Like Embers Fading
As the fall colors of 2020 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 disappears, but just hides in plain sight, hidden under bark or deep in root, waiting for warmth to return. The Great Mother has banked the fire very well, to keep the buried embers hot to wait for spring-time, the season of life, for them to be stoked back to warm vibrancy.
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,
multi-hued 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 just a bit for us, but this didn’t happen this year (at least not yet and I don’t think it will). When Indian Summer does happen, it's like we live in a wonderful fantasy-land (we do), a brightly colorful world that is also comfy and warm, allowing us to walk in the woods in short-sleeves, kicking leaves (I think I have the beginning of a poem here!) and all with the extra advantage of no
black-flies or mosquitos!
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, it is helping the trees, or, perhaps over untold millennia the forest has learned to adapt to having the wind help it shed its 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.
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 sound of the feet of 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.
By and large, the bird-friends you see now will be with us for the winter, the rest having left for warmer climes. The larger birds-of-prey sticking around are the wintering hawks, most notably the Red-tails and Red-shoulders, several species of Owls, most commonly the Barred Owl, as well as the Black- and Turkey Vultures. There are still Great Blue Herons present and if weather is mild, they (and the vultures) may well stay in the neighborhood. Local Bald Eagles will be fishing more on the Hudson but will return to Waghkonk in December to fix up their nest and start planning for the next cycle. Our intrepid little Black Cap Chickadee-dee-dee-dees won’t soon abandon us, darting around incessantly from bush-to-ground-to-shrub-to-tree, like diminutive feathered vacuum-cleaners, cleaning up the little stuff - small insects, seeds, whatever comes their way, same as all the other Small Birds - hardy survivors, all. The only insect-life to speak of now are the last butterflies - Sulphurs and Whites - a couple of stray bees, Ladybugs and the very last few Crickets, not giving up and being very persistent, almost in a desultory fashion. Like the ultimate child that will not go to bed (some of which will survive part of the winter in my garage, forlornly chirping from a cold corner). The last of the Green Darner dragonflies have finally departed for their unknown migratory location. Yes, we'll still find an ant or two - even a salamander - under rocks and a short warmspell (even just one day) will bring out more stubborn insects, happily fooled by the brief seeming return to summer. Of course, this occasion will make our wintering small-birds: Bluejays, Cardinals, Chickadees, Juncos, Sparrows and Wrens very happy to have more to feast upon, allowing them to put off their winter diet of berries and seeds. Miscellaneous moths and spiders are still hanging in there, becoming fewer and further between as successive cold nights hammer our natural world with the frozen reality that is upon us now and will most likely only increase. It was a banner year for all the small rodents, which will make the aforementioned birds-of-prey’s winter somewhat more survivable.
THE GATEWAY BETWEEN SEASONS AND WORLDS
As autumn is the gateway between summer and winter, many believe that the gates between
the worlds of Life and Death are open now. Hence the origin of the Celtic holy-day Samhain, which became the Day of the Dead and Halloween. You get the feeling sometimes - whether in the howl of the wind in the trees, the sudden spirit-swirl of leaves or the quick scurrying of something through the dried grass - that visitors from the Otherworld are afoot, visiting their old haunts while the cosmic door is open. There is a distinct, palpable feeling about that the earth is stripped bare, in preparation for the daunting season that is to come, as the ancient European Celts or the Native Americans would have stripped for battle. This is the time that we reap the harvest of 2020 and look back on the wonders of
the season that lie behind us, its fecundity, its green-ness and richness. As the coldest season
approaches, as the earth and the trees upon it becomes more and more barren, colors muted to more subtle tones, we venture into another world - the world of Winter.
Remember that if you’re venturing into the woods in the afternoon now to be sure to have a flashlight with you - sunset can happen fast. Hats are in order since we lose the most heat from our head and gloves or mittens will protect our hands.
In what ever manner you pray (if you pray at all) please give your thanks to the wonderful season of 2020 and the harvest of life manifest all around us that it brought forth. Please pray for the forest and all the wild animals, big and small, as they prepare for the life and death trial of the season ahead. And please, please let’s all help each other through the coming season of cold and dark.
Thank you all and stay Warm and Healthy.
Take Care, “Ranger” Dave Holden
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