Our Autumn continues to wind down, the leaves have colored and most have fallen. We’ve gone from the peak of the season - when not only the trees seem to represent the full spectrum, but we also had the every type of creature persisting in their presence - birds, insects, mammals and rodents - a full species-spectrum, as it were. There is a steady breeze blowing, parting leaf from branch, creating a distinctive, crisp (coincidentally), fall-like chill.
LIKE EMBERS FADING - As the fall colors of 2021 slowly dissipate, melting into the Catskills landscape, they gradually change into the the more somber tones we associate with winter. Sort of like a fire - if you consider flame, then now you might see the embers fade, almost as if the fire is going out. Luckily for us, the Fire of Life in the earth never really disappears, but just hides in plain sight, hidden under bark and rock, or buried under leaf and found deep in root - dormant, waiting for warmth to return. It’s almost like a good fire that has been well-banked to keep the buried embers hot to wait for spring-time, the season of life for them to be stoked back to warm, vibrant life.
MIGRATION-IN-PLACE - The entire forest, what I consider one great, sentient (in an incredibly slow, yet very powerful and steady fashion that we can only barely understand) being, made up of a myriad of different plants and trees that have learned over untold millennia to (literally) deeply cooperate in the same way that an animals organs work together, has now mostly completed its astounding vertical migration-in-place, withdrawing its life-force, its sap, down under the frostline to await the thaw of spring. A truly incredible - and brilliant adaptation to my way of thinking. From what I understand, winter is not as passive a time for trees as we think it is. They share nutrients through their roots, allowing one species to trade (converse?) with another. Maybe this is one reason why Native friends only Storytell when the ground is frozen - so they don’t disturb the trees and their Spirit.
WHY THE LEAF-COLORS FADE - I used to think (five minutes ago) that the reason the leaves faded, in the course of the Fall was due to scientific, technical reasons, related to seasonal changes in their chemistry and the light and temperatures that surround them. Now I know the real reason why. It came to me suddenly (and rather late, I guess) that the real, true reason they they turn more somber, muted shades as autumn progresses, is to help us prepare psychologically for, and become gradually acclimatized to, the far more subtle beauty of Winter. Think about it. What an incredible, deeply-profound shock humans would suffer if we went straight from the warmth of summer green to the cold brown, grey and white of winter with no intervening season. Don’t get me wrong - I love the Evergreens - reminders of the greenness of life that awaits us in the next season. I just think it would be tough for people in our latitude to adjust to winter coming if the leaves turning wasn’t as gradual as it can be in a magical fall like this one. One more thing to thank the trees for (Thank you, Trees! Way to go, Forest!).
FAUNAL FLOW - In the Great Circle of Life the threads of all beings - plant or animal, great or small - are inextricably woven together. This is just as apparent to me in this season as it is in the summer. Our bird-population, while it particularly thrives in summer-time due to the great increase in insect-life for it to feed on, is a lively one year-round. The hardy Chickadee, and all of the other “usual suspects” - Bluebirds, Bluejays, Cardinals, Juncos, different Woodpeckers (dominated by the Pileated), the several species of Sparrows and Wrens, among others - will be found all season in our fallow gardens, fields, lawns and meadows. Along the Sawkill now the Kingfisher generally predominates, though a few Great Blue Herons may well stick around. As the fish in the local ponds, reservoirs and streams dissipate, our Bald Eagles will mainly fish on the Hudson River but, as prime opportunistic omnivores, will keep their eyes open for what ever comes their way, not being above eating carrion in the hard time to come. Commonly confused with eagles (from a distance) are the also-large Black- and Turkey Vultures. These biggest members of our Cleanup Crew (which includes Crows and Ravens) may well stick around if the season remains mild. When seen up close there is no confusing these birds with eagles! Our perennial Red-shouldered- and Red-tail Hawks are around so the Deer Mice, Moles, Meadow Voles and Short-tail Shrews should keep an eye out. They also have to watch for Owls (mainly Barred around here), as well as Eastern Coyotes and Grey- and Red Foxes. Certainly there are plenty of White-tail Deer, though their population gets trimmed a bit by automobiles (sometimes it’s the cars - and people - that get the worst of it). Black Bear seem to be happy for now with this years Acorn and Beechnut drop, so maybe they’ll avoid people-food for a bit (right!). We still have some insect-stragglers around, even a few Monarchs last week and a last couple Green Darter dragonflies. I have seen Walking Sticks into November before. The last butterflies (also among the first) are the delightful Whites and Sulphurs. There are a few remaining flies - still trying to live (some will nap under bark and shingle to come out on sunny winter days) and put off the inevitable (inedible?). You’ll notice that many of them will be slowing down as their season comes to an end. I hung out with one dopey Grasshopper recently. He kept cocking his head and looking up at me as I tried to explain that he was being eyeballed by a Chickadee. It seemed like he was looking at me as if to say Silly person, I’m supposed to be eaten about now! It’s part of that Great Circle of Life you’re always talking about”. Most of the Monarchs are long-gone (not sure if these couple of late- season stragglers will make it - good luck to them!), most of the way to the mountains of Michoacán by now, where they will winter en masse in a torpor-like state on Oyamel pine trees for the winter (see www.journeynorth.org ). Will they dream of gracefully courting in our sunny summer fields and laying their eggs under Milkweed leaf? I think so. The outdoors is quieter without the Katydids and S
easonal Cicadas. Only Crickets now and they are slowing down with the increasing cold.
KALEIDOSCOPE FALL- 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 living in 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 truly 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, then making them into intensely blazing beauties of fall forest life. And then, again, no sooner had you said “wow!” when another breeze comes up, inverting 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. As this kaleidoscope inexorably turns, the once-bright autumn hues, which only recently seemed stunningly immutable and starkly in-your-face, have changed their visual tune. Now they speak to us in more muted, darker tones of faded yellow and orange, rich browns and disintegrating greens. I’m almost afraid of what they’re trying to say. I think it’s something like “Winter is coming! Get used to somber shades, people!”. For that is what is upon us now and it seems that late Fall is the visual practice-palette for the subtle shades of winter, which is rapidly approaching. Thank you all for accompanying me on this incredible journey through the seasons here in Waghkonk - “The Land of Waterfalls Under the Sacred Mountain” (one interpretation, anyway, but I think it fits). Thanks in particular to Christine Ferrante for helping me with this new format - I hope you like it. It has opened up my perception of these Notes and hopefully yours, as well. And, as always, kudos to June Robinson for designing and staying on top of Woodstock Trails lovely website.
Please everyone, have a Safe and Enjoyable season
Take Care, “Ranger” Dave Holden
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