WINTER GREEN (part 2),
A WILD RIDE INTO A FEBRUARY THAW - I've written recently about what a "rollercoaster" of a winter it has been - up and down, warm and cold, back and forth. An amazing (and kind of confusing and maddening) winter thus far. Sunlight increasing day-by-day gives us all the hope of spring, then those hopes are dashed by crashing cold and snow. And here we go again! Just a few days ago, we were in bitter cold and now (and through the next week, at least) we'll be unseasonably warm, with all of our snow in the Woodstock Valley having melted already and filling racing streams. I know Spring is just around the corner, just not sure which one.
LIFE SUSPENDED - Hopefully this warm period is not a harbinger of what is to come. People said that the Groundhog predicts six more weeks of winter. MORE? Heck, we haven’t had a real wintery stretch, yet. Yes, a couple of bitter cold days, a few inches of snow once or twice, but that’s it so far for just about the mildest January-February I remember for a while (famous last words? Bring it on!). Maple-sugaring has already started with a great sap-flow from what I hear. I wouldn’t be surprised if some plants start budding. Most can re-bud after another freeze, if necessary, but not all. Meanwhile, if the weather stays mild, some bear might start waking and roaming (bear don’t really hibernate, they just nap and not all the boars (males) stay down anyway), so watch the bird feeders. I don’t think this will wake the real local hibernators like Woodchucks, Jumping Mice and Cave Bats, and definitely not the various turtles buried deep in the mud, though I have seen Woodfrogs rouse in another warm February, then (luckily) go back to sleep. I suspect that this is when these animals dream - do they dream, like us, of warm waters and sunny skies? Which reminds me - I also wonder - our migrating friends - like Hummingbirds and Monarch butterflies - do they dream of their favorite, ancestral patches of Beebalm and Milkweed in our northern gardens and meadows? Do the older ones regale the younger ones with stories of happy summers in our distant land? Until such time as we find one of their lost diaries we’ll probably never know.
PRAY FOR SPRING RAINS - Personally, like many of us, I generally enjoy mild winters. They allow me to explore our backwoods more readily, without snowshoes and it’s easier for me to guide hikes or do paid trail-work with no snow. But there may be a price for us to pay for this - and it could be a high price. Traditionally, this area recharges its ground-water with snow-pack. It was not uncommon up until the ‘80s to find snow under north-facing ledges in May or even June - not any more. We’ve been lucky in recent years with mild winters to have been bailed out by heavy spring rains. We’ve all watched the horrifying videos of great fires in California and in Australia, scorching their landscapes, burning homes and destroying forests and their wild inhabitants. Not to be a Davey Downer, but catastrophic fires CAN happen here and have occurred in this region before (though it’s been a while) - and could (and probably will) occur again - with much worse consequences than in the past. The fire-towers of the Catskills were built because of the ever-present threat of forest fires, which did constantly scour these rolling hills a hundred years ago, leaving some areas a charred landscape (though not as bad as earlier, in the 1800s when the entire Catskills were a burnt-over devastation, which is what inspired the creation of the Catskill Park). One difference between then and now is that at present there are many houses built in among the formerly wild woods. The old-timers could (and did, many times) let wild-fires burn until they went out. Now, with so many homes in the forest, the peril is three-fold - to the myriad buildings and to the firemen that will have to risk their lives to protect them, as well as to the forest itself. The sources of my concern are the immense amounts of underbrush collecting in the woods and the out-of-control over-growth of highly flammable Mountain Laurel, both of which create a “ladder” for brush fires to climb and become crown fires, potentially destroying much of our forest - and the homes (of people and of wildlife) within it. Unless the forest-floor is cleared of underbrush, and the Mountain Laurel is reduced greatly - all of which Native Americans once did (now called Cultural Burning) - we face the likelihood of major fires returning. Our lack of snow-pack thus far this year and what that usually means in terms of drought and fires leads me to hope and pray heartily for lots of spring rain to charge our water-table. Unfortunately, though, unless we remedy the situation, it’s only a matter of time before we have a disaster (which could have been prevented) - if not this year, then another. Every level of government should start working together immediately to find a way to prevent this potential disaster from occurring. See “Forests and Wildfires: Fixing the Future by Avoiding the Past” at www.fao.org . All of the worlds’ native cultures knew how to care for their forests - that’s what we need to learn to do.
SEASONAL ROLLERCOASTER - It’s true - our seasonal rollercoaster continues - a few days mild and dry, a few days cold and sometimes snowy. This is the same cycle we’ve experienced since last June - only it is the cold version and cold nights and warm days is what makes the sap flow. While snow and ice have disappeared for now from most of the Woodstock Valley (except deep among the Eastern Hemlock and Whited Pine thickets), if you’re venturing into the hills please look out for ice higher up and be prepared with traction-devices of some kind.
Thanks to everyone for all of your continued encouragement and support.
Please visit Dave Holden on Facebook and at www.woodstocknytrails.com.
If you like Instagram, stop by at rangerdaveholden.
My email is firstname.lastname@example.org and my cell is (845)594-4863. Have a happy and safe late-winter.
Probably still a good idea to take a flashlight on walks in the
woods and keep the Yaktrax or spikes handy.
Take Care, "Ranger"Dave Holden