LIKE EMBERS FADING - As the fall colors of 2023 slowly dissipate, melting into the Catskills landscape, they gradually change into the more somber tones we associate with winter. Sort of like a fire, if you consider midsummer the highest fire-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 goes out, but just hides in plain sight - hidden under bark or deep in root, waiting for warmth to return. It’s almost like a 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.
AUTUMN WINDS - Winds of seasonal change blow across these ancient hills, lifting dry leaves from their now sapless branches, momentarily making a swirling leaf-devil, before depositing skittering multicolored little beauties onto bench, window-sill and doorway. Late Fall has come to our corner of the Catskills. This wind can be a cold blast from the north or its warmer, southern- born cousin. It can pierce hastily-donned, long-misplaced warm clothing or it can gently caress the skin with its reminder of lost summer warmth. The winds of Fall have their own unique character, whether from the north or from the south. Either way they serve to remind us that much colder times are just around the corner. There is no season that quite compares to a northeast autumn, for not only do we have an incredible full-spectrum, multihued leafy pageant to gape at, all of us oohing and aahing as if we had never seen it before (and, in truth, each Fall is unique and amazing in its own right). Sometimes Mother Earth cooperates and warms October up for us, like she did this year. It seemed like we were living in a wonderful fantasy- land (we do), a bright colorful world that is also comfy and warm, allowing us to walk in the woods in shorts, while wading through piles of dried leaves - all with the extra advantage of no black-flies or mosquitos! The only insect-life to speak of now are the last few butterflies - Cabbage Whites mostly, a couple of stray bees, Ladybugs, lots of Stinkbugs, as well as crickets and the very last few Katydids, not giving up and being very persistent, almost in a desultory fashion. Like the ultimate child that will not go to bed. The last of the Green Darner dragonflies have finally departed south. Yes, we'll still find an ant or two under rocks and an impending warm-spell (even just one day) will bring out more stubborn insects, happily fooled by the brief seeming return of summer. Of course, this occasion will make our wintering small-birds - Bluejays, Cardinals, Chickadees, Juncos, Sparrows, Wrens very happy to have more to feast upon, allowing them to put off their winter diet of berries and seeds.
THE FALL FOREST - I wonder how the forest thinks about the impending winter. I say it that way because I believe the forest is one entire being, each tree just one part of it. I think trees always communicate, whatever the season, through their roots, which are all intertwined - just like how their (our?) lives are. That wind I mentioned before, as it races through the trees, stripping them bare of this year's leafy bounty, is helping the trees, or, perhaps over untold millennia the forest has learned to adapt to having the wind help them shed their dried parts, blowing them to the forest-floor, where first the leaves protect the roots from the worst of winter's cold, then they become another layer of soil for the following season. Pretty darn smart, I'd say. Also, very egalitarian, in that you'll notice that a Beech probably doesn't care if Maple leaves help mulch its roots, nor does the Oak-tree reject the Ash-leaf. I wonder, though, if maybe the hardwoods are not happy to have the more acidic needles of Cedar, Hemlock and White Pine bedding over their rootlets. And keep in mind how important the roots are, preserving the trees vital sap safely underground for the duration of winter. Because the sap is no longer in the branches this allows their limbs to survive the coldest time, when any sap left in a branch or twig would freeze, causing it to split and probably die off, its pith exposed. Another brilliant (in more ways than one) aspect of this is that the branches are much more flexible without their sap, allowing them to bend and bow with the onslaught of the fierce winter winds yet to come. Luckily, for now, we only have the gentle fall breeze to bounce around this years dried crop, scraping along the ground, catching on stick or stone. Or was that the Little People, as the traditional New Year (All Hallows Eve, Samhain) is upon us and the Gate Between The Worlds opens ever-so-gradually, just a crack and just enough for Visitors? Hmm.
KALEIDOSCOPIC - 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 wasn’t enough, the very dynamic nature of this time is truly mind- boggling. Again, using the kaleidoscope analogy, with each turn (each day? each hour? each minute?) 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, 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 even more subtle shades of winter, which is rapidly approaching.
Thank you all for accompanying me on this incredible journey through the seasons here in Waghkonk, “Land of Waterfalls Under the Sacred Mountain” (one interpretation, anyway, but I think it fits). Take Care, "Ranger" Dave Holden / (845)594-4863 / email@example.com / Dave Holden on Facebook / rangerdaveholden@Instagram.com / www.woodstocknytrails.com