It is such a season of hyperbole. How can we consider autumn without expressing its beauty in extremes? Well, I guess it's my turn. Living in a northeast fall is like existing inside an immense, living kaleidoscope, with all the colors and every shade thereof surrounding you. As if that weren't enough, the very dynamic nature of this time is mind-boggling. Again, using the kaleidoscope analogy, with each turn (each day?) something changes, continually altering our perception. One moment a stand of mixed hardwoods and pines will be standing there, in all its colorful, yet mute, glory. The next moment a cloud is moved by wild fall winds and the sun shines brightly back-lighting through the same trees that were so beautifully muted only moments ago, making them into intensely blazing beauties of forest life. And then, again, no sooner had you said "wow!" then another breeze will invert those same leaves, exposing their silvery undersides and stripping others off entirely, throwing them madly across the sky. Amazing and awesome are just two words that come to mind.
FLORA & FAUNA - THE REIGN OF ACORNS
This is an excellent "mast" season as the wildlife biologists call it. The Beeches, Hickories and Oaks produced prodigious amounts of their fruit this year, coating the forest floor of Waghkonk with a nutty carpet. In some places, particularly under the larger trees, it is like what I would imagine it is like to walk on a solid layer of marbles. If you park under an oak this year (as I have), don't be surprised to be bombarded with little acorn-bombs. Even in the streams, the "plop" of acorns falling into the water, or the "crack" of them bouncing off of rocks is constant. This can't help but benefit the oaks. For one thing, with so many seeds on the ground some are guaranteed to survive and germinate. Even the ones that don't will add to the soil around the tree and over it's roots. I wonder, since many of the White Oaks have yet to lose their leaves (actually, they probably know exactly where they are), is it some kind of a plan to insulate their acorns with their fallen leaves, helping the nuts to survive? Hmm. I wouldn't put it past these awesome beings. All the members of the squirrel-family (which includes the multitudinous and ever-busy chipmunks) are going nuts (?) trying to collect all of them and hopefully making notes about where they're all stashed. They actually end up helping the trees by not always retrieving every acorn, which then may germinate. It has definitely made the Black Bears happy, drawing many of them back up into the hills. This is a good thing. They need acorns by the paw-full to fatten up for their (hopefully) long winter's nap.
The smallest beneficiaries of this literal and figurative wind-fall are the myriad mice. I'm sure the surfeit of such readily accessible food will greatly help their population (a “double-edged sword”, this is, since mice are the most common vector for Lyme). These are all what we could say are the primary beneficiaries of this overabundance. The secondary beneficiaries would be the predators - coyotes, foxes, hawks and owls - who will not wont for prey in the harsh time ahead. This wild harvest will help all of these creatures, predator and prey, to survive what may be another serious, old-time Catskills winter.
A MORE MUTED KALEIDOSCOPE
As the kaleidoscope of the fall season inexorably turns, the once-bright autumnal hues, which only very recently seemed stunningly immutable and starkly in-our-face, have changed their visual tune. Now they speak to us in more muted, darker tones of faded yellow and orange, rich browns and disintegrating greens. I'm almost afraid of what they are trying to say. I think it's something like "Winter is coming! Get used to somber shades, people." For that's what is upon us now and it seems that late fall is the visual practice-palette for the more subtle shades of winter, which is rapidly approaching. Everybody please have a happy and safe Late Fall. Watch out for falling leaves (?). If you're really lucky one of them will actually be a rare Flying Squirrel, soaring quickly from one hiding-spot to another. Please check out my web-site, www.woodstocknytrails.com, as well as my Woodstock Trails Facebook page for Late Fall and Winter hikes and information about custom trails. I will be leading hikes into non-hunting DEC and DEP parcels during hunting season and I will also be leading hikes to off-trail places of rich local beauty and history during the winter. If we're blessed with snow, then they'll be snowshoe hikes.
Thank You All.
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