As the bright green tide of the new season slowly advances up the sides of Overlook, Spring returns to Waghkonk in all its glory. This is a transient reminder of the progression from relatively lifeless light brown of Winter to life-full green of Spring. This is a time of wonder, of great magic - the incredible everyday magic of Life. It is only natural that people engage in hyperbole at this time, in sometimes successful attempts to show our appreciation and awe. I wonder if part of birdsong, hawks sweetly keening, squirrel- and chipmunk-chatter and all the other creature communications is poetic animal hyperbole (why not?), expressing their joy in partaking of another cycle, and of course, the desire to continue their kind. Now each and every plant, shrub and tree is growing “to beat the band” - racing for the sky, putting roots down deep, filling in the forest understory and the meadow alike. It’s like we arrived at the original natural traffic-light at the intersection of Life and Light and the Earth is saying GO and everything is GOING and growing, not to slow down ‘til the Fall when the light changes to yellow and red, and everything finally slows down (because the engine of Life never stops, it just idles for the winter?). Welcome to the fullness of the Verdant Season, everyone. I hope you enjoy this small tribute to it.
GREEN LIGHT IN THE WOODS - I love the bright light-green light that suffuses our world at this time. Everything in our forest is growing, jumping up, leaves unfolding, delicate flower-petals opening (it does seem that many of our plants and flowers are a week or two early this year). Our early Spring Ephemerals are doing their thing as we speak and some of them - Dutchmen’s Breeches, Purple Trillium (also called Wake Robin), Wild Anemones and Trout-lilies - are done already. Interestingly, the Trillium-population is patchy, found in some places in Woodstock and not in others (very few at Comeau, but many in Bearsville, as an example). I’m assuming it is due to variations in soils. The Canada Mayflowers (Wild-Lily-of-the-Valley) flowered at the end of April, which definitely is early (couldn’t they at least wait ‘til May? I mean they are MAY-flowers, not APRIL-flowers, after all.) Many square miles of Woodstock’s forest floor are carpeted with these tiny little white fireworks-flowers (I love this phrase and use it every year). Commingling with them are Hay-scented Fern, New York Fern (pointed on both ends - like New Yorkers, they don’t know if they’re coming or going) and the lycopodiums: Club Moss, Ground Cedar and Tree Wort. The Brown- and Green Jack-in-the-Pulpits are up now and the Partridgeberries have their pretty red fruit on show. Also present are the eponymous Star-flowers. As soon as the forest-canopy completely leafs out, the last of these delicate little beauties will disappear (hence - “ephemeral”), their seeds safely sown to await next spring. These are a major reason we should always stay on the trails - our heavy feet can damage these sensitive plants even out of season.
GREEN LIGHT IN FIELD AND MEADOW - Once the woods quietly succumbs to its newfound cool darkness the flower-action shifts to our more open spaces of field and meadow. The open spaces are already getting pretty with Bluets, Buttercups, Coltsfoot, Dandelions, Forget-me Nots, Violets - both White and, well...Violet, etc. Already flitting about these early flower arrivals are the also-early Mourning Cloak and Comptons Tortoiseshell butterflies, as well as Whites, some Sulphurs and Gypsy Moths. Some Honey Bees and Ground Bees are present (not as many bees as I would like) and numerous Paper Wasps already. On the pesky side of the insect-spectrum are the Non-biting (but very annoying) Midges (“non-biting” because they are males. The fun starts shortly when the females hatch and they want their blood meal). As the Beebalm, Goldenrod, Ragweed, Milkweed and all the other flowering plants of the open, sunny areas come up and out, more and more butterflies will hatch from their chrysalises to nectar on them. Most notable, of course, will be the symbiotic relationship between the Milkweed and our reigning butterfly Kings and Queens - the stately Monarchs. Coincidentally (not!) they are on the way here from the mountains of Michoacan, Mexico, as I write and are due to arrive here almost exactly when the Milkweed matures, to grace us with their sublime beauty (see: www.spiritofbutterflies.com).
