As I write this, record rainfalls continue in our corner of the Catskills, streams almost instantaneously re-flooding because the earth is so thoroughly saturated that it can absorb no more, furthering our own Catskills Monsoon season. Just when Woodstock’s Sawkill was finally starting to settle down to a more seasonable dark green - bam! - right back up to its flood-stage “Yoohoo” brown color, which it has been running at for most of the summer and, now, into the Fall.
This situation has frustrated fishermen (and fish, too!) to no end - not only is it difficult (impossible?) for fishermen to catch anything, it is hard for fish to see their prey in these conditions, whether it’s Brown and Rainbow Trout looking for flies and grubs in the streams or Large and Smallmouth Bass hunting Perch and Sunnies in the ponds and smaller reservoirs. The effects of these conditions will last a while and affect every creature (including people) and plant in the area. If this is a result of Climate Change, this may become a new seasonal pattern. Let’s hope not.
OUR LOCAL RAINFOREST
As I noted in my last Note (“When Thistledown Flies”, August 25), one immediate effect of the incessant rains has been a “thickening” of the forest, creating what I call the Rainforest Effect, in which the woods seem to be not only thicker and richer in leaf and undergrowth but darker and denser, as well. This fits perfectly with the unending flood of fungi. All of these things - rainfall, fungal growth - have broken local and regional records. No one remembers a summer with more rainfall and more fungi. One of the triggers for fall colors is changes in the light. Since we are past the Autumnal Equinox (9/22) - the official start of Fall - the sun is rising and setting further south on the eastern and western horizons respectively, bringing us shorter days with less light, and this is one of the triggers for leaf color-change, along with temperature. Usually, a lack of water is the third trigger (we’ve all seen trees change color early in dry summers) for leaf-change but not this year, though too much water might account for the brown blotches on some leaves that have started to turn. As usual, and not seemingly effected by the wetness, Virginia Creeper is one of the first plants to turn, showing its myriad shades of red and yellow. Interestingly, Poison Ivy usually has changed to a dark purplish red by now but is not doing so as of yet. This is a great mast year, with Beeches, Oaks and Hickorys producing prodigious amounts of acorns, beech- and hickory-nuts. Right away, the Black Bears were scooping up acorns by the pawful, even climbing up into the oaks to get at one of their most favorite of wild foods and the one that they need the most in order to fatten up for their long (hopefully!) seasonal nap to come. One concern I have in the matter is that I have seen some acorns starting to rot on the ground due to too much surface-water. If this is wide-spread (and I don’t see how it couldn’t be) this doesn’t bode well for the bears, who will have to try to find more food to fatten up on, leading to further conflicts with humans, which never works in their favor. As the DEC saying goes “A fed Bear is a dead Bear”, which is true because in any conflicts with people it will be the bear that loses. A more obvious seasonal effect of the “monsoon” may be that our fall colors will not be as bright as people like to see them be. Many leaves may not color at all, if the leaves simply die on the branch before they get to turn. This could leave (ha!) ugly clumps of dead brown leaves stuck on trees. Not only would this not be aesthetically pleasing, it could be dangerous as the season goes along. Let me explain and please don’t mind if I worry out loud. One of the truly brilliant things, I believe, about the northern forest is the healthy, natural sequence of Fall: leaves fall, naturally separated from the tree after turning color, falling to the ground to add another layer of insulation (and later, soil) to the earth above the roots of the tree where they will be storing the life-essence of the tree itself - the sap - safely down underground in those roots, thereby freeing up the branches to arch and bend freely with the winter winds, unfettered by leaves. If the leaves do die on the branch, not only will the branches be more likely to break (in turn, endangering homes and power-lines) but then there will also be fewer leaves to add to the soil of the forest floor this year.
I think we’ve seen the last Hummingbirds and Monarchs for the season. Other autumns they’ve stayed longer but I understand - why bother with such fleeting sunshine and warmth? Many of us feel the same about now. Most Ducks and songbirds have migrated already, as well. Another, less-noticed migrator - Dragonflies - are still here, though in fast-dwindling numbers. Very interesting creatures, with a strange beauty - fast and fierce insect predators. The last ones (always seems like the largest species) will probably leave shortly but no one seems to know exactly where they migrate to - unlike other migrators.
Good luck to all of our seasonal visitors in their epochal travels south. It really is amazing to think how far, and what obstacles and challenges they face, in particular the tiny Hummingbirds and Monarchs. In the coming season, as we walk through our dour winter marshes, meadows and woods, let’s remember their colorful summer avian and insect inhabitants, all gathered together in some warm, sunny clime. Maybe as we do so, they, in turn, are dreaming of our/their warm summer meadows and waters.
We are now past that seasonal balancing point. The days are gradually, yet steadily, getting shorter, and the nights longer, as we gradually slip towards winter. I wouldn’t dare guess what this winter holds for us but I do know that everything has changed. We can’t trust any of the old “markers” (there is no more “average”). Maybe once upon a time you could depend on the Wooly Bear caterpillar or the length of horses coats, but no more. Even the Farmer’s Almanac gave up on the old method of seasonal averages, depending themselves now on the National Weather Service for reliable guidance. Please have a Safe Fall (?) everyone (maybe we’ll get a chance to dry out and the leaves will color nicely).
Take Care, “Ranger” Dave Holden
Woodstock Trails on Facebook
rangerdaveholden on Instagram