WINDING DOWN(part 2)
-I’ve grown to love Summer - nearly all of it, anyway. I love the heat - maybe not when its too oppressive, but I do appreciate it, knowing that it won’t last. I figure I should savor every moment of this, enjoy each and every bit of warmth and humidity, because I know the time is coming when we gradually (and sometimes not so gradually) add layers on, then more layers, as the season progresses. Even wearing more clothing is not a problem because that is what makes wearing less clothing so enjoyable - it’s a natural cycle - one of the wonders of the four seasons. I guess the part of the coming time that I don’t look forward to is the gradually waning, oppressive loss of light. It’s not the seasonal change in temperatures that I mind so much - I dread the increasing darkness. Our Summer, Fall, Winter, Spring cycle makes us appreciate each and every season (each one does have its own beauty, some more subtle than others). We tend to think of summer as ending when school starts but the truth is that September can be very warm in the northeast. I remember as a kid in school in Maine, wearing a jacket in the crisp early Fall morning but going home with it tied around my waist.
FAUNA - The fourth and final generation of Monarchs (of the few we had) has morphed (metamorphed?) from its caterpillar-form into a butterfly and will be nectaring up a storm as they prepare for their epic journey to wintering sites on the Oyamel Fir trees in the mountains of central Mexico. Usually, this occurs in late September/early October, but so many flowers drying up may start them off early. This is the longest living generation and will survive ‘til spring, when it finally mates. Our Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are now fattening up on nectar for their pending departure. Male Hummingbirds leave first (mine have already left - earlier than last year). Females follow two weeks later (I think mine just left), then - get this - the juveniles two weeks after - by themselves! How do they know where to go and how to get there (in their DNA? Hummingbird road-maps?)? One of the most amazing mysteries in nature. They almost double in weight (from 3.25 grams to over 6 grams) as they get ready for their adventure. One difference between the two creature’s strategies is that while our Monarchs fly over land, going west, then south, around the Gulf of Mexico, most of the no less incredible Ruby-throats dash straight across the 500 mile-wide Gulf, intrepidly flying due south to the Yucatán peninsula in an 18-22 hour flight (down to 2.5 grams by landfall). Some will island-hop across the Bahamas and the Caribbean, leaving from the Keys. When I lived in Key West, I knew boaters that would keep hummingbird-feeders on their boats - and somehow the little birds would find them in the vastness of the Gulf! There are birds and whales that make longer migrations but these two creatures are ours - spending a good part of their lives in our fields, gardens and meadows in the Southeast Catskills. Both Monarch and Ruby-throat are permanently intertwined with our landscape and our lives. I’ve said it before (and I’ll probably say it again) but, just as we daydream of our summer fields in winter, I’ll bet that both creatures - the regal butterflies and the valiant hummers - dream of our golden, sunny meadows while they wait out the cold season. Maybe they even regale the younger ones with glorious tales of ancestral patches of Milkweed or Beebalm in the north. We’ve had plenty of Dragonflies here this season. Some will start migrating soon and others will lay eggs in local waters to hatch here next season. Green Darners will migrate soon, newly hatched from eggs laid in the spring, flying up to 900 miles from as far north as Canada down to Mexico - not bad on 2 inch wings and also never having been there before! The mysteries of migration, indeed (see www.journeynorth.org and www.spiritofbutterflies.com) Finishing up the insect-theme (they do seem to dominate our summers - though not as much as they used to), our Cricket Chorus continues, Crickets, Seasonal Cicadas and Katydids continuing to serenade us as they surf our pulsating dew-points, most active when the dew-point is high (“Katydid it - no she didn’t, Katydid it - no she didn’t” well, did she or didn’t she?). As the season progresses and the weather cools, their chant will slow, eventually getting downright lethargic, then taper off altogether until next year. Only the Crickets will remain year-round. That’s why I try to enjoy this aural feast while I can. This season’s White-tail Deer fawns are rapidly losing their spots. I try to collect them, but don’t have many because they start dissolving as soon as they touch the morning dew. I save them for next year’s little Bambis who sometimes don’t have enough spots (?). Most birds young will have fledged, making their own way in the world. Bald Eagle fledglings are on their own now, officially becoming Juveniles. As I mentioned previously, Black Bears are normally scooping up Blueberries, Raspberries and Wild Strawberries at this time, young cubs tasting their first wild fruit, but this is not a normal season as everyone in Waghkonk knows. FLORA - The Beebalm is gone, upseting my Ruby-throat guests (they now have one young - a female), but it may also be what tells them the time to nectar up for the long trip south is here and I think sooner rather than later, with so many flowers dying early. Milkweeds are seeding, little parachutes adrift on late summer winds. I encourage people to spread the seeds into the wind - but only when the pods are fully open. The various Goldenrods (not an allergen) and Queen Anne’s Lace are filling the meadows, getting all the attention. The more subtle, dark-brown Ragweed (the real allergen-culprit) hides in plain view. Multiple species of Aster are still present. The few fungi present are running late and other effects of drought are showing in the forest where too many leaves died and are stuck on branches before they could separate naturally.
EQUINOXING INTO FALL - While, yes, it is obvious that I love our Summer in the Southeast Catskills, I am enamored of the ENTIRE cycle of our seasons. Coming up is normally our most spectacularly colorful season - Fall (but, again, not a normal season so far). If we’re lucky, we’ll cool down gradually as September progresses, giving us a chance to get used to the seasonal cooling, step-by-step, layer-by-layer. The combination of full-spectrum foliage and mild temperatures does give us something to look forward to in our (seemingly?) endless seasonal cycling. It will bring better weather for hiking and for splitting and stacking firewood as we prepare for the next season. Somehow, mixed in there, I hope we continue to get rain on a regular basis, particularly with literally thousands of tons of tinder-dry leaves about to blanket the forest floor. As I’m sure you’ve all noticed (whether you wanted to or not) it’s getting dark earlier and earlier. Soon (Thursday, September 22, 9:03pm, to be exact) will be the Autumnal Equinox - always considered one of the four holiest days of the year by many cultures, when daylight will approximately equal nighttime and from there on it’s only downhill as the darkness gradually exceeds the light, on our way all the way down to the darkest time of the year - the Winter Solstice (just to use one of many metaphors to describe this process). Thank you all for your continued interest and support. Please look for my articles monthly now in Hudson Valley One and at insideandoutupstateny.com .
Have a great Summers End and early Fall.
Take Care, “Ranger” Dave Holden
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