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We are at the end of what was a glorious summer in the Catskills, having happily avoided drought, fires and flood (if anything, September is setting to be warmer than August). Because of recent dryness, the deciduous trees - Beech, Birch, Maple and Oak - have been coloring and shedding leaves early. Constant winds have been no help at all, drying everything out further and blowing leaves off trees. Exactly what this bodes for our Fall is not clear, but it may portend a quicker, faster-changing season than other recent Autumns.


All of the usual markers are marching past: the Fireflies have left us - thanks for lighting (lightening?) our Summer; migrations of Hummingbirds and Monarchs (the few that we had) returning to their winter homes shortly and leaves beginning the first tinges of seasonal change. Most of the Dragonflies have migrated south, with mainly just the stalwart (and huge) Green Darter left cruising around. The insect chorus of Annual Cicadas, Cricket and Katydid is still in full swing, their pitch pulsating subtly as the dew point wavers. When the first cool nights commence, they will gradually slow their song until only crickets and memories are left.

Much like human children going off to school, the vast majority of new birds have fledged already, freeing up their parents to prepare for either migration or wintering-over. It used to be that the same roadsides which would be lined with Coltsfoot in the Spring would by now be lined with Hawkweed but there is a new denizen along our roads now - Japanese Stiltweed - and it is rapidly replacing numerous species of ferns and other small plants in many open places - by roads, fields and forest glens. It used to be that we worried about the encroachment of Japanese Barberry (among others) but their invasiveness is nothing compared to Stiltweed which is speedily dominating everywhere, filling the forest with its light-green ground-level haze. Since there is no money and not enough will to remove it I propose that our only hope is find a recipe for it and consume it (before it consumes us?).


In how many ways simultaneously can we be at a balancing point in time and space? First and most obviously, the Autumnal Equinox is upon us today, one of the four markers of the Great Year, along with the Vernal, or Spring, Equinox and the Summer and Winter Solstices. A truly awesome time, when Day equals Night. Secondly, we find ourselves caught between summer and fall, as the glorious hot season finally gives in to the inevitability of autumn. The third axis of this three-dimensional balancing act is the eternal conflict between two of the most powerful elements, fire and water.

Both elements represent, in different ways, Life and Death. Most obviously, water represents life - there is none without it. Yet, too much water can be destructive, even deadly. In nature, fire can play a positive role in the woods - opening up the canopy, helping pinecones to open and release their seed, for two examples. However, modern people have disrupted the balance in the forest, creating the potential for disastrous fires. Let's hope that Water wins.


It is a major mast year for the Beeches, Hickorys and Oaks, as evidenced by the constant rain of beech-nuts, hickory-nuts and acorns in the woods. I've used the following analogy before, but I don't get tired of referring to the multitude of acorns massed on the forest floor and building up on the trails as like walking on marbles. Every several years - seemingly a random number - the Oaks produce a profuse amount of seed. One theory of biologists is that this way nothing can eat all of the acorns, no amount of Grey or Red Squirrels, no mouse-mobs. There will be plenty left over to go to seed this year. The Black Bear will love it. Acorns are their natural food for fattening up for the winter and they love them. I've watched a bear sitting down and eating paws full of acorns by the with great relish. It's also been a great year for apples, while not native to New York, the bear also love them, happily climbing high or bending branches low for the bright red treats. Apples do go right through them though.Maybe it's their pre-winter "cleanse".


