HIGH SUMMER LIFE-STORM
Once again the Earth has cycled back to where its northern half (which happens to include us is tilted towards the Sun, giving us our longest days and some of our warmest weather - our High Summer. In our corner of the Catskills, and on our reach of the Hudson Valley, in terms of burgeoning life-forms this is a rich, rich time of year - a veritable Life-Storm. We are literally surrounded by the fruitfulness of the season. The heavy, humid air we wade through is thick with insect-life (though not as much as other years). Every specie of animal is busily reproducing their kind and raising their young. Myriad plants, shrubs and trees are racing for the sun, sending out new roots and making seed. The very topsoil at our feet is seething with countless forms of life - animal, insect and microbe. We’ve passed through that wonderful (literally, full of wonder) mini-season we call Midsummer. Our days are still long, having peaked at the Summer Solstice. We have so much light (although less each day) and are surrounded by a true immensity of Life. What a contrast this is to mid-winter, when we desperately seek the little light there is and have to work to find evidence of life in the land. We have a perfectly Catskills High Summer going for us, with its commensurate, full-spectrum effects assaulting all of our senses - and it is going fast.
SEASONAL CYCLING - It never ceases to amaze me how time passes. It was not that long ago that it seemed like Spring would never get here as each tiny green shoot ever-so-slowly poked its way above the newly-thawed soil, then another, and another - slowly, fitfully bringing that special, brand- new, bright green nitrogen-rich color of the vernal season upon us. While the woods were still open, before the hardwood trees leafed out, we were then flooded with the bountiful, yet subtle, beauties we call the Spring Ephemerals. But the seasonal clock kept ticking, the forest filled in and morphed to the deep, dark green of Summer and the flower-action changed to the open, sunny fields and meadows. And wild and flowery the fields and meadows are, as every plant races for the sky while digging their roots deeper and deeper into the earth. What a great image for this electric, magical time, when it does seem that the Summer sky, itself so full with life, is extra close to the fecund, fertile, verdant earth. To my pagan self, it is as if the Earth is giving birth and the Sky is leaning closer, attending to Her. After all, if Spring is the time of conception, of the generation, of Life, then High Summer is the time of fruition.
STEP RIGHT UP! SEE THE EARTH MEET THE SKY! - “Step right up, folks, to Father Sky and Mother Earths Magical, Mystical Midsummer Madness Extravaganza! See the night-sky Shimmer with Light and Life! Feel the heat and humidity smack you in your face with the very force of Life itself! Hear the Daily and Nightly Cricket Chorus! Watch Earth and Sky in their yearly Dance - teeming with multitudinous life-forms! Make Hay while the Sun Shines! Hurry, Hurry, Hurry!” (Sounds like Summer to me.) How appropriate for this season the saying “Make hay while the sun shines” is. It seems that everyone and everything is continually overtired from trying to do EVERYTHING - which is very natural when we have so much light. This is probably so with many creatures - numerous bird-species are on their second brood of young now. The hawks are most likely sleeping well after a long day of watching the youngsters fledge. So many animal parents are probably going through this at this point. Heat lightning shimmers and Fireflies flicker to a chorus of Seasonal Cicadas, crickets, Katydids and Tree-frogs. Accompanying the aural and visual feast of this magical time is the raw sensuality of wading through the thick, super-heated air. At this season one can feel the sky pressing down as the earth rises to meet it. If mid-winter is the time of dormant life and inner reflection, when the tide of life is at its ebb, then this must be the peak of the Season of Life, our seasonal high-tide - when the Earth meets the Sky.
