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winterspring 2024

THE WORM MOON - Finally the increasingly-higher angle of the Sun’s rays will start to have an effect. Snow doesn’t last as long and ice melts faster now. The very first little green shoots of Ajuga and Wild Chives will find sunlight coming through a hole in the snow. I can identify! The Worm Moon comes from the time when the first worms will find their way to the surface on a mild, very early spring day, making any Robins nearby happy. This name must have originally come from Southern tribes because the glaciers had thoroughly scoured any native worms out of the northern half of North America. Worms found here now were brought from Europe or Asia. Other names for this moon include the Spring Moon of my Passamaquoddy friends in Maine. Moon of Crusty Snow is found in several midwestern states and Maple-sugaring Moon, or just plain, Sap Moon is common, for obvious reasons. Further afield, the Arapaho called March the Moon When Buffalo Drop Their Calves and for the Haida it was Noisy Goose Moon. It is the time of the Spring Equinox (Tues., Mar.19, 11:06 pm) and the beginning of a new Season of Life.

WINTERSPRING - Even though winter is still upon us, occasionally pummeling the southeast Catskills with icy nor’easters, or fierce arctic winds blowing lake-effect snow past our mountain shield, there are unquestionable signs of Spring. The Sun is our biggest clue. There are more hours of daylight and increasingly so by the day. Not only that, but the angle of the sun’s rays is higher now, allowing their effects to be more fulsome. This increase in sunlight is the trigger for many plants and animals to start the spring seasonal cycle. Having said that, I must point out the hard (cold?) fact that these effects are very, very gradual, making this season possibly the most frustrating of all. That’s why I divide “Spring” into Winterspring (early spring) and Summerspring (late spring). Summerspring is what everyone loves, when nature comes alive with greenness. March seems to take forever, getting us to that point. 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’m not sure).

FAUNA: Micro to Macro - Overlook, our holy mountain, is looking over us, a mostly silent witness to our wintry travail. I say “mostly” because there is never total silence outdoors in our part of the world. Even if for just a short while you were able to walk deep enough into the woods to separate yourself, however temporarily, from the hustle and bustle of the 21st century, to eliminate the sounds of vehicles, wheeled or winged, you might be surprised how much life is around you. Particularly in any south-facing location, evidence of life will abound in our seemingly-lifeless wintry desert, as more light reaches the forest floor, quickly melting snow to expose small plants hungry for warmth. That same light will encourage the occasional moth to unfold from under tree-bark and may initiate the first, very early unfoldings of Spring. A unique, but easily missed, phenomena you might witness right now are Snow Fleas (Winter Springtails). I’ve found them popping out of gaps in the snow at the base of trees - tiny, flea-size bugs (no relation to fleas) that hatch at this time and cavort on the snow, like so many lively specks of pepper (see photo at right). Again, they are easily missed, dismissed by the eye as so much dirt or dust. It does pay to pay close attention to nature. Not so easily missed (though many still do) is the presence of Bald Eagles, as well as several species of Hawks and Owls - as they all begin their yearly mating and nesting cycle. Most notable, of course, are our burgeoning eagles. Having mated by now, and with their short gestation (an amazing 5-10 days), the female and the male will soon be taking turns to keep the egg warm, only leaving the egg(s) for a second or two as they quickly switch places. In many years of eagle-watching I’ve only seen the switchover ten or twelve times and have yet to get a really good photo or video of it (I will eventually). These Moms- and Dads-to-be have to take breaks to clean themselves, to defecate and to hunt for both of them. They have to stay on the egg for 35 or so days and will do so intrepidly, no matter the conditions. I’ve seen their nest whipping back and forth in high winds as well as inundated with torrential rains and they won’t leave. Most impressive was seeing just ones head sticking up out of a major snowfall that buried the nest. The Pileated and other woodpeckers never really stop in their endless quest under the bark of dead and dying trees (I also see them working on otherwise healthy trees like a kind of avian acupuncturist, taking out the bad stuff). The local “clean up crew” - Crows and Ravens - have been rejoined now by their larger assistants - Black- and Turkey Vultures. They are all doing fine on the remains of Grey- and Red Squirrels on our roads. And perhaps, if you’re very still long enough you may see a Deer Mouse, Meadow Vole or Short-tail Shrew stir under the dried leaves, trying hard to feed their incredibly high little metabolisms. Watching over all of this, whether circling high or observing keenly from a tree- branch, will be a wintering hawk or owl, eyes peeled and eager for those same small rodents to show themselves, however briefly. Everything about our local Red-tail Hawks, Red-shoulder Hawks and Barred Owls is tailored by millions of years of evolution to deftly listen and watch keenly for the slightest leaf-rustle, to then quickly and silently swoop down and grab its hapless prey. FLORA - SYCAMORES STAND OUT - It’s true - in winter the American Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis) truly stands out. The rest of the year Sycamores, with their natural, original camouflage patterning, blend in completely in the forest canopy. Also called American Planetree, Buttonwood and Water Beech, this beautiful native tree is easily distinguished by its unique, mottled bark (maybe the original inspiration for camouflage?) which constantly and naturally exfoliates (peels off). I’ve always loved these trees and am constantly amazed how hardy and strong they are. Most seem to grow along the streams here and, by doing so, can take quite a beating, yet they just keep on growing, no matter how bent and battered they get. One I know is almost totally hollow but is still growing (evidently this is not unusual for them). Indigenous peoples had many uses for Sycamores, from kindling and firewood to wood for carving bowls and utensils and building dwellings. The inner bark was used extensively medicinally and the leaves were used to wrap bread during baking. Right now their round seed- pods are easily seen against the winter sky and will soon release their little helicopter-like seeds. Please remember the freeze/thaw cycle and watch for ice on the trails (too soon to put away traction-devices). With drastic temperature swings, late Winter/early Spring can be a challenging time and dressing in layers is recommended. Also, this is when the trails start getting muddy during the day, so please wear the right - waterproof - footwear and stay on the trail - don’t go around puddles (which expands trails and can destroy delicate plants about to come up) - go through them. I thank you and the small plants thank you, as does the trail keeper.

Take Care, “Ranger” Dave Holden / (845)594-4863

Woodstock Trails / Dave Holden on Facebook/ rangerdaveholden on Instagram/


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