ocean, at some point we'll help make clouds and thereby return to the mountains where we originated, in the form of a newer, fresher, revitalizing rain.
THE INCREDIBLE MONTH OF MAY
True to form, May is bursting with Life. The veritable vertiginous avalanche of vegetation (whew!) that I had forecast in my last Note (NEW SPRING, Waghkonk Notes, part 2, April 21, 2017) is rapidly coming to pass. While it always seems that May is unendingly wet, the truth is that it usually is just the right combination of sunlight and water, which is what leads to this incredible burgeoning of life - plant and animal. So much is going on that it is hard to keep track of it all!
Most obvious in this green gorgeousness (there I go again!) is the resurgence of the hardwoods - Ash, Birch, Oak, Maple and the like - as they rapidly unfold the leafy version of the Class of 2017 (I wonder if they're just as proud of their new leaves as animals are of their young?). Most notably, still, is the color. The bright green that indicates a high-nitrogen presence still prevails in the forest, as the trees continue to fill out. Soon the woods will be dominantly dark green - a sure sign of Summer. In the meanwhile, the forest floor is still somewhat open and the early-season Spring Ephemerals - Dutchmen's Breeches, Jack-in-the-Pulpits, both Brown and Green, Purple Trilliums, Spring Beauties and Starflowers can still thrive. Except in higher altitudes, Trout Lilies are mostly gone by now. The incredible Canada Mayflowers (Wild Lily-of-the-Valley) have spread their verdant carpet onto the forest floor throughout our region, tiny white flowers capping each little stalk, like millions of minuscule bright-white fireworks sprinkled across the detritus and duff of the wooded ground - flowering in May - right on schedule. Soon, the canopy will close up, the woods will darken and the fields and meadows will take over the wildflower scene. It's been a great season for the native flowering trees - Eastern Redbud, Flowering Dogwood and Shadblow (Canadian Serviceberry) - they all flowered for weeks but only the amazing Dogwood is still in flower. Legions of ferns are unfolding - always a hopeful sign. I say this in light of the rapid expansion of the invasive Japanese Stilt-grass, which as the season progresses will probably continue to displace our native ferns, spreading its grassy stalks deeper and deeper into our forests. Speaking of invasives, the White Ash are dying at an alarming rate, destroyed by the Emerald Ash Borer (EAB), not noticeable right now amid all the new life surrounding them. I've never seen so much Poison Ivy. It truly is expanding its territory, purportedly because of climate change and increasing amounts of carbon dioxide, which it thrives on. Because of its proliferation, it is the only native plant that has been declared an invasive. Maybe if we eat invasives it would help control them (we already eat weeds, like Dandelions, right?). Turns out others have had the same thought (visit www.eattheinvaders.org) for an interesting take on this. I've noticed that there are - again - many, many buds on our Mountain Laurels, so I expect another great season like last year, and for very similar reason - a relatively mild winter (watch the Woodstock Guild website - www.woodstockguild.org - I'll be leading Laurel hikes).
One of the most interesting (to me, at least) phenomena of Spring is watching the line of verdure as it makes its way up the mountain-sides. If you watch it, you can see it advance day-by-day, steadily moving up the hills. At this moment, the hill-tops have few leaves out, still affording excellent views. This will change soon as that line makes it to the mountain-tops in the coming weeks (if you go uphill far enough it is possible to step back a week in the Spring-cycle and find leaves that haven't fully opened yet and an understory still exposed to the bright spring sun).
Every day more and more animal-life proliferates wildly in this extraordinary season. Most obvious, of course, is the rapidly increasing, and very noisy, avian population. Most of our migrators have returned and are busy competing with every other bird-species for food (largely the also-burgeoning insect population) and nesting. Getting the prize locally for distance-flown is the stalwart Ruby-throated Hummingbird, recently having returned from its epic migration from Honduras. It never ceases to amaze me that this thimble-sized creature is such an efficient, energetic powerhouse that it can fly 2,000 miles on this incredible journey, the last 500 (or so) of which is a straight-out dash over open water - the Gulf of Mexico.
This intrepid creature has to dodge high-winds, predators , spinning wind-machine blades, wires and cables, spider-webs, more predators - and all in order to build a tiny tea-cup-sized nest high in one of our trees, probably in the same place where they've built nests for untold thousands (millions?) of years. Hummingbirds fearlessly face off larger birds when necessary, not backing down in territorial disputes. Please remember, if you do feed Ruby-throats, to keep the feeder clean and don't feed them anywhere where a cat can reach them. Our other long-distance migrator that is on its way up from the mountains of Michoacan, Mexico, is the magnificent Monarch butterfly. Unlike the Hummingbird, the Monarch takes 3 generations to make it to the northeast, yet make it it does, though in decreasing numbers due to aggressive logging in its home habitat and the devastating effects of glyphosates (Roundup) on its northern, egg-laying habitat (visit journeynorth.org). The poet in me can't help but wonder if either or both Hummers and Monarchs dream of our northern, warm, sunny summer fields and meadows when they are huddled together in the cold winters of their Mexican homeland? Do they perhaps tell stories of their ancestral patches of land where they've spent untold summers? Maybe they have deep memories of a certain group of Milkweeds where their clan has always summered or a particular bunch of Beebalm (Monarda) near a nesting-spot used since time-immemorial. Why not? What makes us think that people are the only ones with a group- or genetic-memory?
SUMMER IS NIGH
Some things to remember: please leave Fawns lie; it is ok to place a baby-bird or egg back in the nest. Maybe not feed birds any more - they don't need it, it attracts Black Bear and mice. A Note of Caution: lots of Ticks, so please use whatever tick-protocol that works for you. Enjoy the Tree-frogs. Soon their chorus will be joined by Crickets and Katydids. Try to get outside and enjoy our beautiful Catskills and Hudson River. If you'd like a great guided hike (if I do say so myself!), either individual or one of my group-hikes, please check out my Woodstock Trails Facebook page. Also, I post more nature-photos as rangerdaveholden on Instagram. Thanks for your support and encouragement. Please have a great, safe late Spring and early Summer. Let's all try to be kind to each other, to the animals and plants and to Mother Earth.
Take Care, "Ranger" Dave Holden email@example.com (845)594-4863