Autumn slowly makes its way down the rainbow-tinged slopes of Overlook, overlooking the Milkweed seed-bearing fields of Waghkonk, already missing their reigning Monarchs. With the slight drying-out period we’ve had, the Milkweed seeds are dry enough to be picked up by the slightest little zephyr and transformed into amazing little white, silky, parachute-like tendrils gently wafting across the landscape. Almost all of our migrators have migrated, although a few Great Blue Herons are sticking around (some will even stay through the winter, having been observed pecking at fish under the ice). Gone are our Ruby-throated Hummingbirds and our Monarchs (great to see a decent amount of them again, though there is no guarantee that their population has fully recovered). The final and longest-lived generation (they have four generations each year) of these magnificent butterflies is probably most of the way back to Oaxaca and the hummingbirds are winging across the Gulf of Mexico by now, beelining for the Yucatán, For the best coverage of all of our migratory creatures please visit www.journeynorth.org. The Dragonflies have all gone to Dragonflyland (wherever that is) for the winter. Our summer-long “cricket-chorus” (composed of Seasonal Cicadas, Katydids and Crickets) is basically done, boiled down to the last few desultory Crickets, their song gradually slowing day-by-day. Soon the only crickets left will be in my garage - they are welcome.
THE REIGN OF WATER (too much of a good thing?)
Having spent time in deserts, I’ve always said that I’d much rather be around too much water than not enough but, come on already! Enough is enough (sometimes enough is too much)! Our record rainfall continues, streams yo-yo-ing up and down, back and forth between flooding and not, ground ceaselessly wet and all accompanied by a persistent, resilient mosquito population and incredible (still) record-breaking fungi season. Now that the chlorophyll has drained from hardwood leaves, allowing them to change colors (though many seem blotchy and mottled - not brightly-colored at all), October rains and wind are driving them to earth, in seemingly sudden (sodden?) fashion. The leaves falling itself is probably on time - it just seems sudden because they’ve stayed on the trees longer than usual due to the preternatural, incessant rains.
Triggered by subtle (and not-so-subtle) changes in light and temperature, an incredible change is occurring in our forests because of amazing adaptations over millions of years to the seasonal cycles. Our hardwoods (Ash, Beech, Birch, Maple and Oak, mainly) have started their unprecedented migration. Yes, migration, but a migration-in-place. These trees, which up until recently were engaging in one form of alchemy - taking dirty air from the sky (with carbon in it), bringing it into the earth, removing the carbon from it, then releasing it as pure oxygen back into the sky (basically, scrubbing our dirty air for us, and creating life-giving oxygen in the process - all powered by sunlight and at no charge to us) - are now consumed with (by?) shedding their once chlorophyll-laden leaves and transferring this magical product in yet another incredible alchemy - their very essence, their sap - deep down into their roots, safely below the frost-line until summoned, once again, by the advent of spring. Phenomenal, true magic of the common, everyday sort.
The hardwoods have done their job for this season - creating clean air, providing shade for untold forest creatures (and people) smaller plants and then - as their spectacular finale - bow down and deposit another future layer of soil. On the surface of it (ha!), one might say that the trees can rest now, having seemingly finished their work for the year, but I’m not sure that the forest ever rests. In addition to the growing evidence that trees help each other when leafed out, warning each other of impending threats, they also have symbiotic relationships with different fungi that inhabit their roots and which help the trees share certain enzymes - from tree-to-tree - underground. I’m certain that this activity must continue - maybe it even increases - in the winter. Picture the bare branches blowing leaf-free in the wild winter winds, etching stark shadows on the sparkling snow, while down deep the sap is safely stored. The entire forest is connected through those vast roots, communicating its needs and exchanging nutrients amongst various members. Maybe this is the time when the trees tell stories of vast amounts of nuts dropped or of fallen friends. I’ve dreamed with the forest and have had glimpses of what it is like to be The Great Tree-Tribe, a vast, inter-connected, multi-species, green and brown being that is literally the very essence of the Land, perhaps the greatest Steward of the Earth, with roots running deep and branches reaching high. Perhaps this is our ideal model for us to return to responsible stewardship of the earth, like the indigenous peoples. Now, the forest is preparing to hunker down into itself for the coming cold. If the forest keeps its dreams to itself in the winter, that correlates to Native Americans belief that the best time for storytelling is in the winter, when the ground is frozen, almost like they don’t want to disturb the sleeping forest.
RAIN TO SNOW?
There is much discussion whether our saturated summer and fall will translate to super snowfall. We did have about 20 inches of rain between mid-June and September and one inch of rain equals six inches of snow, so, yes, if that pattern keeps up we’re in for a seriously white winter (20 inches of rain equals 10 feet of snow). If so, so be it - we’ve survived thus far. However, as I’ve mentioned in other recent Notes, all bets are off. There’s no way to tell for sure. It’s entirely possible that the jet-stream could move north and we could have a mild winter (ok with me!). Most people I know wouldn’t complain if that was the case (except some snow-plowers, perhaps, though too much snow is hard on plow and driver).
A VERY IMPORTANT SEASON
I generally try to avoid politics in Waghkonk Notes, preferring to just relate my observations and musings on the richness of the natural world around us. This year is different. The natural world - and us - are under grave assault from forces that care more for profit than for animals, plants and people. As of now, we live in a place where we still have the means to change that - by voting - and we must do so - our very freedom and our ability to protect this incredible land we live in demands it, so please VOTE. Vote your conscience. Please make sure your friends vote.
Thanks, All. Take Care, “Ranger” Dave Holden (845)594-4863 firstname.lastname@example.org Woodstock Trails on Facebook rangerdaveholden on Instagram new photos and posts on www.woodstocknytrails.com