a sudden fall (part 2)
It is such a season of hyperbole. How can we consider autumn without expressing its beauty in extremes? Well, I guess it's my turn. Living in a northeast fall is like existing inside an immense, living kaleidoscope, with all the colors and every shade thereof surrounding you. As if that weren't enough, the very dynamic nature of this time is mind-boggling. Again, using the kaleidoscope analogy, with each turn (each day?) something changes, continually altering our perception. One moment a stand of mixed hardwoods and pines will be standing there, in all its colorful, yet mute, glory. The next moment a cloud is moved by wild fall winds and the sun shines brightly back-lighting through the same trees that were so beautifully muted only moments ago, making them into intensely blazing beauties of forest life. And then, again, no sooner had you said "wow!" then another breeze, from a new direction, will invert those same leaves, exposing their silvery undersides and stripping others off entirely, throwing them madly across the sky. Amazing and awesome are just two words that come to mind.
THIS AND THAT - The Cicadas and Katydids are gone now. Only their
Cricket-friends remain, chorusing less and less as the weather cools.
Lady Bugs will be crowding onto the warm, sunny side of my house and
the last Monarch-stragglers are passing through. I wish them well, but
theirs might be a forlorn journey with less and less to nectar on as they
journey south so late. With the worst of the drought past it seems the
Hemlocks have finally stopped dropping their needles. Poison Ivy
leaves have finally turned a deep, dark red and Virginia Creeper is
running its rich, bright crimson. Some ferns are darkening and rolling
up, some are turning bright yellow, spores ready to spiral up next spring
(hopefully they all survive the Japanese Stiltgrass onslaught, which is
supplanting them in many places). The Goldenrods are not so golden
anymore, and the Ragweed is not raging as much(?). It’s possible that,
if the coming season is a dry as this past one was, we’re in for minimal
snow, which could bring us back to drought again next year without big
rains come spring-time. This is so because traditionally in this region
our seasonal water-table is charged by slowly-melting snows and we’ve
avoided worse droughts in recent years because of ample spring rains.
One thing only is certain - we’ll find out. Precipitation-wise this fall has been a see-saw. Early fall was dry and the Sawkill was low. Now we’ve had more rain (yay!). So it goes. Our initial dryness has probably contributed to our more somber colors this year, with too many brown clumps of prematurely dead leaves clinging to branch and limb, yet each fall is different and we are so fortunate to live in a place where this phenomenon occurs. I’ve talked to visitors from places that don’t have our magical coloration of full-spectrum fall foliage and they are always in awe of the beauty of a Catskills autumn. Let’s enjoy this beautiful land one season at a time. Many creatures have been taking advantage of the recent warm-spell. There are still some insects around - moths, a few butterflies, a couple dragonflies, bees, wasps and the aforementioned Lady Bugs (red and orange), as well as a few grasshoppers. It’s nice of them to give a late- season boost to our bird population.
TREE-MAGICIANS - Triggered by subtle (and not-so-subtle) changes in light and temperature, an incredible change has occurred in our forests because of amazing adaptations over millions of years. Our hardwoods -- mainly Ash (what’s left of them, anyway), Beech, Birch, Maple and Oak, have started their unprecedented migration. Yes, a migration, but a migration-in-place.
These trees, which up until recently were engaging in one phenomenal form of alchemy -- taking dirty air from the sky (with carbon in it), bringing it into the earth, removing the carbon from it, then releasing it as pure oxygen back into the sky (basically, scrubbing our dirty air for us, and creating life-giving oxygen in the process -- all powered by sunlight and at no charge to us) -- are now consumed with transferring another magical product -- their very essence, their sap-deep down into their roots, safely below the frost-line until summoned, once again, by the advent of spring, in yet another incredible alchemy. Phenomenal, true magic of the common, everyday sort. The hardwoods have done their job for this season -- creating clean air, providing shade for untold forest creatures (including people), shrubs and smaller plants and then - as their spectacular finale -- bow down and by shedding their once chlorophyll-laden leaves create another future layer of soil. The forest is very egalitarian -- the Birch don’t mind if an Oak leaves it leaves (ha!) over its roots, nor do the Pines complain about Maple leaves (that we know of).
On the surface of it (!), one might say that the trees can rest now, having seemingly finished their work for the year, but I’m not sure that the forest ever rests. In addition to the growing evidence that trees help each other when leafed out, warning each other of impending threats, they also have symbiotic relationships with different fungi that inhabit their roots and which help the trees share certain enzymes -- from tree-to-tree-underground. I’m certain that this activity must continue -- maybe it even increases -- in the winter. Picture the bare branches blowing leaf-free in the wild winter winds, etching stark shadows on the sparkling snow, while down deep the sap is safely stored. The entire forest is connected through those vast roots, communicating its needs and exchanging nutrients amongst various members. For more on all of this, I highly recommend The Overstory, by Richard Powers.
Now the greenwood is preparing to hunker down into itself for the
coming cold. Maybe this is the time when the trees tell stories of
vast amounts of nuts dropped or of fallen friends. I’ve dreamed
with the forest and have had glimpses of what it is like to be The
Great Tree-Tribe, a vast, inter-connected, multi-species, green and
brown being that is literally the very essence of the Land, perhaps
the greatest Steward of the Earth, with roots running deep and branches reaching high. Perhaps this is our ideal model for us to return to responsible stewardship of the earth.
Everybody please have a Happy and Safe Late Fall. Watch out for falling leaves (?). If you’re really lucky one of them will actually be a rare Flying Squirrel (Pteromyini), soaring quickly and quietly from one hiding-spot to another. Thank you all.
Take Care, “Ranger” Dave Holden / (845)594-4863 / firstname.lastname@example.org /
rangerdaveholden on Instagram / Woodstock Trails on Facebook/ www.woodstocknytrails.com
TREES BECOME RAINBOWS
like trees we become
rainbows life-winds blow
off our leaves
holden, woodstock, 2014