LATE SUMMER LIFESTORM
I should explain to the occasional reader why I call these missives Waghkonk Notes. I started writing these as the Comeau Newsletter, way back when I was the volunteer trail-keeper at Comeau. I decided to expand my horizon (literally) to include all of the Woodstock Valley, which runs from Bearsville to northern Zena, following the middle stretch of the Sawkill, going from the foothills of the Catskills to the western edge of the Hudson Valley itself. I settled on Waghkonk because that (as well as the versions, Awaghkonk and Wachkunk) is the oldest name for this area found on the earliest maps of the region in the 1600s and 1700s. My friend, Evan
Pritchard, noted regional Indian scholar and etymologist (one who studies word-origins) believes that Waghkonk might mean (approximately) "land of waterfalls under the Sacred Mountain" - which would certainly fit. There is evidence that the earliest settlers referred to the mid-Sawkill Valley as Waghkonk, also. In "Woodstock: History of an American Town" (pg.33-34) , my friend Alf Evers writes that Judge Robert R. Livingston, corresponding with his father, Chancellor Livingston, noted that the senior was at Wachkunk, then crossed Wachkunk out and rewrote it as Woodstock (after the Oxfordshire town in England where he was from), and thereby making the first known reference to Woodstock. I like Waghkonk Notes because I want to help others see, and remind myself, that this land is older than the settlers, and even older than the Natives who lived here (they at least had the ability to respect the Land and care for it - which is what I think we need more of right now).
A VERITABLE LIFE-STORM
We are past mid-summer now, the days are shorter, as the season inexorably turns. In our corner of the Catskills, in terms of burgeoning life-forms, this is still a rich, rich time of year - a veritable Life-Storm. We are literally surrounded by the fruitfulness of the season. The heavy, humid air we wade through is thick with insect-life (though, in truth, it does seem that there aren't as many insects as in other summers). The "Cricket Chorus" - Crickets, Katydids and Seasonal Cicadas - is very healthy this year, busily entertaining us, day and night - love it. Just when I think the Fireflies are done for the season, they show up again, responding to increases in the dew-point (the indicator of humidity-levels). Every species of animal is busy reproducing their kind and raising their young. Myriad trees and other plants are racing for the sun, sending out new roots, new green shoots and making seed. The very topsoil under our feet is seething with (seemingly) countless forms of life - animal, insect and microbe.
Even though I've experienced a good number of northeast summers, they always amaze me. Each one is unique and this one is no exception. While we have had just enough rain to keep the woods wet, there has been very few sustained, soaking rains. This helps explains why, while the Sawkill and other, larger, streams are staying full of late, most of the smaller feeder-streams have been bone-dry. At one point the Sawkill's water-level had started to recede. But that didn't last long - it is amazing how rapidly a hot wind will dry out the woods and lower any stream's water-level. Right now it looks like there is no danger of there being any low water in the Lower Esopus watershed (which, of course, includes the Sawkill) anytime soon. Personally, if given the choice of too much, or not enough, water (naturally-occurring, not reservoir-releases) I would choose "too much" over "not enough". In our area, in general, drought is much more disastrous than flood. It has a wider reach and many more negative effects. One major effect is fire which can permanently scar a landscape (and further increase damage from flooding, by the way). It's been a long time since we've had major forest-fires in the southeast Catskills. We've made the potential problem much worse by leaving the woods thick with underbrush, which gives a brush-fire a boost into a crown-fire - a forest's worst nightmare. Also, we've been busily building houses amongst the trees and underbrush - dangerous for loss of property and perilous for firefighters that would have to fight them (in the old days fires were allowed to burn themselves out). I think this is very unlikely to occur this year, although if it did stop raining (right!) and the weather stayed hot and windy, we would all be surprised how quickly everything would dry out.
A HARSH REALITY FOR WILD ANIMALS
Bear-cubs are growing fast, learning from Mom about the ursine world, but occasionally running afoul of automobiles and older bears. Wild Turkeys may have started their season with a dozen or more poults, as their young are called, but by now are down to about half that many. Same with Mallard young. It is a tough reality for wild creatures that sometimes we don't want to admit to. We love to idealize Nature but Nature is not about to be idealized so easily. Even experienced, life-long outdoorsmen like myself fall into the trap of loving these wonderful creatures, setting ourselves up for a fall. But how can we not? For example, I've been watching Alpha and Omega, my names for a local pair of Bald Eagles, for several years now. Four years ago they had one eaglet that grew (very awkwardly) slowly to adulthood. I got to watch them try and show him/her (it is very hard to tell which when young) how to fish, then he went off on his own, coming back occasionally to visit.
This winter Alpha and Omega had "Junior", who I avidly watched from when he/she could barely lift his homely head up and look over the side of the nest, right up to when he finally fledged, making it as far as a few hundred yards away from the nest, constantly calling his hunger and frustration. Not easy to watch, knowing that there was nothing anybody - including Mom and Dad - could do to help him. Basically, young eagles have to learn on their own how to fly and how to hunt and fish. It is such a dangerous time for them. They are very vulnerable while fledging to being injured and falling prey while on the ground. A couple of weeks ago, Junior was hit by a truck, probably while hungrily going down for roadkill, and died. I was distraught. I genuinely loved the beautiful, majestic, young bird, always managing to look fearless and regal, for all his youthful goofiness and gawkiness. I know that only 25% of young eagles survive into adulthood. I feel bad now for Alpha and Omega, knowing in my heart that they mourn, that they loved their baby - like any other parents. Fly High in the Light now, Junior. I have to let him go, but I'll never forget my memories of his short life. And you know what? I'll never stop loving these incredible creatures.
MEADOWS AND FIELDS FLOWERING
Most of the flowering has now switched solidly from forest to meadow and field (with the exception of myriad mushrooms - finally the forest is filled with fungi)(?).
Present now in our open spaces are Beebalm, Goldenrods (not an allergen), Ragweed (the real allergy culprit), Queen Anne's Lace, Wild Strawberries, Wild Blackberries and Raspberries, Long-stem Buttercups, the Clovers, Red and White, and many others - most notably, Milkweed. While our meadows right now are home to so many butterflies and moths - Black and Tiger Swallowtails, Brushfoots, Dusky-wings, Fritillarys (commonly mistaken for Monarchs), Hairstreaks (great name!), Hop Merchants, Metalmarks, Mourning Cloaks, Nymphs, Questionmarks (why?), Satyrs, Skippers, Snouts, Spring Azures, Sulphurs, Viceroys and Whites - the reigning king and queen of them all - the Monarch - have only belatedly arrived and just a few of them. There are more Monarchs than last year at least, which I hope means that their population is recovering (see www.journeynorth.org ). Who knows, perhaps generations of Monarchs have passed down stories of these green fields - their Avalon. In the winter, as they huddle together on pine trees in the mountains of Michoacan, do Monarchs dream of these Milkweed-rich, sunny leas? Their intertwined dependence on Milkweed should teach us about our dependence on the varied elements of the world around us.
Please have a Fun, Happy and Safe rest of your Summer. Thank you all. Please visit my new website www.woodstocknytrails.com , nicely done thanks to June Robinson.
Take Care, "Ranger" Dave Holden - firstname.lastname@example.org ; (845)594-4863 rangerdaveholden@instagram ; Woodstock Trails on Facebook