FAUNAL FLORA - Most of the local flowering has now switched from forest to meadow and field. Present now in our open spaces are Bee balm, Goldenrods (not allergens), Ragweeds (very much an allergen and I know many of you are so looking forward to their pending pollination), Queen Anne’s Lace, Wild Strawberries, Wild Blackberries and Raspberries, Long- stem Buttercups, Red and White Clovers and many others. Our leas are home to so many butterflies - Black and Tiger Swallowtails, Brushfoots, Captains, Comptons Tortoiseshells, Dusky-wings, Fritillaries, Hairstreaks (I’ve said this before - what a great name!), Hop Merchants, Metalmarks, Mourning Cloaks, Nymphs, Questionmarks (but why?), Satyrs, Skippers, Snouts (!), Spring Azures (photo on the right), Sulphurs, Viceroys and Whites, for example, and numerous moths, including the amazing Bee Hawk moth. The highlight of our local wild-flowering season should have been when our plethora of Milkweeds flowered in time for the yearly arrival of the awesome Monarchs, but, unfortunately, we’ve had only a few of these butterfly kings and queens show up as they still struggle in their home habitat in Mexico. Our other local long-distance migrator, the incredible Ruby-throated Hummingbird, arrived on schedule and in what appears to be normal numbers. These are truly amazing creatures. As flyers they can hover, dart side-to- side and reverse - all of which no other bird can do. For their tiny size, hummers are totally fearless in defense of their nest. I’ve seen them successfully confront, and chase away other birds five to ten times their size. Equally amazing is their incredible metabolism which allows them to fly so far on such small amounts of nectar. Dodging threats just going up and down the Appalachians is one thing (cats, high winds, airplanes, cars, wind-generators, etc.). But the fact that this tiny bird can actually fly non-stop across the Gulf of Mexico to their wintering sites in Central America is absolutely astounding and one of the wonders of nature. Just being an amateur observer I get the impression there are fewer insects, in general. Definitely, not as many Bees as there should be. Of course there’s no shortage of those insects that are inimical to humans, like midges, mosquitoes and the various tick-species (definitely more ticks than ever), but I’m not walking in the cloud of insects, buzzing all around, like it used to be in mid-summer. Also, just judging by the “windshield- effect” (or lack thereof) the bug population is down. Our Cricket Chorus - Crickets, seasonal Cicadas and Katydids - sounds healthy, chanting day and night.
The short Firefly season started slow but has picked up nicely, turning into a great season for them, but never long enough. As I write this I’m enjoying the rare and short period (one week?) when Fireflies are overlapping with the Crickets, in a wonderful aural and visual high-summer treat. I always love Lightning Bugs and wish they could grow fur and bless us with their presence year round. Plenty of Dragonflies this year, doing their bit to trim the small insect population. Not sure, but it also seems that the small-bird population is down somewhat, which, since they’re dependent on insects, makes sense. No such issues with the various Hawks, Herons and Owls, and certainly not with the burgeoning Bald Eagles (photo of an immature on first page). PLEASE BE EXTRA CAREFUL - This is the season of great, sometimes frenzied outdoor activity, so please be extra careful in whatever you do. Keep an eye peeled (another great saying!) for exposed tree-roots, waiting for the unwary. Watch out for the stone turned up by the walker ahead of you who wasn’t paying attention. While these are real, everyday things to watch out for, they are also metaphors that symbolize how we all have to try to be more aware of our surroundings and everything we do in them. Everything we do affects (and effects) everyone and everything else around us. I believe that our role here should be as Stewards of the Land, caring for it, nurturing it - not as casual, short-sighted destroyers of it. Do we protect the Land as a (literally) priceless legacy for the future (in which case our children and grandchildren will look back in awe and gratitude at our prescience)? Or do we selfishly over-develop it now, to meet short- term, myopic purposes that will only disturb and muddle the entire landscape? This is the immense pressure that our land is under right now and why it is particularly important for us all to be extra vigilant and ready to act. We’ve had more than enough rain here in the wettest July on record. Still it is truly amazing how fast the heat and wind will dry out the woods and meadows. Everything - the forest, the fields and meadows and all the grasses in the ponds and along the streams - is a rich, dark green and the more it rains the more verdant it all seems to become. A “green glacier” doesn’t seem to quite fit as a description - too slow for such a dynamic time. A Green Tsunami racing across the landscape, burying us in verdure, is more like it and does help describe our High Summer Life-Storm. The days are noticeably shorter, the Sun not rising as high in the sky as before and the Thistledown, loosened by frenzied Goldfinches, flies in the warm wind of late summer. While, yes, Fall is on the way, Summer is still here. Let’s enjoy it, for a colder time is coming, when memories of the Sun’s warmth piercing heavy, humid air will be just that - memories. Please make those memories good, safe ones. Thanks.
“Ranger” Dave Holden
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