I consider this time - between mid-July and mid-August - to be High Summer in the Southeast Catskills. It usually is the hottest part of Summer, with the most natural activity as everything busily grows, then grows some more. This is not to be confused with Midsummer, which refers to the Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year (and usually considered the first day of summer).
THE AIR IS ALIVE
Yes, the very air around us is thick with summer life, heavy with humidity and rife with myriad insects - alive, indeed. Walking in this season can be like wading, only wading through air, not water (unless, of course, you realize that the reason the air is so thick is because of the humidity - the high amount of water vapor suspended in the air). Somehow flying through this medium that you and I can barely walk through are thousands of members of the genus Insecta (though not as many as at one time) busily and quickly trying to promote their kind and, sometimes in so doing, “bugging” us humans, bumping into us in mid-flight - theirs, not ours - homing in on our heat-signature, trying to take just one little drop of our blood to feed their future young (is that too much to ask? Just one drop? Actually, yes, it is.). Black-flies, Midges, Mosquitos - just a few of the insects out there that are inimical to us (but they do feed many species of birds). However, there are some wondrous ones who are not dangerous and actually contribute to our enjoyment of the season. Here are just a few: Fireflies - lighting up our warm evenings when the dew-point is high, little firecracker-flies, sparking up our summer night-sky as they (like all of us?) look for love; Bee-Hawk Moths - beautiful, bizarre little Hummingbird lookalikes; Cicadas, Crickets and Katydids - our mid-season Cricket Chorus.
HIKING IN THE SHADE
Each season in the Catskills presents its own unique beauty and deep natural richness, as well as challenges that only pertain to that time of year. Summer is no different and when the vagaries of this dynamic season are coupled with the myriad individual choices in clothing and gear presented to the prospective outdoors person, deciding what to wear can be daunting.
HATS Hats can be a useful summertime tool, keeping a surfeit of sun from face and neck, protecting from rain and as a convenient platform for repelling insects (some even have netting built in or are impregnated with insect-repellent). The popular broad-brimmed “booney hat” succeeds in protecting from sun and rain but they also have their limitations. For those that are super-conscious of weight and space in their gear, these hats are not as easy to store as a smaller, lighter ball-cap. The other plus about baseball-style caps is that they wear much better under the hood of a jacket or parka in a heavy rain (which will be discussed in the next paragraph). I like a broad-brim hat for sun-protection on a dry day but if I have my rain-jacket with me and think there’s any chance of precipitation, I’ll wear a good ball-cap. When we gear up for the outdoors we have to plan ahead and think of these things as pieces of a puzzle - how will different pieces fit together. As typical with clothing, much of this is a matter of personal taste and stye and there has never been a better time to find exactly the item you need or want.
RAIN-JACKETS The choices for summer rain-jackets are simply dizzying. Every one of the many brands will make several different styles and in different price-ranges, and while I’ll always recommend that people be practical in buying their gear (only you know what you can afford), keep in mind that it may well be worth it to spend a little more for quality gear that will stand up to both the rigors of the outdoors and the test of time. No sense buying a cheap jacket to have it rip on a branch as you pass by, so make sure it is made of a strong, durable, rip-stop fabric. All brands make 100% waterproof jackets and there is no reason to settle for less. Do not get “water-resistant” outerwear - it is not worth it when you could find your self miles into the wilderness, soaking wet and shivering. This can go well beyond an inconvenience and become life-threatening so spend the money - you’ll never regret it. Another important feature for a good rain-jacket, in my opinion, is for the hood to be permanently attached to it. Nothing like not being able to find the jacket’s hood when you need it and this is the best way to assure it doesn’t get lost (and being built into the jacket makes the best, most waterproof seal in a heavy rain). For summer hiking, another great feature of modern parkas is “pit-zips”. They allow you to vent the excess heat that can build up as you’re walking in the warmth. Without them you can become a complete “bucket of sweat” under your jacket, and almost as uncomfortable as if you weren’t wearing a jacket at all. Not even good quality Gore-Tex can breathe enough to vent your excess heat in these circumstances. Pockets are always desirable in jackets. On a well-designed rain-jacket the outer pockets should be waterproof and accessible even when wearing a pack. The jacket should also have an inner pocket (or two) for maps.
PANTS & SHIRTS - Very simple: no cotton. “Cotton kills” is a fact of summer as much as any other season, since it doesn’t allow the skin to dry which can lead to hypothermia - yes, even in the hot season. Most synthetics are much better at transporting excess heat and moisture away from the body. Different brands make excellent wicking t-shirts as well as shirts with long sleeves that roll-up, giving different options in comfort and protection. Good hiking pants will be made of a durable ripstop, synthetic fabric and will resist the rigors of the trail.
As High Summer progresses, every day brings us new, additional, life-forms. With the increase in the dew point (and therefore, the humidity) our Firefly friends have returned, livening our evenings with their glorious, sparkling life. Each different species of the genus Lampyridae occupies a specific niche in our lower night sky, some flying along low to the ground, some zig-zagging a little higher up and others flying still higher - all of them communicating with their remarkable bioluminescence. It never ceases to amaze me that these little geniuses are able to so efficiently make light, like the alchemists that they truly are (sparking light in several different colors, but, alas, not gold), in order to attract a mate. One species (Photinus carolinus) even synchronizes their flashes!
While our meadows are home to so many butterflies and moths - Black- and Tiger Swallowtails, Brushfoots, Captains, Dusky-wings, Frittilaries. Hairstreaks (great name!), Hop Merchants, Metalmarks, Nymphs, Questionmarks (why?), Satyrs, Skippers, Snouts, Spring Azures, Sulphurs, Viceroys (a smaller Monarch lookalike) and Whites - the reigning king and queen of them all - the Monarch - have only fitfully arrived. In contrast to the plethora of fireflies, it looks to be another bad year, locally, for this record long-distance butterfly migrator. I’ve only seen one, which is disheartening, to say the least. Local Milkweed has increased but now they seem almost forlorn as they wait and wait for their symbiotes who are - at the very least - running late. All dressed up in their pretty purple flowers but with no where to go.
The largest (and best) Monarch look-a-like is definitely the Great Northern Fritillary (see photo above). From a distance it is very similar - until you see it fly. Monarchs fly in gentle swoops, majestically dosey-doe-ing around the landscape, whereas the Fritillary’s flight is jittery by comparison, jumping erratically from spot to spot.
Because the insect population continues to burgeon so does the bird population - Barn Swallows scooping up bugs in mid-air, Bald Eagles and Ospreys deftly grabbing Large- and Smallmouth Bass, Ruby Throated Hummingbirds busily nectaring on flower after flower - all to the magical, flute-like tune of the Wood Thrush echoing through the woods
All of us - plant or animal - are “making hay while the sun shines” in this glorious time of longer light (though a little less each day now, since the solstice).
Please do it Safely
and have a great rest of your Summer.
Thank you, “Ranger” Dave Holden
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Please feel free to contact me about Hikes and Tours on these extraordinarily beautiful Summer evenings - or almost anytime.