Summer came suddenly after the relatively cool, wet Spring, bringing with it hot weather we don't normally see here until late July or August. At least we've had plenty of rain, so hopefully we can avoid last year's drought and fire-danger. If this heat continues, though, with hot southern winds whipping through, there is that possibility, unless we steadily get the right amounts of rainfall. My request (to Life, or Whoever) would be that we have consistent light rains in the night-time only - like in the Islands. That way we could avoid dryness and not disrupt everyday life (further establishing my credentials as a Dreamer).
INCREDIBLE RICHNESS OF SUMMER LIFE
As I've described in other high-summers, the richness of this time is so visceral, so intensely, physically, in-your-face real, that it is almost hard to believe. Everything is alive - the sky dancing with little lightning-spark fireflies, maybe turned on by real lightning or even the heat-lightning pulsing silently through the summer clouds; the very air itself is thick with humidity and every kind of flying-insect buzzing around; even the ground is crawling with life-forms all bound on their own inscrutable journey. It seems like every bird on earth is calling, feeding, fledging their young,
Barn Swallows scooping up bugs in mid-air, Bald Eagles grabbing young-of-the-year Striped Bass with one deft swoop, Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds busily nectaring on flower after flower - all to the magical flute-like tune of the Wood Thrush echoing through the woods. We have an abundance of Cotton-Tail Rabbits in Waghkonk this season, which will help the Red-Tail Hawks feed their fast-growing young. This situation will surely help the Eastern Coyotes and the Grey- and Red Foxes, as well. Traditionally, the cottontails' population is tied to the Bobcats' population curve - when one increases so does the other - but it seems that there are not a lot of Bobcat in the immediate area so the other critters will have to help keep the rabbits' numbers down. Thus far, it's been a great summer for butterflies and moths, with one very major exception - Monarchs. I've not seen one yet this season and none have been confirmed locally that I know of. The Monarch lookalikes, or mimics - Great Northern Fritillary, Viceroys, yes, Monarchs, no. Plenty of Tiger Swallowtails (not so many Blacks), other Frittilarys, various Skippers and others but, alas - no Monarchs. With any luck at all, they just took a wrong turn and, having gotten the correct directions to their ancestral summer-home, are winging their way here right now (see, I'm such a dreamer). Too bad, too. It's a good year for Milkweed locally but they look forlorn waiting for their butterfly Kings and Queens. For more on Monarchs, Hummingbirds and other migrators, in general, see www.journeynorth.org. For a great local take on the subject, visit Maraleen Manos-Jones (The Butterfly Lady) at www.spiritofbutterflies.com. She has a wonderful butterfly garden in Shokan and gives tours and lectures there. As far as other, smaller insects, though, it does seem that their populations are down a bit (except for Ticks, of course). Not noticing too much of a "windshield-effect" this year and there aren't that many crickets, grass-hoppers or Katydids, yet. Maybe the (seemingly) ceaseless rain has affected them all locally. This Spring was wet, which may be one reason the Mountain Laurel bloom is sparse this year, particularly compared to last year's spectacular bloom. We did have a nice Mocassin Flower bloom(Pink Lady-Slippers, to most), at least.
THE DARK WOODS AND BRIGHT FIELDS
When the woods were open and light we had the great show of our native spring wildflowers, also called the Spring Ephemerals. Now that they have gone, the forest is filled in and it is a great place to find coolness and refuge from the heat of summer. Just because it is darker there now does not mean, by any means, that it is lifeless - far from it. Many small creatures try to use this space as a refuge from predators, with some success. While hawks cannot see in the forest as far as in an open area they are still a formidable hunter among the underbrush and trees. I was fortunate to witness a rare sight - a Red Tail hawk on the forest floor running down (successfully) a hapless Chipmunk - very dinosaur-like and forbidding in its relentless pursuit. The various wild dogs are also skilled at finding prey hiding among branch and leaf. Also, if we know what to look for there is still much interesting small plant-life among the over-browsed understory (radically overpopulating White-tail Deer are decimating our forests): Green- and Brown Jack-in-the-Pulpits are seeding now, clusters of bright-green or bright-red under triple-leaf little canopies; Wintergreen plants (an important local crop in earlier times) are producing their white berries as I write this and the Partridgeberry, shooting across the forest-floor on its runners, has it's red fruit and little white trumpet-like flowers decorating it now.
Stinging Nettle abounds as do the increasing amount of invasive plants like Garlic Mustard and Japanese Stiltgrass, which are successfully replacing many native fern species. So far (and it's early yet), it is not a great season for fungi. I'm no mycologist (one who studies fungi) but I find them fascinating. Please be extra cautious with wild mushrooms. Never, ever ingest any at all unless you are 100% positive it is edible. Some of our mushrooms that are dead-ringers (pun intended)) for edible ones in parts of Asia and Europe are NOT edible here. Do not take any chances with these forest beauties. Definitely check with an expert. The Mid-Hudson Mycological Association (www.midhudsonmyco.org) is the group to check with locally. More and more of the "flower-action" is taking place in field and meadow now, where the Long-stem Buttercups, Beebalm, Queen Anne's Lace, Golden Rods are all starting their bright, sunny saga.
It's hard to believe that six months ago we were amazed how short the day was and how long the night. It seemed like it would be forever before Midsummer would come - yet here we are. It is that magical time at this latitude when daylight seems to last and last and we all want to keep doing and doing. All beings here - plant or animal - cannot resist the urge to "make hay while the sun shines". Plants will grow the most at this point because of the maximum sunlight.
Animals (that includes us), will forage, hunt and nurse brand-new young constantly right now (remember, leave a fawn where it lies, yet you can return an egg or baby bird to its nest), also taking advantage of the seemingly unending brightness of Midsummer being. It seems that the way we humans approach this time is also to take advantage of every shred of light, of every photon, and run around like nuts, going, going, going, then wondering why we're so tired. Could it be that, even with the added daylight, that we have the same schedules, the same rhythms as the rest of the year? That would be my guess.
A MEADOW'S MEMORY
I've wondered for a long time now if, when the Monarchs are in their dormant winter-phase, all huddled together on pine trees in the Michoacan mountains, do they dream of their warm, golden meadows in the north? Do they transmit - or otherwise describe to their young - their memories of Milkweeds known in un-mown fields of Clover, Timothy, Beebalm and Goldenrod in sunlit lands far afield? If indeed the Monarchs are on the verge of extinction (let's hope that their recent nose-dive in population is just a glitch, a temporary phenomenon), we may never know. Once Upon A Time, after all, many a tawny Monarch and his Queen cavorted in our fair fields, pirouetting above the sere grasses in their timeless dance, to lay their tiny white eggs under Milkweed leaf. Also, being one who believes that the Land has Memory and retains Knowledge, I can't help but wonder what the Meadow must think as the Monarchs pass. I'm sure it is the passing of one more bit of golden-red-and-black glory, of joy and wonder, from our world, not unlike the Fairies passing into the Otherworld. I also have to wonder if the meadow will miss us when we, too, pass on. Will we have left the lasting, wonderful impression, in our brief time, that the magical Monarchs have bequeathed to the earth in their untold generations? Let us hope that the memories that we leave to the fields and meadow, to the forests, hills and streams, are not as those who poisoned and destroyed this wonderful world.
Take Care, "Ranger" Dave Holden (845)594-4863
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