The title of this piece describes this last week perfectly - it seems like we went from spring to SUMMER! in just a few days, with everyone dressed down and plodding around in the 80-degree heat and humidity. There is no doubt anymore that Summer has finally come to the Southeast Catskills. I say it that way because in early May Summer seemed so far away. The first couple weeks of May were colder than average and wet, but the last half of the month flip-flopped on us to become generally hotter than average and dry. The light in the woods has changed so abruptly. Last week, the trees and shrubs still wore their bright, light green Spring coat, betraying the high quantities of nitrogen permeating everything as the land became suffused with Life. Now, after all the heat, and with added rain - voila! - like the everyday sort of magic which it absolutely is, the forest is now shrouded in the cool, dark green of Summer, its canopy filled in for the season, mysteries temporarily hidden by the Mother’s verdant mantle. This time is the epitome - the very definition of - fecundity, of fertility. Following is just a partial list - a sample - of what is happening now and of what is yet to come.
FLORID FLORA - (This season never ceases to amaze us - nor should it be any other way). The early Spring Ephemeral wildflowers - Dutchmen's Breeches, Woods Anemones, Spring Beauties, Purple Trilliums, Trout-lilies - have cycled through, rapidly giving way to those of late spring - Brown and Green Jack-in-the-Pulpits, Canada
Mayflowers (Wild Lily-of-the-Valley) and Starflowers. High, steady winds have finally removed the remnants of last year's Beech leaves that had stubbornly clung to their branches all winter, like old soldiers hanging in there, protecting the new buds 'til they're ready to open. Well, they're fast unfolding now as the leaves of the forest fairly
leap out on to branch and limb. This is all part of the cycle because the Spring Ephemerals have adapted to take advantage of the open woods of early spring, the time when clear bright light penetrates all the way down to the forest floor (this also creates the potential for brush-fires as last years leaf-litter becomes dangerously dry). An exception is the ever-present Partridgeberry, strung out on long runners through the forests dappled darkness all year-round. Similar are the Lycopodiums - Ground Cedar, Tree Wort and Club Moss - also growing on long surface runners. Other plants will take their turn, ones that are tuned to thrive in the newly-dark understory of summer (if they survive the over-browsing of White-tail Deer). One such example, our easiest to find native orchid - the Mocassin Flower (above) (most call them Pink Lady-slippers nowadays) is up now in its secret places (I’m not telling). Another common denizen of our dark woods is the False Solomon’s Seal. More rare is the True Solomon’s Seal, with their small pretty white bells hanging. Our myriad different ferns are here to stay - Sensitive Fern (which I thought was a New Agey nickname, but it does indicate wet places), Hay-scented Fern, New York Fern (unlike other ferns, pointed at both ends - local lore says this is because - like New Yorkers, they don’t know whether they are coming or going) and others. Once this change occurs, and the newly-bright-green, high-nitrogen vernal color of the forest changes to the darker green of summer, then most of the flower-action will switch over to the more open, sunnier fields and meadows. Some field-flowers are already out - Bluets by the bucket, Forget-me-Nots (how could we?), Cinquefoil, Mallow, the different Honeysuckles, Multiflora Rose, Raspberry, Wintercress (Yellow Rocket), Chickweed, Wild Strawberry, Cinquefoil, Dame's Rockets (which have four petals but are commonly confused with the later-blooming Phlox, which has five), Long-stem Buttercups nodding in the breeze, with Beebalm, Goldenrods and Ragweed soon to come. It looks to be a great season for the different Heath-plants, Lowbush and Highbush Blueberries, the beautiful, but rare Wild Azaleas and the Official Flower of the Town of Woodstock, the amazingly gorgeous - but highly-toxic - Mountain Laurel, which is rapidly outgrowing the other Heaths, dominating our hills in many places, should flower mid-month. Poison Ivy (PI) (“leaves of three, leave them be”) is found in the verges between forest and meadow. It is proliferating wildly now, supposedly from Climate Change, successfully adapting to longer warm seasons. So much so that it is the first Native plant to be declared Invasive. Interestingly, Jewelweed - a natural antidote for PI - commonly grows in its general vicinity. You can’t miss the showy flowering of the Locust trees right now, but probably will not see the flowers of the Tulip Tree, which are high up. If you’re lucky you’ll find some petals on the forest floor.
