We are at the end of what was a glorious summer,having happily avoided drought and fires. Because we had no extended dry-spell the deciduous trees - Beech, Birch, Maple and Oak - kept all their leaves (they will usually shed some when stressed by drought) which signifies the likelihood of a beautiful, full-spectrum Fall ahead for us. One caveat here - unfortunately, again this year many Maples seem to have Maple Wilt (caused by the Verticillium fungus that lives in the soil), giving them a scorched look. So, like last fall, we may not have much red in the forest canopy. All of the usual markers are marching past, migrations of Hummingbird and Monarch (the few that we had) returning to their winter homes shortly and leaves beginning their first golden fringe signifying the approach of Fall. The insect chorus of cricket and katydid is still in full swing, minus their seasonal cicada partners now. Their pitch varies subtly as the dew point wavers and the first cool nights commence, which will gradually slow to the point that only the crickets and glorious summer memories are left. Much like human children going off to school, the vast majority of new birds will have fledged already,freeing their parents to either prepare for migration or wintering-over. It used to be that the same roadsides that welcomed the first flowers of spring - Coltsfoot - would now be lined by Hawkweed but there is a new denizen along the roads now - Japanese Stiltgrass (Microstegium vimineum) - and it is rapidly replacing numerous species of ferns and other small plants in many open places - by roads and in fields and forest glens. It used to be that we worried about the encroachment of Japanese Barberry (among others) but their invasiveness is nothing compared to Stiltgrass which is rapidly dominating everywhere, filling the forest with its light green ground-level haze. Since there is no money or will to remove it, I propose that our only hope is to find a recipe for it and consume it (before it consumes us?).
HOW I SEE IT - As our green Catskills summer winds inexorably down to a spectral fall it is hard not to notice the changes - subtle and not-so subtle - going on in the natural world around us. I know the seasons ahead will have their own beauty and I’ve written much about the exact nature of the changes that are upon us, but for once I just wanted to expound upon the visceral love and deep emotions I feel for our land here, our Waghkonk - the Land of Waterfalls Under the Sacred Mountain (or any other of several interpretations of its meaning). I consider myself an integral part of this place, connected to it, rooted deeply into it (literally and figuratively) in every way possible. I inhale the living air, breathing life into myself and sense it rolling smoothly across my skin. I drink the water-essence of the land. I feel the very alive-ness pulsing under my feet as I walk barefoot on the ground. I am not separate from the land I joyously journey upon. I love to watch the clouds prevailing southwest to northeast across the Woodstock Valley, marching over Overlook, proceeding on to my childhood home in New England, reminding me of where my roots originated and the magical place I’ve now planted them. Our woods vibrate with life at its richest in summer and when I move through them I know that the forest is an ancient sentient being. It knows me and welcomes me back within its verdant boughs, for we are old, old friends. The forest floor itself, like the sunnier meadows and fields, teems with living creatures - the microbial, the minute and the miniature - all engrossed in their daily struggles for survival and to promote their kind, in turn enabling the larger creatures to do the same. They do this all at the same time as they (inadvertently?) help to propagated the smaller plants, shrubs and trees around and above them - all intertwined and enmeshed in each other’s cycles. Feeding them all, the open arterial lifeblood of my earth-mother, the sweet yet nascently powerful Sawkill (sometimes called the Waghkonk stream) flows dancingly among the pieces of shattered bluestone and glacial cobbles, timelessly wearing all down with its unceasing flow, smoothing us down to nature’s common denominator - life itself, rounded, experienced, caressed, loved. There is nothing in the world like feeling the wonder of the clear, cool water of the Sawkill envelope my summer body (for our bodies are different in different seasons) under the leafy canopy and beside the lichen-encrusted rocks. I commune with the crayfish nipping at my toes for I am like them, picking at life, probing at spirit, both of which are mysteries and much bigger than myself (Maybe not. Perhaps that is the illusion. What if I, you, all of us, what if we ALL are Manitou or God and Heaven was on Earth, HERE, right NOW, and not removed at some distance in time and space, far above the clouds?). We Are All Related, as my Native brethren would say, joined by our love for the crystal-clear flowing liquid life-force. This is part of what summer is to me. And Damselflies dancing. And the thick, cottony feel of humidity parting as I wade through water-vapor suspended in hot air. And the joyous cacophony of the cricket-chorus. I will miss this season - I always do. Maybe that’s why we appreciate it, in that crazy human logic where we have to have the absence of something to understand and appreciate what we had.
