a sudden fall (part 1)
Thank goodness for recent rains which have alleviated fire danger for now and it’s great to see the Sawkill with water in it again. A striking thing about this year’s change to Fall is how very sudden it has been. Most years the warmth more gradually recedes, letting us all get progressively used to the advent of the cold. Not this year! One day (September 22, on the Autumnal Equinox, I believe) it was mild, then the very next day the weather turned cool and has stayed that way so far. This could easily change back - October is a very dynamic month. If we are truly fortunate and do get some nice color, we could be blessed with the icing on top of the fall cupcake - Indian Summer - a little-understood period of warmth that sometimes occurs in the northeast after the first frost. Beautiful (even if not optimum) colors with wonderful warmth - the region can become an unbelievably delightful virtual Fairyland.
LIGHT, TEMPERATURE, WATER - One of the triggers for fall colors is changes in the light. Since we are past the Autumnal Equinox (9/22) - the official start of Fall - the sun is rising and setting further south on the eastern and western horizons respectively, bringing us shorter days with less light, and this is one of the triggers for leaf color- change, along with temperature. A lack of water is the third trigger (we’ve all seen trees change color early in dry summers) for leaf- change. As usual, Virginia Creeper is one of the first plants to turn, showing its myriad shades of red and yellow. Interestingly, Poison Ivy should have changed to a dark purplish red by now, but hasn’t as of yet (another effect of dryness?). A more obvious seasonal effect of the drought might be that our fall colors may not be as bright as people would like to see them be. Some (many?) leaves may not color at all, because they simply died on the branch before they got to turn. This has left ugly clumps of dead brown leaves stuck on trees. Not only is this not aesthetically pleasing, it could be dangerous as the season goes along. Let me explain and please don’t mind if I worry out loud. One of the truly brilliant - figuratively and literally - things, I believe, about the northern forest is the healthy, natural sequence of Fall: leaves fall, naturally separated from the tree after turning color (a natural process called excision), falling to the ground to add another layer of insulation (and later, soil) to the earth above the roots of the tree where they will be storing the life-essence of the tree itself - the sap - safely down underground in those roots, thereby freeing up the branches to arch and bend freely with the winter winds, unfettered by leaves. If the leaves do die on the branch, and remain there, not only will the branches be more likely to break (in turn, endangering homes and power-lines) but then there will also be fewer leaves to add to the soil of the forest floor this year.
FAUNAL FLORA - I think we’ve seen the last Hummingbirds and Monarchs for the season. Other autumns they’ve stayed longer, but I understand - why bother with such fleeting sunshine and warmth? Many of us feel the same about now. Most ducks and songbirds have migrated already, as well, with the Canada Geese soon to follow. Good luck to all of our seasonal visitors in their epochal travels south. It really is amazing to think how far, and what obstacles and challenges they face, in particular the tiny Hummingbirds and Monarchs. In the coming season, as we walk through our dour winter marshes, meadows and woods, let’s remember their colorful summer avian and insect inhabitants, all gathered together in some warm, sunny clime. One positive effect of the drought is that at least it stopped the Jumping Worms (Amynthas) for now. The prehistorically evocative Great Blue Herons are still with us, even as the small fish, frogs - and anything else they can grab - populations gradually dissipate. On occasion some have stayed around into the winter, even hunting around the open edges of the ice. There are more local Bald Eagles each year as their young successfully fledge and make their own lives. As the fish in the reservoirs disappear for the season the eagles will spend more and more time fishing the mighty Hudsons bounty. If the winter is mild, our Black- and Turkey Vultures will stick around to help clean up after the continually-hapless Grey Squirrels and whatever else runs afoul (if a bird, would it be “afowl”?) of our automobiles. When this happens to squirrels, there is no one to dig up any acorns or other nuts they might have buried and some of which will germinate and become Beeches, Hickories and Oaks. The golden meadows are so richly alive in the fall sunshine. While I’m sure they miss their Monarch- friends, the meadows thrive now with the subtle thrum of (not-so) myriad bees busily nectaring - the veritable hum of life itself. Cabbage White butterflies (among our earliest to arrive and latest to leave) dance wildly up and down across the dried and remaining flowers, swirling specks of pure white light dancing first together, then apart. The last of the Green Darner dragonflies dart about, hawking hapless smaller insects from midair and the stalks of dead and dying Asters, Beebalm, Goldenrod and seeding Milkweeds twitch with the otherwise hidden passing of mole, mouse or vole (be wary of Coyote, Fox, Hawk and Owl, little ones). For now I’m not even going to dwell on our intense Black Bear issues here in Waghkonk, which everyone is already too well familiar with. Let’s just all hope they don’t get worse. Finally, we’ve had a fungi-bloom in our forest. While they are beautiful, please remember consuming them can be very perilous. A recent phenomenon seems to be foreign nationals, who eat certain fungi at home which look just like some poisonous, deadly fungi here. This is a mistake. There are several species here that resemble edible Asian and Old World fungi which are actually deadly poisonous. Hence, one meaning of the term “dead ringers”. Please, never consume any wild fungi unless you are 100% positive it is safe to do so. If any question on the matter, just don’t do it. Find an expert. At least Google it. Fall is upon us here in the southeast Catskills and it’s still to be determined whether it will be a glorious one or not. Whatever it is, let’s make the most of it. Let’s all “make hay while the sun shines”.
EQUINOX - We are now past that seasonal balancing point. The days are gradually, yet steadily, getting shorter, and the nights longer, as we slip towards the Winter Solstice. I wouldn’t dare guess what this winter holds for us but I do know that everything has changed. We can’t trust any of the old “markers” (there is no more “average”). Maybe once upon a time you could depend on the Wooly Bear caterpillar or the length of horses coats, but no more. Even the Farmer’s Almanac gave up on the old method of seasonal averages, depending themselves now on the National Weather Service for reliable guidance. Please have a Safe Fall (?) everyone. Check out www.insideandoutupstateny.com - a great local general resource (and publisher of more of my articles).
Take Care, “Ranger” Dave Holden (845)594-4863 / firstname.lastname@example.org / Woodstock Trails or Dave Holden on Facebook / rangerdaveholden on Instagram / www.woodstocknytrails.com