The title says it all! Indeed, the winter of 2017-18 will be remembered for extraordinary swings in temperature and in snowfall, from windy sub-zero and a half-foot of snow to 50 degrees and flooding - all in two days. In Maine, they correctly have the saying “if you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes”, which, because the Jet Stream descends so close to the earth, it is really no exaggeration. Our motto in the southeast Catskills and Hudson Valley this winter could be “if you don’t like the weather, just wait a day or two” because that’s been exactly the case here, with violent, extreme swings - and we’re only halfway through the season! At least the days are getting distinctively longer and hopefully there will be no more arctic, below-zero conditions.
HALFWAY TO SPRING
We are halfway between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. The Celts celebrated this time as Imbolc, one of the year’s Cross-Quarter Days. It was a time of celebrating the visible lengthening of days. Also celebrated as Groundhog’s Day or Candlemas. I wouldn’t be surprised if this moment in the Great Cycle was noted around the world. For instance, I have seen evidence that Native Americans may have made note of this time. Why not? It would have been just as important to them to know when Spring was expected to arrive, to know when to plant.
Keep in mind that we are surrounded by so much life, even now in this bitter cold, windy time. Hidden right in front of us is much that is dormant, waiting for the right “trigger”, the clues that initialize the beginning of Spring. Our land is like a snowy desert, mantled in white, with seeds frozen underneath the snow or suspended between frosty layers, waiting to thaw, to spring forth as unfurling green leaves, and become plants. Insects hide half-frozen under bark and leaf, also waiting for warmth and light. Sometimes in a winter thaw, bugs will hatch, responding to sunshine, providing a momentary change in menu for myriad small-birds, fluffed up with down, subsisting on whatever they can to get through to spring-time. Wood-frogs lie near-frozen under leaves adjacent to their ancestral vernal pools, incredibly hatching even before the ice disappears from their watery home. Beneath the protective snow-cover (Whitetail Deer will decimate any bud, no matter how small, if not sheltered by frozen white), the first spring wildflowers, the Spring Ephemerals, are just dying to jump back into life. The different hibernators are out there, too, - turtles and Woodchucks, for example - just biding their time. The Black Bear, which only naps (not truly hibernating) may wake (hungry) during a thaw and home in on one’s bird-feeder, so please pay attention and consider bringing your feeder in if the weather warms. Hard to believe right now but spring probably is literally just around the corner.
There is a map that shows the warming temperatures around the world - except for (our luck) here in eastern North America (in Alaska, the permafrost is melting due to warming - not so “perma”, I guess). This is the one place on Earth where the polar temperatures are plunging very far south (like you didn’t know). We are an example of why “climate change” is a better term for these earth-changes than “global warming”. In our region, there are other, more subtle indicators. The most marked (but least noticed) is the
increase in average temperature over the last hundred years (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit in just the last 30 years). Growing-seasons are longer and many plants are blooming earlier now. The incredible proliferation of Poison Ivy is an example of what scientists call a “bioindicator”. Since PI thrives on increased levels of carbon dioxide, it has become such a problem that it is the first native plant-species to be dubbed Invasive. Climate change could also be spurring the more northerly migrations of the Black Vulture, which never used to be found this far north, but is aggressively displacing the Turkey Vulture here.
IT’S THE JOURNEY, NOT THE DESTINATION
I love my journey with you all, us spiraling around the Sun, Homeward-bound on our beautiful, blue orb. I’m not sure exactly what our destination is but I believe the journey itself - and how we conduct ourselves on that journey - is what is important. And winter is the time that is the greatest challenge to all of us, the time when our conduct in how we treat each other - and ourselves - is the most important. It is a challenging time for us all, some more than others. The challenge for the strong is to help those that are weak and the challenge for the weak is to let those that are stronger at the moment help them. Next time someone at work is angry or upset seemingly over nothing, or the other driver is rude or inattentive, they might be depressed from family problems (common in this season) or from SAD (seasonal affective disorder) - also not uncommon right now. We all need to be a little extra patient with each other. Just because someone else goes off on us, doesn’t mean we have to respond in kind. I suggest that we all try to be a little more patient and understanding of each other. Again, I believe it’s not the destination that’s important but how we get there - the Journey.
I hope you all have a Happy, Healthy, Safe and Warm winter.
Thank you, Ranger Dave Holden
Feel free to contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org ; rangerdaveholden on Instagram ; (845)594-4863 ; Woodstock Trails on Facebook ; www.woodstocknytrails.com