THE GOLDEN SEASON
The summer light wanes, sending an ancient signal to all beings in the northern hemisphere that it is time for each one in their own way to prepare for the colder, darker season that looms ahead. Leaves will soon start to color and birds are beginning to migrate. All the creatures that will be staying are getting ready in their time-honored fashion. Early September, though, in the northeast almost deserves to be its own season - I suggest Summerfall. Summer-like, but not quite summer anymore, with many nights being cooler, yet the days can still be hot, it doesn’t exactly feel like fall. It is a time of subtle transition, as autumn gradually creeps up on us. As I write this, it is 68 degrees at 11pm, the windows are wide open and I'm enjoying the "Cricket-chorus" immensely. The Katydids are "Katydidit-ing" up a storm and the Crickets sound like a hundred billion little bells loudly, madly ringing for all they're worth. This is very enjoyable weather but hardly unusual in the northeast. Just because the calendar (and the school year) says Fall does not mean it is so. It still feels like Summer. Even as a kid in Maine, I remember starting the school-year going to school with a jacket on, but wearing it around my waist coming home in the September heat. I’m thinking it will be a richly-colorful season since most of the hardwoods (Ashes, Birches, Maples, Oaks, etc.) still are thick with leaf, even as their branch-tips start to take a golden turn. Gold seems to be the theme for early fall in our woods, as well as in our fields.
STRANGE SUMMER - It was a strange summer, indeed. It never once got so hot for so long that I wished for Winter (soon enough, anyway). No really bad, overwhelmingly thick insect-life, as evidenced (to me, at least) by a lack of the "windshield effect" - large amounts of bugs plastered by wind-speed onto my windshield. July brought us record rainfall and heat. August, not so much. Pretty much their reversal of average historic roles. With the heat and wind we’ve had locally, rapidly drying everything out, it is amazing that we’ve headed off brush-fires so far. Let’s keep our fingers crossed here because there's so much underbrush in the woods, and a great excess of highly-flammable Mountain Laurel. Also, considering that in a few weeks the forest floor will be covered with layers of gorgeous, multihued - and very dry - tinder, we could easily trigger the forest's greatest nightmare - full-on forest fires - if we don’t consistently keep getting rain. With back-to-back hurricanes forming I could see us going from average wet to drench with no trouble. Having spent time in desert, if given the choice, I think I would always prefer “too much” water to “not enough”. AUTUMNAL FAUNA
As the light gradually changes, Fall is gently, subtly triggered, different animals responding in different ways. Some creatures like Black Bear and Woodchucks start to plan for a long winter's nap by fattening up a bit (though the 'Chucks seem plenty fat already). Another adaptation is migration. The Hummingbirds will be doing it shortly, actually gaining a whole gram or so of weight to fuel that powerful little furnace of theirs to help take them all the way down the Appalachians, then an intrepid 500-mile non-stop dash across the Gulf of Mexico to their wintering grounds in the Yucatán. The Monarchs are preparing to leave on their own long journey to sunnier climes. At least we've had a few of them around this year. Not as many as last year, but seeing any at all is a thing of beauty. I know they're threatened both at home and here, but I'd love to think their population will bounce back (visit www.journeynorth.org for more on all migrators and www.spiritofbutterflies.com for more on Monarchs and local efforts to help them). Many of the incredible Dragonflies have gone already, leaving their eggs in freshwater to hatch as larvae next year. Now mainly the huge (for dragonflies) and indomitable Green Darter still zips around. It seems that the one Great Egret we had this season has abandoned us already, but the intrepid and prehistorically evocative Great Blue Herons are still around (and will probably stay for a bit, some even into winter). Local Bald Eagles are still feeding on fish in local ponds and reservoirs. Our Black- and Turkey Vulture friends will stick around to haunt us at least through the fall (and do their bit as part of the roadside Cleanup Crew, along with Crows and Ravens).
The meadows and fields have transitioned from the multitude of many-hued summer flowers to be dominated now by bright yellow Goldenrods. These beauties get a bad rap when their pollen, in fact, is not an allergen, since they are pollinated by birds and insects rather than the wind, which does pollinate the dark brown, highly-allergenic Ragweed (easily missed and not as photogenic). The Goldenrods serve a valuable function now by providing nectar to migrating butterflies, since most of the flowers of summer are gone. It is an important plant for our meadows because it feeds many of our small birds that don’t migrate, as well, and mice, Moles and Voles that, in turn, feed our wintering Coyotes, Foxes, Hawks and Owls. Together with numerous Asters, they will become temporary home to many different species of caterpillars that birds migrating from further north will relish. Milkweed will be seeding shortly and I always encourage people to spread their silky parachute-like seeds - but please wait ‘til the seed-pods are fully ready, when they open on their own. With so much heat and moisture this year has been a banner year for fungi. The golden meadows are so richly alive in the early fall sunshine. While I’m sure they’ll miss their Monarchs, the meadows thrive now with the subtle thrum of myriad bees busily nectaring - the veritable hum of Life itself. Cabbage White butterflies dance wildly up and down across the flowers, swirling specks of white light dancing together, then apart. Green Darters zip about, hawking hapless small insects (and some not-so-small) from midair and the stalks of dead and dying Beebalm twitch with the otherwise hidden passing of a small rodent. The Great Wheel of the Seasons turns as the Cycle of Life inexorably continues. We humans have our own rhythms in the matter. Most of us will hunker down, get out the warm clothing, beef up the wood-pile, tighten up the windows, etc., and some will migrate to warmer climes. I like to point this out to show that despite all of our technology, we still respond - whether we know it or not - to the rhythms of the natural world around us. A glorious Fall is upon us in the southeast Catskills. Let’s make the most of it - “make hay while the sun shines”.
Thank you all for your continued support and encouragement.
Have an enjoyable and Safe Fall (?).
“Ranger” Dave Holden
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