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FLORA & FAUNA While many of the indicators of our glorious summer are still with us - a plethora of avian life, many insects, as well as heat and humidity - there is also (alas?) much evidence of the seasons passing. All of the usual markers are marching past: the Fireflies have left us - thanks for lighting (lightening?) our Summer; the Hummingbirds and Monarchs (the few that we had) are still here, but will be returning to their winter homes in September or early October; and leaves beginning the first tinges of seasonal change. The insect chorus of Annual Cicadas, Cricket and Katydid is still in full swing, their pitch pulsating subtly as the dew point wavers. When the first cool nights commence, they will gradually slow their song until only crickets and memories are left. Much like human children going off to school, the vast majority of new birds have fledged already, freeing up their parents to prepare for either migration or wintering-over.

HOW I SEE IT - As our green Catskills summer winds down to a spectral fall it is hard not to notice the changes - subtle and not-so-subtle - going on in the natural world around us. I know the season ahead will have its own beauty and much will be written about the exact nature of the changes that are upon us, but for once I just want to expound on the visceral love and the deep emotions I feel for our land here, our Waghkonk - the Land of Waterfalls Under the Sacred Mountain. I added the word Sacred because I believe it is so and that it belongs in this title. At some point I will explain why. I consider myself an integral part of this Land, connected to it, rooted deeply into it (literally and figuratively) in every way possible. I inhale the living air, breathing life into myself and sense it rolling smoothly across my skin. I drink the water-essence of the Land. I walk gently barefoot on the ground, feeling its living-ness pulsing under my feet. I am not separate from the land that I joyously journey upon. I love to watch the clouds prevailing across the Woodstock Valley, marching over Overlook, proceeding onward eventually to my childhood home in New England, reminding me of both where my roots originated and the magical place I've planted them. Our woods vibrate with life at its richest in summer, and when I move through them I know that the forest is an ancient sentient being which welcomes me back within its verdant boughs, for we are old, old friends. The forest floor of summer, like the sunnier fields and meadows, teems with living creatures - the microbial, the minute and the miniature - all engrossed in their daily struggles for survival and to promote their kind, in turn enabling the larger creatures to do the same. They do this all while (inadvertently?) helping to propagate the smaller plants, shrubs and trees around them - all intertwined and enmeshed in each other's cycles. Feeding them all, the open arterial life-blood of my Earth-Mother, the sweet yet nascently powerful Sawkill flows dancingly among the pieces of shattered bluestone and glacial cobbles, timelessly wearing all down with its unceasing flow, smoothing us all down to nature's own common denominator - Life itself, rounded, experienced, caressed, loved. While I will on occasion - even in winter - dip (rapidly!) into the stream, breath taken away in a quick, joyful gasp, heart racing, there is nothing in this world like feeling the wonder of the clear, cool waters of the Sawkill envelope my summer body (for our bodies have different seasons, being a product of that place and that season) under the leafy canopy and beside the lichen-encrusted rocks. I commune with the crayfish and troutlets nipping at my toes - for I am like them, picking at Life, probing at Spirit, both of which are mysteries and much bigger than me (Maybe not. Perhaps that is the Illusion. What if I, you, all of us, were Spirit or God and Heaven was on Earth, here, right Now, and not removed at some distance in Time and Space, far above the clouds?). I watch the Brook Trout and the White Suckers and they watch me. We Are All Related, joined by our love for the crystal-clear flowing liquid life-force. This is part of what Summer is to me. And Damselflies dancing and Dragonflies darting. And the thick, cottony feel of humidity parting as I wade through water-vapor suspended in hot air. And the joyous cacophony of the creature-chorus. I will miss this season - I always do. Maybe that's why we appreciate it, in that crazy human "logic" where we have to have the absence of something sometimes to understand what we had. HOPING FOR RAIN - I've danced around it here, but the utter truth is that this whole area is a tinderbox right now. The forest is suffering. The last good rains we had have already dried off, leaving the feeder-creeks bone-dry and the bigger streams like the Sawkill only about half-full. The morning dew seems to be the only water-source for plants, shrubs and small trees. Every day has not only been unusually hot but also windy, which only further dries out the forest and the ground. I'm kind of surprised that the State, County and Towns have yet to declare the lowest stage of fire-warning because conditions are very dangerous and there have already been brushfires. In nature, fire can play a positive role in the woods - opening up the canopy, helping pinecones to open, releasing their seeds, clearing out underbrush. Indigenous peoples understood this and were adept at preemptive controlled burns. However, modern people have disrupted the balance in the forest, creating the potential for disastrous fires. Let's hope that Water wins. In the meanwhile, everybody reading this please be super-careful with fires. It's not just drought-conditions, it's also the fact that there is so much dry brush in the woods, some of it remnants from our past hurricanes. Doubling or tripling the threat is the incredible amounts of extremely flammable Mountain Laurel. All these things together add up to great danger for the forest - and people. The build up of flammables means that - for the first time in a long time - what used to be a simple brush-fire can now find a "ladder" into the forest-canopy, the treetops. We have all the makings of major forest-fires and with so many new homes built in the woods this could be a real problem - which is a serious understatement. Trying not to worry but the situation is a little scary. Nobody loves warmth and sunshine more than I, but I don't like this weather - it's just plain too hot and too dry - we badly need rain. I hope I'm just being a tree- hugging worry-wart, but please let's all be extra careful.

Thank you All. Please enjoy the rest of Summer, but be Careful and Safe out there. "Ranger" Dave Holden / (845)594-4863 / Woodstock Trails on Facebook / / rangerdaveholden on Instagram


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