Northwest winds sweep through the hills, bringing their cold message of winter, transporting snow from Lake Ontario all the way down here to the southeast Catskills. Swirling snow-devils dance their white dervish dance, tearing reluctant leaves, themselves remnants of this season past, from branch and bough. Only the brazen small-birds - Cardinals, Chickadees, Bluejays, Sparrows, Titmice, Juncos and the like - venture forth, hardy creatures bred through the millennia to persevere - even thrive - in this harsh season. Winter is our desert, when life hides and folds itself into nooks out of the wind, under the bark of trees or into burrows dug deep by creatures trying to sleep through 'til Spring-time and warmth. I can identify, in a way. Until I get used to the winter thing I basically feel the same way - "Let me sleep and wake me when it's warm again". I will get into it eventually, I always do. I become fascinated by the illusion of lifelessness, knowing much is hidden, and will poke around, under leaf and rock, looking for that vibrant dormancy, the eternal conundrum of life amidst death, of the eternal Will to Live even in our cold, white, snowy desert.
DARKNESS RULES, SHADOWS LENGTHEN - As the days get shorter and shorter, as we wend our way darkly to the Winter Solstice (December 21) and as the magical, scary time of year approaches when light itself seems to disappear, seemingly sucked into the cold, dark vortex of mid-winter, life drawing in on itself, we can be forgiven for wondering - as our ancient ancestors most certainly did: - when the heck is the Sun ever going to return? We know rationally that this great time of change draws near, this watershed of light, one of the major markers of our natural yearly solar cycle, when finally light and life will ever-so-gradually start returning to our corner of the southeast Catskills, yet it is natural for us all - creatures of light - to yearn for relief from the unending darkness. Nature is reminding us of our small place in the universe.
THE HAWKISH GLARE/HUNTER & HUNTED - While it is true that it is "dog-eat-dog" (strange saying!) in the wild world 24/7/365, it is always most apparent to me when Spring, Summer and Fall are past and our world seems like it is stripped down to its basics - just the bare winter sky and the seemingly barren, brown earth. Now that Winter is finally upon us, let the Game begin - the Great Cycle of Life and Death. As the cold penetrates our bones and makes its hoary way into bark and under ground, the eternal natural cycle of life and death, hunter and hunted, predator and prey comes into clear and sharp focus. Until such time as the snow (if any) becomes deep enough to hide them readily from the hawkish glare, small rodents have to scurry quickly from one newly-fallen leaf to the other, hoping not to be seen. For their part, the wintering falcons, hawks and owls know that they must feed to keep warm in order to survive. Luckily for them, nature has provided a plethora of mice, moles and voles for them to watch for (and small birds for the falcons). These same rodents also supply much of the winter diet of the local wild canines - Eastern Coyote, Grey and Red Fox. Black Bear have pretty much gone to ground by now, settling in for a (hopefully) long nap. Notice I said "nap". The Black Bear doesn't truly hibernate. They sleep deeply, unless awoken by a warm spell, in which case they are apt to wake up and do so hungry. And what's the first thing they might smell with their most-powerful- nose-of-all-mammals? Any birdseed someone left out. So remember, if the weather does warm up, bring the feeders back inside. Smaller creatures also play the predator-prey Great Game. Woodpeckers look under bark for insects and their larvae. Skunks will do the same thing on your lawn while it is snowless. Fishers will be hunting for whatever they can find, including Porcupines. Then there's the "clean-up crew", our local Crows and Ravens, who assiduously find and dispose of the roadkill remains of Squirrels, Raccoons, Opossums and deer. It's all part of the process, the checks and balances of Mother Nature, keeping wild populations under control. Also, I believe that wild animals and plants intrinsically understand their role in the Great Cycle and - unlike most people - do not fear death. I’m not saying creatures don’t fight “tooth and nail” (another great saying!) to resist a predator - of course they do. I just doubt they lose sleep over the prospect of dying - it’s part of their very real world. It's almost like the cold, darker half of the year is the hunter, continually consuming the lighter, warmer half (or maybe the other way around?), then being reborn and renewed again - Hunter and Hunted - over and over. Nice coincidence that Orion, the Hunter, dominates our night sky at this time. Not only is 2022 almost past, after another spin around the sun, but also a new solar year will begin (12/21) as the days get noticeably lighter. Yes, it's another
CATSKILLS WINTER ROLLERCOASTER OF CHILLS, SPILLS & THRILLS!, 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.
Thank you, Ranger Dave Holden / (845) 594-4863 / email@example.com / rangerdaveholden on Instagram / Dave Holden on Facebook / www.woodstocknytrails.com