I’ve grown to love Summer - nearly all of it, anyway. I love the heat - maybe not when its too oppressive, but I do appreciate it, knowing that it won’t last. I love dressing lightly - t-shirt, shorts and sandals, being barefoot when and where possible, feeling that direct connection to the earth. The joy of not having to wear a shirt, to feel the humid, warm air on my chest and back. The ability, on a hot day, to lie in a cool, rain- or spring-fed stream, feeling my body caressed by the flowing water of life, gently taking me downstream. Or watching a Crayfish trying to nibble on my toes. I figure I should savor every moment of this, enjoy each and every bit of warmth and humidity, because I know the time is coming when we gradually (and sometimes not so gradually) add layers on, then more layers, as the season progresses. Even wearing more clothing is not a problem because that is what makes wearing less clothing so enjoyable - it’s a natural cycle - one of the wonders of the four seasons. I guess the part of the coming time that I don’t look forward to is the gradually waning, oppressive loss of light. It’s not the seasonal change in temperatures that I mind so much - I dread the increasing darkness, when I have to carry a flashlight in the woods because of how quickly the dark creeps up on you. This feeling is probably natural for all creatures that depend on light for everything like we do. Our Summer, Fall, Winter, Spring cycle makes us appreciate each and every season (each one does have its own beauty, some more subtle than others). I’ve lived in places where it is summer all the time and I found that people there don’t seem to appreciate it (“ho hum,another beautiful, warm, sunny day”). We tend to think of summer as ending when school starts but the truth is that September can be very warm in the northeast. I remember as a kid in school in Maine, wearing a jacket in the crisp early Fall morning but going home with it tied around my waist.
The fourth and final generation of Monarchs is in caterpillar-form, metamorphosing into a butterfly in September/October, at which point they will nectar up a storm as they prepare for their epic journey to wintering sites on the Oyamel Fir trees in the mountains of central Mexico.
This is the longest living generation and will survive ‘til spring, when it finally mates. Our Ruby- throated Hummingbirds are now fattening up on nectar for their pending departure. They almost double in weight (from 3.25 grams to over 6 grams) as they get ready for their adventure. One difference between the two creature’s strategies is that while our Monarchs fly over land, going west, then south, around the Gulf of Mexico, most of the no less incredible Ruby-throats dash straight across the 500 mile-wide Gulf, intrepidly flying due south to the Yucatán peninsula in an 18-22 hour flight (down to 2.5 grams by landfall). Some will island-hop across the Bahamas and the Caribbean, leaving from the Keys. When I lived in Key West, I knew boaters that would keep hummingbird-feeders on their boats - and somehow the little birds would find them in the vastness of the
Gulf! There are birds and whales that make longer migrations but these two creatures are ours - spending a good part of their lives in our fields, gardens and meadows in the Southeast Catskills - both Monarch and Ruby-throat permanently intertwined with our landscape and our lives. I’ve said it before (and I’ll probably say it again) but, just as we daydream of our summer fields in winter, I’ll bet that both creatures - the regal butterflies and the valiant hummers - dream of our golden, sunny meadows while they wait out the winter. Maybe they even regale the younger ones with glorious tales of ancestral patches of Milkweed or Beebalm in the north. We’ve had plenty of Dragonflies here this season. Some will start migrating soon and others will lay eggs in local waters to hatch here next season. Green Darners also migrate between Canada and Mexico, flying up to 900 miles - not bad on 2 inch wings! Finishing up the insect-theme (they do seem to dominate our summers), our Cricket Chorus continues, as the Crickets, Seasonal Cicadas and Katydids serenade us as they surf our pulsating dew-points, most active when the dew-point is high (“Katydid it - no she didn’t, Katydid it - no she didn’t” Wish they would work it out.). A special thanks to the incredible, but short-lived, Fireflies, who having joyously lit up our summer nights have burnt through their cycle. See you next year! One of the most magical times of our midsummer is the (3-week?) period when the Fireflies overlap with the Crickets. It is really the epitome of the wonder of the richness of life that is High Summer. This season’s White-tail Deer fawns will be losing their
spots shortly. I’ve always wondered why nobody collects them and saves them for next year’s little Bambis. Most birds young will have fledged by now, making their own way in the world. Bald Eagle fledglings are not quite ready yet, still being trained to fish by mom and dad (more mom, I think). Black Bears are happily scooping up Blueberries, Raspberries and Wild Strawberries about now. Young cubs are tasting their first wild fruit and probably being as ecstatic about it as any of other mammal young (picture a smiling baby with its first berries).
The Beebalm is starting to go by now, which may upset my visiting Ruby-throat family (they now have one young), but it may also be what tells them the time to nectar up for the long trip south is here. Milkweeds will
be seeding shortly, little parachutes adrift on late summer winds. The various Goldenrods (not an allergen) and Queen Anne’s Lace are filling the meadows, getting all the attention. The more subtle, dark-brown Ragweed (the real culprit) hides in plain view. Multiple species of Aster arestill present. In the forest, many of the fungi have come and gone and a few leaves are starting to turn, probably responding to changes in length of day and angle of the sun - all signals that tell plants change is on the way.
While, yes, it is obvious that I love our Summer in the Southeast Catskills, I am enamored of the ENTIRE cycle of our seasons. Coming up is easily our most spectacularly colorful season - Fall. If we’re lucky, we’ll cool down gradually as September progresses, giving us a chance to get used to the seasonal cooling, step-by-step, layer-by-layer. The combination of full-spectrum foliage and mild temperatures does give us something to look forward to in our (seemingly?) endless seasonal cycling. It will bring better weather for hiking and for splitting and stacking firewood as we prepare for the next season.
Thank you all for your continued interest and support.
Please look for my articles monthly now in the Woodstock Times
(next one should be early September).
Have a great Summers End and early Fall.
Take Care, “Ranger” Dave Holden
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