FAUNAL FLORA - In the meadows, the Goldenrods are in their glory now, tall, thin stalks bending over in the late summer sunshine, loaded with bright yellow flowers. Nearby, but much more subtle, are the Ragweeds, more discreet in their rich browns. As far as allergens go, the Goldenrods get a bum rap because of their beauty, attracting all of our attention. Meanwhile, the real culprit is Ragweed, the one everyone’s really allergic to. Poison Ivy (PI) is at its peak right now, usually with bright red leaves at this point, but not always (Leaves of Three - Leave them Be). Every year the PI crop is increasing and scientists believe it is directly related to Climate Change as it thrives on the also-increasing amounts of carbon dioxide in the air. Coincidentally, many times Jewelweed is found near to PI (the older I get the less I believe in coincidence). “Coincidentally”, because Jewelweed is a common Native American PI treatment. How handy is that? Somebody somewhere was planning well! It appears to me that there will be low quantities of Beechnuts and Acorns (called mast by biologists) this season, perfectly illustrating the inseparable, intertwined nature of fauna and flora. This will affect everything about our Black Bear, our White-tail Deer and all of the rodents this coming season. This includes misc. mice, shrews, moles, voles, chipmunks and squirrels. Bear and deer eat mast as their prime means to gain winter-weight. They will have to find other means to do so and I suspect that will entail more interactions with humans, which is never good for either them or us. The lower quantities of mast on the forest floor will help limit the populations of the small rodents (which is always exponential, explosive and phenomenal) which is a good thing because the major mast year of 2018, which led to a major increase in their population is attributed as the main reason for the huge increase in the tick population (up tick?) this year, since mice are a major vector for ticks. A dearth of squirrels will definitely disappoint our Cleanup Crew - Crows, Ravens and Vultures - I’m sure they will find other fare. We’ve had plenty of Herons this season, mostly Great Blues and Greens. Only saw one Little Blue Heron and a couple Great Egrets. No Snowy Egrets this year. That’s how it goes - other years we had many Snowys. No lack of our most common Hawks - Red-tails and Red-shouldered - this year and about the average amount of Falcons and Owls. I rescued a couple of Wood Turtles and an Eastern Box Turtle (only move them in the direction they were originally traveling - otherwise they will just turn around back into the road and danger), but have only seen a couple of Snapping Turtles. Plenty of Bull Frogs, Green Frogs, Common Toads and Spotted Salamanders under a log. All the amphibians are loving this hot weather. A few less dragonflies already, some migrating, some encysting in the mud ‘til next year. Our largest member of the Odanata order (Dragonflies) is the Green Darter and they will be here for a bit still, commonly the last to leave. They are very efficient at culling the small insect population. My favorite spider, the Daddy Long-legs (also called the Harvestman) will probably be around for a few more weeks before it hides for the winter. All of these creatures - just like us - are already, or will be soon, getting ready for the long, cold season ahead. Maybe they - also like us - are hoping for a mild one, looking back at this glorious season past and forward to the next. I’m probably just another silly human anthropomorphizing again, trying to give animals human characters and traits. Most likely,they all live simply day-to-day, hoping to live and increase their kind as best they can. Humans need to learn from them about living in the present, one day at a time. Soon the Ruby-throated Hummingbirds will start their epic migration to the Yucatán. While not the longest migration for a bird, it is nonetheless phenomenal for such a small creature - the tiniest of all the birds - particularly their final sprint across the 500 miles of Gulf of Mexico. Following shortly will be the Monarchs, wending their way southward to lay up for the winter en masse on the Oyamel fir-trees high in the mountains of Michoacan. Sounds great, doesn’t it? Almost like a vacation. On the contrary, for both tiny creatures their journeys are immense and fraught with numerous perils, including predators and large obstacles, man made and natural (it is still a mystery as to exactly how they are able to navigate so far, so precisely). The hummingbirds are still here, nectaring for their departure. Perhaps they (like me) are soaking up as much of this dream-like season in a place that to them may be an ancient homeland they always feel compelled to return to. After all, untold generations of these intrepid creatures have bred here. It is part of them, of who they are. I’ll bet they dream of the north as they sleep in the winter, waiting to hear that age-old call back northward, to the warm meadows of their ancestral dreams. Visit www.journeynorth.org for more on all of these valiant little migrators.
WHEN THISTLEDOWN FLIES - The days are noticeably shorter now, the sun not rising as high in the sky as before and the thistledown flies in late summer wind. Fall is on the way, summer is still here. Let’s enjoy it, I say, for a colder time is coming, when memories of the sun’s warmth piercing heavy, humid air will be just that - memories.
Please make them good safe ones.
Thank you all.
Take Care, “Ranger” Dave Holden
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