THE GOLDEN SEASON
The summer light wanes, sending an ancient signal to all beings in the northern hemisphere that it is time for each one in their own way to prepare for the colder, darker season that looms ahead app. Leaves will soon start to color the deciduous trees. Birds are starting to migrate, as are some insects. All the creatures that will be staying are getting ready in their time-honored fashion. Early September, though, in the northeast almost deserves to be its own season - I suggest Summerfall. Summer-like, but not quite summer anymore, with many nights being cooler, yet as the days are still hot, it doesn’t exactly feel like fall. It is a time of subtle transition, as autumn gradually creeps up on us. As I write this, it is 68 degrees at 11pm, the windows are wide open and I'm enjoying the "Cricket-chorus" immensely. The Katydids are "katydid-ing" up a storm and the Crickets sound like a hundred billion little bells loudly, madly ringing for all they're worth. This is very enjoyable weather but hardly unusual in the northeast. Just because the calendar (and the school year) says Fall does
not mean it is so. It still feels like Summer. Even as a kid in Maine, I remember starting the school-year going to school with a jacket on, but wearing it around my waist coming home in the September heat. I’m thinking it will be a richly-colorful season since most of the hardwoods (Ashes, Birches, Maples, Oaks, etc.) still are thick with leaf, even as their branch-tips start to take a golden turn. Gold seems to be the theme for early fall in our woods, as well as in our fields.
It was a strange summer, indeed. It never once got so hot that I wished for Winter (soon enough, anyway). No really bad, overwhelmingly thick insect-life, as evidenced (to me, at least) by a lack of the "windshield effect" - large amounts of bugs plastered by wind-speed onto my windshield (the bikers must love not having to endlessly pick insects from their teeth). Not even that much rainfall, really. Plenty in the Spring, but mostly just light rain and showers all Summer, which explains why the feeder-creeks were consistently dry. We had just enough rain to keep the ground wet and to head off brush-fires. Let’s keep our fingers crossed here because there's so much underbrush in the woods, and a great excess of highly-flammable Mountain Laurel. Also, considering that in a few weeks the forest floor will be covered with layers of gorgeous, multihued - and very dry - tinder, we could easily trigger the forest's greatest nightmare - full-on forest fires - if we don’t consistently keep getting rain. Finally, just recently there have been a couple of good "soakers", but still not enough. With back-to-back hurricanes forming I could see us going from drought to drench with no trouble. Having spent time in deserts, if given the choice, I think I would always prefer “too much” water to “not enough'.
As the light gradually changes, Fall is gently, subtly triggered, different animals responding in different ways. Some creatures like Black Bear and Woodchucks start to plan for a long winter's nap by fattening up a bit (though the 'Chucks always seem fat). Another adaptation is migration. The Hummingbirds will be doing it shortly, actually gaining a whole gram or so of weight to fuel that powerful little furnace of theirs to help take them all the way down the Appalachians, then an intrepid 500-mile non-stop dash across the Gulf of Mexico to their wintering grounds in the Yucatán. The Monarchs are preparing to leave on their own long journey to sunnier climes. At least we've had a few of them around this year. Not as many as last year, but seeing any at all is a thing of beauty. I know they're
threatened both at home and here, but I'd love to think their population will bounce back (visit www.journeynorth.org for more on all migrators and www.spiritofbutterflies.com for more on Monarchs and local efforts to help them). Many of the incredible Dragonflies have gone south already, leaving their eggs in freshwater to hatch as larvae next year. Now it is mainly the huge (for dragonflies) and indomitable Green Darner still zipping around. It seems that what few Great Egrets and Little Blue Herons we’ve had this season have abandoned us already, but the intrepid and prehistorically evocative Great Blues are still around (and will probably stay for a bit, some even into winter). The Bald Eagles that have raised their young in Waghkonk this season are still feeding on fish in local ponds and reservoirs. Our Black- and Turkey Vulture friends will stick around to haunt us at least through the fall (and do their bit as part of the roadside Cleanup Crew, along with Crows and Ravens).
The meadows and fields have transitioned from the multitude of many-hued summer flowers to be dominated now by bright yellow Goldenrods. These beauties get a bad rap when their pollen, in fact, is not an allergen, since they are pollinated by birds and insects rather than the wind, which does pollinate the dark brown, highly-allergenic Ragweed (easily missed and not as photogenic). The Goldenrods serve a valuable function now by providing nectar to migrating butterflies, since most of the flowers of summer are gone, as well as feeding year-round resident insects like queen bumble bees and lady beetles, as they get ready for winter. It is an important plant for our meadows because it feeds many of our small birds that don’t migrate, as well as Voles and Mice that, in turn, feed our wintering Hawks, Owls, Weasels, Coyotes and Foxes. Together with numerous Asters, they will become temporary home to many different species of caterpillars that birds migrating from further north will relish. Milkweed will be seeding
shortly and I always encourage people to spread their silky parachute-like seeds - but please wait ‘til the seed-pods are fully ready, when they open on their own. Seems like a mixed year for fungi thus far, but generally a warm and wet September is optimal. The golden meadows are so richly alive in the early fall sunshine. While I’m sure they’ll miss their Monarchs, the meadows thrive now with the subtle thrum of myriad bees busily nectaring - the veritable hum of life itself. Cabbage White butterflies dance wildly up and down across the flowers, swirling specks of white light dancing together, then apart. Green Darners zip about, hawking hapless small insects (and some not-so-small) from midair and the stalks of dead and dying Beebalm twitch with the otherwise hidden passing of mouse, mole or vole.
The Great Wheel of the Seasons turns as the Cycle of Life inexorably continues. We humans have our own rhythms in the matter. Most of us will hunker down, get out the warm clothing, beef up the wood-pile, tighten up the windows, etc., and some will migrate to warmer climes. I like to point this out to show that despite all of our technology, most of us still respond - whether we know it or not - to the rhythms of the natural world around us.
A glorious Fall is upon us in the southeast Catskills. Let’s make the most of it - “make hay while the sun shines”. Thank you all for your continued support and encouragement.
Have an enjoyable and Safe Fall (?).
Take Care, “Ranger” Dave Holden
Woodstock Trails on Facebook
rangerdaveholden on Instagram