FAWNING FAUNA - More and more butterflies are showing up - Captains, Viceroys, Skippers, Sulphurs, Tiger Swallowtails, Whites and others, as well as numerous moths and an increasing Dragonfly population. Also here now are Fireflies, though not many (our overuse of lawn- chemicals may be affecting their population). Hopefully more will come - it is early for them. There are not enough bees, as well, which is disheartening. New Milkweed plants are jumping up, preparing for their midsummer rendezvous with young Monarchs now winging their way north from the mountains of Michoacan - a truly incredible, epic journey. Theirs is an ancient, beautiful, symbiotic relationship (see
www.journeynorth.org and www.butterflylady.org ). Another record-breaking local migrator is the Ruby-throated Hummingbird. That this thimble-sized creature can wing its way 2,000 miles itself is amazing, but that it can make the 500-mile dash across the Gulf of Mexico from Yucatan is truly astounding. There are other birds that migrate further than hummingbirds, but none so efficiently and dauntlessly, existing - thriving, actually - on small amounts of nectar, as well as the occasional insect. This tiny, intrepid creature has to dodge high winds, predators, spinning wind-turbine blades, wires and cables, spider-webs, more predators - and all in order to build a teacup-sized nest high in one of our trees, probably in the same place where they’ve built nests for untold thousands of years. Hummingbirds fearlessly face off larger birds when necessary, not backing down in territorial disputes. Please remember, if you do feed Ruby- throats, to only use a white sugar and water mix, to keep the feeder clean and don’t feed them anywhere where a cat can reach them. Our White-tail Deer does have given birth now to their little spotted Bambis. Please remember that if you find one seemingly abandoned in the tall grass - DO NOT TOUCH IT - the mother is most likely feeding nearby (see my May Note - Green Light - for more on this). This is in direct contrast to birds-eggs or nestlings - you can safely pick them up and return them to their nest (thereby becoming a hero to its parents). So many new animals and plants (and a few fungi - taxonomically in between) it is a bit whelming, maybe even overwhelming to keep up with it all. Having said that, it is fun nevertheless to try to follow the rapidly-rising Tide of Life that is joyfully inundating us with its green, vibrant pulse. And what a great joy it is to feel the warmth all around, to see new life everywhere I look, to be able to feel the close-as-they-ever-will-be, high-angle, direct rays of sunlight piercing my body, washing my soul of winter’s cold clutch. And to also be allowed the extraordinary extravagance of feeling the rain- and spring-fed, clear cool waters of the Sawkill caressing, massaging this older, tempered, but still strong body. This water tumbled far down this not-so-ancient (at least in geological terms) glacier-carved creek, babbling its primordial memories, cascading over ledge after ledge with hidden Trout, making its way down to the storied Hudson and home to the ocean, then eventually back here in some future rain. We concentrate so much on the obvious vibrancy of forest and meadow that we forget the more subtle richness of the riparian world of our water-courses.
ENDLESS JUNE - Glorious June days begin early, the Sun rising about 5 o’clock, possibly because there is so much to do. There can be as much as 15 hours of sunlight now, as we approach our magical Midsummer - the Summer Solstice (6/20) - the longest day of the year.
June days begin leisurely and quiet, as insects slowly wake sluggishly from the nights chill. It is a generous month, a flowery month - the culmination of Spring. We will see a surge in growth this month which is basically what makes late summer so fruitful. Essentially, June sets up the fecundity of July and August, but never gets any credit for it. Perhaps it doesn’t need the credit because it knows its one of the most gloriously beautiful times. Birds sing as if they never sang a
song before (some haven’t), crooning their hearts out like the world’s most forlorn lovers, intent on wooing their chosen one (or at least any one that is nearby).
Singing songs seemingly written for this moment alone. Humans have this tendency to think that everything happening around them is for their own benefit and enjoyment. Springs have happened long before
people and will most likely continue on even if people disappear. The leaf unfolds to absorb light to support the main part of the plant. The shade and soothing green it creates is a byproduct of that and was not designed for people - though untold millennia of poets and writers (myself included) have always claimed otherwise. Their incredible blooms, as well, are made to attract pollinators and to perpetuate their species and people can (and always will) make of them whatever they
may. Every form of life abounds right now, all rapidly on the increase, as every creature and plant jumps onto the band-wagon we call Summer, ready to go on that wild ride we call Life -
thank you all for sharing the Journey with me.
Please have an enjoyable and safe season
"Ranger" Dave Holden
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