What an amazing spring it has been and like every season it is unique. Also, like most local springs, it seems as if this season takes forever to actually happen. The truth is that spring in the northeast is a time of great (albeit painstakingly slow) transition and impatient humans have a tendency to forget that it is only a step towards summer, not the beginning of summer itself. The hallmark of the Spring of 2023 in Waghkonk (the ancient Algonquin name for the Woodstock Valley) has been a repetitive - sometimes extreme - oscillation in temperature, ranging from 20 degrees above average to 20 degrees below average (a couple of times from one day to the next). Up until recently we’ve had barely enough rainfall (and sunshine) for the plants to leaf out and not enough to discourage a few small brushfires. Luckily, it has rained plenty now, ending any fire concerns - at least for the moment - and I suspect that, as May moves along, the temps will gradually increase.
GREEN LIGHT IN THE WOODS - I love the bright, nitrogen-rich green light that suffuses our world at this time. It’s as if nature has given the “green light” to growth and life. Indeed, every- thing in our forest is growing, jumping up, leaves unfolding, delicate wildflower-petals opening. So many of our Spring Ephemerals are doing their thing as we speak and some of them (Dutchmen’s Breeches, Red Trillium and Trout Lilys) are done already. Interesting how the Trilliums are found more in some places (Bearsville, Lewis Hollow, for instance) and rarely in others (Comeau). I assume it’s because of variations in soils. The Canada Mayflowers (Wild Lily-of-the-Valley) are carpeting our forest floor (above right) with their glorious, tiny little white fireworks-like flowers. Commingling with them is Hay-scented Fern (yes, it smells like hay if you bruise it), Ground- cedar and Tree-wort (both of which are Lycopodiums which run on long runners just under the leaf-litter). Partridgeberries are pretty now, with their bright red berries on show and the Jack- in-the-Pulpits - both Green- and Brown- are just now jumping up. As soon as the forest canopy fully leafs out all of these delicate little beauties will be mostly done for this year, seeds safely sown to await next spring. These are one major reason we should always stay on trail - our heavy feet can damage these sensitive plants even out of season. The Ephemerals come and go so quickly - if you blink...they’re gone (hence the term).
VERDANCY IN FIELD AND MEADOW - Once the woods quietly succumb to its newfound cool darkness the flower-action shifts to our more open spaces. The fields and meadows are already getting pretty with Bluets, Coltsfoot, Dandelions, Violets, both White and, well...Violet! Flitting about them are some early Comptons Tortoiseshells, Gypsy Moths (now called Spongy Moths), Mourning Cloaks, Sulphurs, Whites and a couple of early Yellow Swallowtails. At least there are some Bumble Bees (usually Ground Bees) and Honey Bees out there (hopefully, with more to follow) with more and more Paper Wasps showing up. On the pesky side of the insect- spectrum are the Non-biting (but very annoying) Midges. Our flowering trees - Apples, Cherries, Crabapples, Dogwoods and Shadbush - flowered for so long in the dryness of April, but are now dropping their petals. As the Bee Balm, Goldenrod (not an allergen), Milkweed and Ragweed (the real culprit), and all the other plants of the open, sunny areas grow, more and more butterflies will hatch from their chrysalises, nectaring on them all. Most notable will be the ancient symbiotic relationship between the Monarch butterflies and their Milkweed. The Monarchs have already started their epic journey from the Oyamel Fir forests of the mountains of Michoacán, Mexico and are on their way here to their ancestral summer fields and meadows. Always something to look forward to and hopefully their numbers will be increasing (see www.journeynorth.org for information on all the migrators). MORE SPRING FAUNA - Our first Tree Frogs are out now and will entertain us for the season and will be joined by Cicadas, Crickets and Katydids shortly. The egg-masses of Spotted Salamander (white) and Woodfrogs (light green) will be hatching into tadpoles soon. If you wonder why they incessantly dart back and forth, ducking under submerged branch and leaf in their vernal pools - they have good reason! They are prime food for many others, including (but not limited to) Great Blue Herons and Raccoons. This is why their egg-masses are so large - because only a few will survive to hide under the leaf-litter come next winter. In the meadows the Deer Mice, Jumping Mice, Meadow Voles and Moles will revel in their protection under the new-grown ground-cover at the base of the burgeoning Bee Balm, Goldenrod, Milkweed and Ragweed, giving them some protection from the hawkish knife and the deep-prying eyes (and ears) of owls. The extremely sensitive noses of our wild canids - Eastern Coyote and Grey- and Red Foxes - tells these creatures that the mice are there, but it will be harder for them to be rooted out. Remember - you can pick up a birds egg and put it back in the nest, but do not touch a newborn fawn - BIRD’S EGGS - YES, FAWNS - NO, and for opposite reasons. Birds have no sense of smell, so their parents won’t smell your scent on the egg; whereas, since the fawn was born scentless (yes, it’s incredible - but true) to help it avoid predators while it is helpless as a newborn, you could imbue it with your scent if you touch or move it, possibly causing its mother to reject it. Black Bears are out now, roaming the valley looking for food (am seeing bear-sign every day), at least until the Blueberries and Huckleberries fruit up in the hills. Some will have cubs, of which Momma Bear will be very protective - one more reason to keep Fido close to hand. Spring Turkey Hunting has started, so please wear orange and stay on the trail. CYCLES - Seasons come, seasons go. Mother Earth keeps spinning out the days and nights of our lives as she makes her year-long sojourn around Father Sun. Things grow, things die. We get older, new life is born. Summer changes to Fall, Fall morphs into Winter, back to Spring and then Summer again. Winter, the time for introspection and reflection, teaches us about inward growth, which, in turn prepares us for the new world of external growth we call Spring. Perhaps we are like the new, fresh buds, about to unfold into another Summer - turning a new leaf in our lives.
Thank you all.
Please have a Safe, New, Exciting Spring -
“Ranger” Dave Holden
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