NEW LIFE BEGINS - It’s all happening now. The Woodfrogs have done their thing, hatching from green egg-masses clinging to submerged Alders in vernal pools, to thousands of tadpoles - little black commas racing around. The Spotted Salamanders are about. I usually find the adults under rocks and their white egg-masses clinging to vegetation also in vernal pools. Their eggs have also hatched now, though I haven’t seen the hatchlings (at least I haven’t “spotted” any). Both the young salamanders and the tadpoles are prime pickings for the returning Great Blue Herons, Raccoons and others. This is why there are normally such large egg-masses and then so many tad-poles and young salamanders - not many of them will make it to adulthood. Green Frogs are in the streams now and miscellaneous turtles are about. Tree-frogs (Spring Peepers) are here, with Crickets, Katydids and Cicadas soon to follow - all will be adding to our coming nighttime chorus-to-be of the approaching Summer of 2021. More and more insects are unfolding from their hidden lairs under bark, leaf and siding, to play their crucial role in the food-chain, being the primary ingredient of bird’s diets. Also, each day brings increasing avian life as the migrators - flocks of Blackbirds and Grackles, so far - return from warmer climes, just in time to feast on the ever-burgeoning insect smorgasbord (no coincidence this - all part of the Great Plan that humans are messing with). The largest birds - Bald Eagles, Great Blue Herons and Ospreys (Snowy Egrets, soon) are all taking advantage of the growing fish-populations in now-open waters of creek, pond, reservoir and stream and the tiniest migrator of them all - the indomitable Ruby-throated Hummingbird - is due momentarily from its incredible journey from the Yucatán (see journerynorth.org). All the small rodents - White-footed Mice, Meadow Voles, Moles and the ever-voracious Short-tail Shrew - will be happy with the increased insect-life on the ground. This is the time when the White-tail Deer does will be dropping their little Bambis, long-legged, ungainly, spotted bundles of incredible cuteness (which, actually - and amazingly - will be able to run and gambol about very soon). Immediately upon delivery, the fawn will be left alone, hidden in tall grass, while mom feeds ravenously nearby, desperately trying to regain her strength. It is not uncommon for well-meaning people to think the young one is abandoned when in fact it is actually perfectly safe from predators because of an amazing adaptation - they have no scent. This allows them to hide successfully while the doe is feeding. I’ve watched a Black Bear - with the best olfactory sense of any mammal (five times that of a Bloodhound) - saunter right past a newborn fawn hidden in the tall grass. I know I’ve mentioned this before, but it is very important not to touch a newborn fawn. By doing so you may imbue it with your scent, possibly causing the mother to reject it, leaving it to a miserable fate by allowing predators to smell it. Yet the opposite is true with birds - they have no sense of smell, so you can safely return a fallen egg or nestling to the nest. (Don’t touch Fawn, Egg into Nest.) Most likely you will become a hero to a nearby father-and mother-bird. Many birds will be hatching now, parents hovering around them, feeding and cleaning their helpless and featherless young, starting them on the long road to fledging.
SUDDENLY SPRING - In the week or so that I’ve taken to write this, much of that which was unfolding so very slowly - ploddingly, even, as Spring is wont to do - has already unfolded and burst forth into a verdant riot of green, an increasing deluge of vibrant life flowing forth all around us. There is more going on than I could possibly write about in these few pages, so I suggest that you please visit my website and the Woodstock Trails Facebook page, where I’ve posted extra photos, hoping that each one will be worth at least “a thousand words”. It is so wonderful for us to have this season, a fantastically fulfilling counterpoint to this - extra-dark and Covidly-dismal - winter past, which at times seemed like it would never end as we each looked longingly on the prospect ahead of us - this Season of Life. Well, it is finally here. Please enjoy it.
REMINDER - A few important things to remember: for one thing, as we hopefully continue to get sufficient rains to help everything green up, please do not forget to WEAR YOUR MUD-SHOES and STAY ON TRAILS - do not widen them by going around puddles - walk straight through. By walking around them you not only risk destroying soon-to-emerge delicate and endangered wildflowers but you also make the trail-keepers work much more difficult. Thank you. Also remember that Spring Turkey Hunting Season runs from May 1 - May 31, so please be extra-cautious (and courteous to hunters you may meet on the trail) and perhaps wear bright colors if around hunting areas. The vast majority of hunters are considerate people themselves and their licensing and equipping puts valuable revenue into NYSDEC that supports State initiatives for trails and their upkeep. NYCDEP does have designated No Hunting areas nearby that are accessible for hikers (www1.nyc.gov ) and their website is easily navigable for not only finding maps of those locations but to apply for Access Permits, which are required. Again, please be kind and courteous to others - animal, human or plant. If this means leashing your dog to avoid conflict, please do so. Also, let’s give wildlife extra space right now as they all are nesting in one form or another, and this is a particularly sensitive time for them.
Thank you all for your encouragement and support.
Please enjoy this beautiful Spring safely.
Take Care, “Ranger” Dave Holden
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