As the cold north winds whip little leaf-devils, sweeping dried leaves skittering into corners,they also brush aside our last vestiges of summer past, reducing it to fading memories of warm light and life. It definitely feels more and more like the Winter that was “just around the corner”. Usually, we get to work our way more gradually into the cold season, getting used to the idea of what is ahead. Imagine the disaster if there was no fall, if summer went directly to winter - what a shock that would be! Thank goodness for Fall. However, this year we had no Indian Summer, which always lengthens autumn, and have suffered through an early freeze. I think the title of this piece says it all. I find that you basically have to drag me kicking and screaming into Winter, although once it is here I adapt and end up (mostly) enjoying it. I deal ok with the cold, with wind and snow but I’m such a creature of light that the dearth of it is the hardest part of the northeast winter for me to deal with. In the dark season it becomes even more important for me to find the light within myself and the true light hidden in all. Indeed, if there is a purpose for winter in the northern hemisphere, perhaps it is to give us a chance for inner reflection, to think about what we did or didn’t accomplish in the past year, to learn from our mistakes and to try to apply that knowledge in the new year to come. Maybe our experiences of the past cycle are like dried leaves, to be mulled over, and broken down, made into the new soil on which the new season is based on (instead of composing our thoughts, how about “composting” our thoughts?).
While all of the birds that were going to migrate have done so and the vast majority of insects are hiding under bark and leaf, our Small Birds (and some of the hardiest) - Blue Jays, Cardinals, Chickadees, Juncos, miscellaneous Woodpeckers and numerous species of Sparrow and Wren - are here to stay for the season, endlessly entertaining us with their survival antics, puffed out in their little down coats (the originals, perhaps), tirelessly searching for bug and seed. At least the (temporary?) lack of snow allows them to accomplish their little, frantic missions. Once the white stuff accumulates, this all becomes more of a challenge, yet stray seeds of mid-winter will drop onto new snow-fall and be readily visible and, even if missed, then buried in another snow-fall, eventually becoming exposed during a melt-off. The snow acts as a preservative in this sense, gradually giving up its secrets. One of the things the small birds have to watch out for are the wintering falcons - the Peregrine and American Kestrel - which can swiftly snatch them up (they are two of the fastest creatures on earth with the Peregrine holding the record at 200 mph). Also, before the snow falls all of the small rodents are totally vulnerable to predation by our local hawks and owls, which have all adapted over the millennia to survive on the immense rodent population. The White-tail Deer are all but invisible now in their beautiful, dark winter coats, which also makes it more difficult for hunters. The Monarch butterflies have all returned to Mexico now, having arrived around the time of The Day of The Dead (see the photo above and note how important their arrival is to the locals).
Most of the leaves of Ash, Beech, Birch, Maple and Oak are on the ground now, waiting to become soil. Pretty darn smart, I'd say. Also, very egalitarian, in that you'll notice that a Beech probably doesn't care if Maple leaves help mulch its roots, nor does the Oak-tree reject the Ash-leaf. I wonder, though, if maybe the hardwoods are not happy to have the more acidic needles of Cedar, Hemlock and White Pine bedding over their rootlets. There is a problem, though - too many of the leaves are still hanging onto their branches for dear life. Some are brown, dead from near-drought in the summer. Some are a blotchy yellow. They have a death-grip, refusing to leave (ha!), no matter how strong the wind or driving hard the rain. This is not good. The benefits of dead, dried leaves are many: they become soil; their removal allows the tree-branch to flex during high winds. The danger (both for the trees and for people) is that, with so many dead leaves still attached, branches will break with the weight of snow, causing damage to the tree and presenting the possibility (rather, likelihood) of negative effects on people, such as power-outages and road-closings. I find it interesting that many (most?) of the berries that still adorn bush, shrub and vine (Partridgeberry, Winterberry and Wintergreen - plus many viburnums and others) are mostly bright red or orange, adding color to our now-dun landscape. I thought these colors, when found in nature, usually signal “poison”, “eat at your own peril”, etc., but all seem to be happily gobbled down by myriads of small-birds (and chipmunks). It’s probably a form of mimicry these plants developed over time to discourage over-grazing, but it could also be to attract harvesting by birds so their seeds are then spread far and wide.
(or the lack thereof)
Please remember when you venture out into (winter)Fall to wear hats and gloves. We lose most of our heat from our head and our exposed extremities (fingers) are very vulnerable to freeze and frostbite. It’s getting dark so fast and so early, please take a flashlight with you. Also, with hunting season here (Nov. 16 - Dec.8, for deer), we all need to be aware if we venture into places where hunters might be. I encourage everyone to wear some bright colors, orange in particular. It’s probably also a good idea for Fido to have orange on, as well. I will be leading hikes in non-hunting areas - watch my Woodstock Trails Facebook page for more. One last suggestion: it’s a good time to invest in traction-devices, at least Yak-Trax and for more serious hikes, something with more aggressive teeth on them, like Microspikes. Let’s all please try to be extra patient with each other as we get into the Holiday Season, which can trigger sad or unpleasant memories sometimes. We all need to remember that if someone else is acting out in any way that they may be under even more stress than yourself and maybe instead of reacting to them, making the situation worse, perhaps try to engage them - possibly you can help.
Have a Safe, Healthy season.
Thank you all for your support -
“Ranger” Dave Holden
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