As our green Catskills summer winds down to a spectral fall it is hard not to notice the changes - subtle and not-so-subtle - going on in the natural world around us. I know the season ahead will have its own beauty and ('be written much about the exact nature of the changes that are upon us, but for once I just want to expound on the visceral love and the deep emotions I feel for our land here, our Waghkonk - the Land of Waterfalls Under the Sacred Mountain. I added the word Sacred because I believe it is so and that it belongs in this title. At some point I will explain why. I consider myself an integral part of this Land, connected to it, rooted deeply into it (literally and figuratively) in every way possible. I inhale the living air, breathing life into myself and sense it rolling smoothly across my skin. I drink the water-essence of the Land. I walk gently barefoot on the ground, feeling its living-ness pulsing under my feet. I am not separate from the land that I joyously journey upon. I love to watch the clouds prevailing across the Woodstock Valley, marching over Overlook, proceeding onward eventually to my childhood home in New England, reminding me of both where my roots originated and the magical place I've planted them. Our woods vibrate with life at its richest in summer, and when I move through them I know that the forest is an ancient sentient being which welcomes me back within its verdant boughs, for we are old, old friends. The forest floor of summer, like the sunnier fields and meadows, teems with living creatures - the microbial, the minute and the miniature - all engrossed in their daily struggles for survival and to promote their kind, in turn enabling the larger creatures to do the same. They do this all while (inadvertently?) helping to propagate the smaller plants, shrubs and trees around them - all intertwined and enmeshed in each other's cycles. Feeding them all, the open arterial life-blood of my Earth-Mother, the sweet yet nascently powerful Sawkill flows dancingly among the pieces of shattered bluestone and glacial cobbles, timelessly wearing all down with its unceasing flow, smoothing us all down to nature's own common denominator - Life itself, rounded, experienced, caressed, loved. While I will on occasion - even in winter - dip (rapidly!) into the stream, breath taken away in a quick, joyful gasp, heart racing, there is nothing in this world like feeling the wonder of the clear, cool waters of the Sawkill envelope my summer body (for our bodies have different seasons, being a product of that place and that season) under the leafy canopy and beside the lichen-encrusted rocks, I commune with the crayfish nipping at my toes - for I am like them, picking at Life, probing at Spirit, both of which are mysteries and much bigger than me (Maybe not. Perhaps that is the Illusion. What if I, you, all of us, were Spirit or God and Heaven was on Earth, here, right Now, and not removed at some distance in Time and Space, far above the clouds?). I watch the Brook Trout and the White Suckers and they watch me. We Are All Related, joined by our love for the crystal-clear flowing liquid life-force. This is part of what Summer is to me. And Damselflies dancing. And the thick, cottony feel of humidity parting as I wade through water-vapor suspended in hot air. And the joyous cacophony of the creature-chorus. I will miss this season - I always do. Maybe that's why we appreciate it, in that crazy human "logic" where we have to have the absence of something sometimes to understand what we had.


I've danced around it here, but the utter truth is that this whole area is a tinderbox right now. The forest is suffering. The last good rains we had have already dried off, leaving the feeder-creeks bone-dry and the bigger streams like the Sawkill only about half-full. The morning dew seems to be the only water-source for plants, shrubs and small trees. Every day has not only been unusually hot but also windy, which only further dries out the forest and the ground. I'm kind of surprised that the State, County and Towns have yet to declare the lowest stage of fire-warning because conditions are very dangerous, particularly with so much new super-dry tinder in the form of newly-fallen - actually, blown-off - leaves littering field, forest and meadow. In the meanwhile, everybody reading this please be super-careful with fires. It's not just drought-conditions, it's also the fact that there is so much dry brush in the woods, some of it remnants from our past hurricanes. Doubling or tripling the threat is the incredible amounts of extremely flammable Mountain Laurel. All these things together add up to great danger for the forest. The build up of flammables means that - for the first time in a long time - what used to be a simple brush-fire can now find a "ladder" into the forest-canopy, the treetops. We have all the makings of major forest-fires and with so many new homes built in the woods this could be a real problem. Trying not to worry but the situation is a little scary. Nobody loves warmth and sunshine more than I, but I don't like this weather - it's just plain too hot and too dry - we badly need rain. I hope I'm just being a tree-hugging worry-wart, but please let's all be extra careful.

Thank you All.

Have a Safe Fall (sounds weird to say that, but you know what I mean

"Ranger" Dave Holden (845)594-4863

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