Polar winds plunge over the southeast Catskills, freezing all before them and casting frosty whiteness about as they continue to bring real winter down to Waghkonk. The desiccated and sere husks of last season’s Beebalm, Goldenrod and Milkweed, bent by those gusts, seem to nod in agreement. The peaceful White Pines and the wise northern Oaks also bow before the all-powerful North Wind - for it rules this time. It is both King and Queen here and now and all pledge obeisance to its frozen might. Even us supposedly all-powerful humans cannot stop the Power from the Pole. The most that we can do is to deflect its wrath with our little ramparts of wood or stone, desperately chinking our walls - our armor, as it were - trying (with varying degrees of success) to defend our little dwellings from one of the unstoppable forces of nature. Considering that December 2020 had mostly above-average temperatures, January of 2021 has been somewhat of a shock, slamming us with the afore-mentioned winds and snows, as well as below-average temperatures thus far. Who knows? Maybe this is the coldest weather that we’ll see. Right. Think positive I always say. One thing is for sure - we’ll find out.
HALFWAY TO SPRING
We are at the halfway point between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. The Celts celebrated this time as Imbolc (February 1-2), the years First Cross-Quarter Day. It is a time for celebrating the visible lengthening of days. Also celebrated as Groundhogs Day or Candlemas. The Mayans noted this moment on the Great Wheel as did Native Americans at Cahokia and at Anasazi.
THE FUTURE IS IN THE SNOW
Keep in mind that we are surrounded by so much life, even now in this bitter cold, windy time. Hidden right in front of us is much that is dormant, waiting for the right “trigger”, the clues that initialize the beginning of Spring. Our land is like a snow desert, the Lady mantled in white, with seeds frozen in the snow, suspended in frosty layers, waiting to thaw, to spring forth as unfurling bright-green leaves, and becoming plants (getting a little ahead of myself here). Snow is a great seed-depository. If you look closely you see millions (gazillions?) of tiny seeds from every type of grass, plant and shrub. As each seed absorbs warmth from sunshine, it gradually drops down deeper and deeper in the snow. It is theorized this is an adaptation by plants to preserve and promote their seeds, to protect them ‘til the snow melts in springtime.
Insects hide half-frozen under bark and leaf, also waiting(like us) for warmth and light. Sometimes in winter thaw, insects willhatch,responding to sunshine, providing a momentary change in menu for myriad small-birds, fluffed up with down (did they copy human’s down-coats for warmth?). Woodfrogs lie near-frozen under leaves adjacent to their ancestral vernal pools, incredibly awakening even before the ice disappears from their watery home. Beneath the protective snow-cover (White-tail Deer will decimate any bud, no matter how small, if not sheltered by frozen white), the wildflowers, the Spring Ephemerals, are just bursting to jump back into life. The snow also provides warmth and shelter to populations of small rodents. One detrimental effect of this - as many growers of fruit trees well know - is that the small creatures love to gnaw off the delicate bark of shrub and tree, girdling them. This is why people have learned to wrap these saplings preventatively. The true hibernators are out there, too, - turtles and Woodchucks, for example - just biding their time. Wild Turkeys hole up in thickets, on branches above the ground, venturing out during the day to scrounge seeds (or anything else edible) on the surface of the snow. Their biggest threat are the Coyotes and Foxes who will try to grab an ill, old or very young bird.
It is hoped that the recent extreme cold has slowed the spread of certain serious regional invasive insects: the Hemlock Wooly Adelgid, responsible for large Hemlockdie-offs (see www.hwa.org) and Deer Ticks, the main host for Lyme Disease. Unfortunately, it probably has not been cold enough to negatively impact Emerald Ash-Borer (EAB), which is destroying most of our beautiful Ash trees. Now is the time for us to give the Small Birds a helping hand by putting out bird-seed, since many of their winter foods are covered in ice and snow. Black Bear, which only naps (not truly hibernating) may wake hungry during a thaw and home in on one’s bird-feeder, so please pay attention and consider bringing your feeder in if the weather warms. Hard to believe right now but spring probably is literally just
around the corner.
IT’S THE JOURNEY, NOT THE DESTINATION
I love my journey with you all, us spiraling around the Sun, Homeward-bound on our beautiful, blue orb. I’m not sure exactly what our destination is but I believe the journey itself - and how we conduct ourselves on that journey - is what is important. And winter is the time that is the greatest challenge to all of us, the time when our conduct in how we treat each other - and ourselves - is the most important. It is a challenging time for us all, some more than others. The challenge for the strong is to help those that are weak and the challenge for the weak is to let those that are stronger at the moment help them. Next time someone is angry or upset seemingly over nothing, or the other driver is rude or inattentive, they might be depressed from family problems (common in this season) or from SAD (seasonal affective disorder) - also not uncommon right now. We all need to be a little extra patient with each other. Just because someone else goes off on us, doesn’t mean we have to respond in kind. Again, I believe it’s not the destination that’s important but how we get there - the Journey.
THE START OF A NEW YEAR, THE EDGE OF A NEW TIME,
THE LIGHT RETURNS
It's true. Not only is 2020 past, after another spin around the sun, but also a new solar year has begun as the days get noticeably lighter. Alright, I admit that I'm probably making it a little better than it is, but that's how I see things. Someone once asked me if I looked at "the glass" as "half-full" or "half-empty". I said, "what glass?". No, really. I'm an eternal optimist. I see the glass (if any) as full, believing that life is brimming around us, even in winter, lying dormant, just waiting for a chance to grow. Yes, it's another Catskills Winter Roller-Coaster of Chills, Thrills and Spills, offering us not only danger and perils a-plenty but also a starkly-beautiful landscape, sculpted sometimes in gleaming ice and curving snow. So let's all enjoy it as best as we can, getting into the woods and onto the trails and observe our yearly frigid desert and its landscape of alternating drabness then sparkling whiteness and light.
I hope you all have a Happy, Healthy, Safe and Warm winter.
Ranger Dave Holden.
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