Snow-devils spin their spritely dervish-dance, winds rage across the suddenly-winter landscape, snow and sleet pelt the window-panes, brown leaves skitter helplessly across rapidly shifting snow-dunes to fly up against tree-boles plastered in wind-blown whiteness. Branches bend and break, shedding the weak or old. Whole trees bow deeply down in obeisance to the power of the arctic Winter-king as we are all reminded of his bitter-cold might (just in case we had forgotten). The small-birds are the only ones to brazenly venture forth. All other creatures (us included) hunker down to wait out the snowy onslaught, huddled closely together in primeval awe (and possibly raw, unutterable fear) of the incredible power of our sometimes still-wild world. Maybe this is a good thing, to be reminded of how really small we are in the scale of the universe.
As northeast winds howl through the Catskills and Hudson Valley, and the Lady re-dons her snowy mantle, almost all vestiges of what once seemed like an early vernal season have been mercilessly and rapidly buried under icy winter-white. I (and others) have aptly used the “rollercoaster” analogy to describe this winter’s back and forth confusion, alternating warmth and cold. Well, evidently the ‘coaster stopped and not at a Spring-y location. Nope, as everyone reading this readily knows, it came to rest in a very wintry place - most intensely so in the early hours of Friday, February 4th in the form of a devastating and widespread ice-storm which knockout out power for most residents of eastern Ulster County, some for many days. Not only unprecedented in its scale, locally, but in duration of its effects, as well, as ice stayed on the trees for several days. Initially, even in the black-out that followed, the glittering ice was beautiful, subject of many photos, but quickly got very old. Thank goodness there was no high winds after the storm subsided or the effects could have been even worse.
We will be dealing with the after-effects of this for many months, maybe years, because the storm was like a giant shredder in the woods. There was already many blowdowns and much accumulated underbrush still in the forest from not-so-recent hurricanes and nor’easters, which alone has created a potentially dire future forest-fire danger. Now, due to this one single event, there are many, many more branches and downed trees littering the forest floor, as well as tons of widow-makers suspended high above. Amazing.
Crazy, indeed - just when we all thought the trend was toward Spring - the days are noticeably longer, more and more migrating birds have returned ready to mate; numerous small plants, shrubs and trees had started to poke up their green shoots or branches to bud, but Nature evidently runs on its own cycle. Just because we mark time with our silly calendars and make exhaustive notes of the "signs of spring", the earth is not constrained in any fashion. It is probably not concerned with us. That may deeply disturb many people who have been raised to think how powerful we are, that the earth somehow revolves around our tiny little selves. On top of all that, climate-change is real and is contributing greatly already to drastic changes that we (and the earth) are experiencing. That being said, and even taking into account what an (obviously) crazy month March can be, Spring is still "just around the corner" (exactly which corner, I don't know). I can see the effect that the higher sun-angle adds to the longer days on our recent white "blizzard-gift", encouraging more - and more rapid - melting than we would experience in the shorter days of mid-winter, but we may still have snow left on the ground on the first day of Spring, Sunday, March 20. Days like these - like our devastating Ice Storm of February 2022 - all of us at the mercy of the elements - serve to remind us of things that we'd rather forget - but never should. Events like this ice-storm should serve to remind us to try to be prepared - for whatever life/ nature throws our way. We should always have a full pantry, so we don't have to panic at the advent of a storm, which can sometimes be quite sudden. Having a back-up heat source is also extremely important. Sounds obvious, but it is surprising how many don't take it seriously until it is too late. We need to drive slowly and to steer into a skid. Try to keep your gas-tank full and have a blanket, gloves and hat in the vehicle. In the woods in the winter always carry a light in case of the onset of darkness and dress appropriately, wearing your gloves or mittens and a hat. Again, I know much of this sounds like common sense (it is), yet many need to be reminded. It is not uncommon for me to see people walking up a trail in winter dressed in street- clothes, with just light hat, gloves and jacket. People are always surprised how fast it can get cold once the sun sets. Re: footwear - I can't emphasize enough how important the right boots can be, particularly with spring thaw coming (yes, it will happen). I put it that way because without the right shoes people have a tendency to walk around muddy spots, thereby going off the trail and possibly damaging delicate endangered plants-to-be, still buried just off trail, and making the trail-keeper's job more difficult. Remember - wear the right shoes and walk through the mud.
Tough time for White Tail deer - with snow either too deep to walk in (if above their knees, deer have a tendency to break their legs) or if too icy, and they can't feed, white tails "yard up" in deer yards, in among the pines. I wonder - do the deer, all huddled together tell stories about other storms? Are the younger ones more scared than the older ones, as the mad winds race through the trees, pelting, stinging them with wind-blown snow? They have excellent hearing - are they extra-sensitive to the howling winds? Do they post sentries to keep a lookout for coyotes? It's rough weather now for Wild Turkeys, also - not enough browse for them and they also become more vulnerable to the predations of Eastern Coyotes, as well, who will take advantage of the turkey's clustering together in the shelter of hemlocks and pines. WINTER/SPRING As you can tell, I love Spring (who doesn't?). The only issue I have with it is that it takes seemingly forever for it to come to fruition. I know I've said it before, but all of the other seasons fairly zip along, whereas spring always seems like it takes forever. For one thing, with March as an example, early spring is really hard to tell from late winter. At this moment, we're still apt to get below freezing and have snow. It is some consolation to know that it will not last on the ground as the angle of the sun is higher and the surface is considerably warmer than it had been, yet it always frustrates us ("We want spring and we want it now!"). Maybe it would help if we made four minor seasons to connect the four major ones - Winterspring, Summerspring, Summerfall and Winterfall - to each other. Then it might be easier to adapt from one to the other. Still, I think Spring will always suffer from our green expectations after so long without verdure. It's probably only "psychological" (either that or it's all in our heads) because we need the green of life so much now after (seemingly) going so long without it. Well, as everyone likes to say, finally "the light is at the end of the tunnel" and getting closer every day. Hang in there all Thank you all for your continued encouragement and support. Let's try to enjoy this late-winter landscape, but please be safe in doing so and I also suggest that we try to be extra-considerate of each other in this time. Please drive, snowshoe, ski or walk in a mindful fashion, being aware of others - and the earth - around us. Thanks again. Take Care, "Ranger" Dave Holden (845)594-4863; firstname.lastname@example.org; please visit Woodstock Trails on Facebook; see my nature photos on Instagram at rangerdaveholden ;
and visit www.woodstocknytrails.com