Now that winter winds are no longer whipping down our mountain slopes, and the icy snows are melting fast, the green carpet of life can start threading its way inexorably, steadily upward into every nook and cranny, every gully and hidden quarry of our southeast Catskills. Little shoots of Wild Chives, that somehow survive — even thrive — under the snow, gladly reach for the sky, alongside wide leaves of Ajuga, itself always one of the earliest plant-harbingers of spring. Bright red Partridgeberries poke upward from their long runners. These are just a few of the very first of this year’s verdant parade — the fun’s just starting! And while it’s true that the vernal season is upon us, it behooves us all to not get too excited just yet (notice the title of this piece). Remember, the beginning of April is just as volatile, just as unpredictable, just as crazy as March. We may well take three steps forward into spring, but then get knocked two steps back into winter. I’m reminding myself of this, as well. Even though I’ve experienced many winter-to-spring transitions, I can fool myself just as well as anyone else, into elatedly thinking “spring is here!” then get depressingly knocked backwards into snow and freezing rain.
Each warm day becomes a tease, letting me see what wonder is so close, and yet still so far away: the warmth of the sun; one desultory Honey Bee scouting around; my first Compton’s Tortoiseshell butterfly (usually one of the first to show because they overwinter as adults, already to unfold when warmed); my first snake (a young Eastern Garter); a few migrating birds; sudden amphibious action with turtles, Spotted Salamanders, Spring Peepers and Woodfrogs. While I have to give kudos to any creature that can survive an outdoors Catskills winter, the Woodfrog (Lithobates sylvaticus) has a truly unique approach to doing so. These little frogs spend the coldest time of year hiding in plain sight, under leaf-litter, and amazingly — virtually frozen solid. Their blood contains a glycol-like chemical that allows them to freeze without damaging their delicate cells, to come back to full life when the weather slightly warms and the sun’s angle is at a certain height. A truly phenomenal adaptation which also allows them to cavort and mate — very raucously — in newly-thawed Vernal Ponds and Woodland Pools. Indeed, to watch them do their thing in literally ice-cold water, even among the retreating miniature ice-shelf of a pond, is a wonder to behold.
Stay on the trail
Wear the right waterproof footwear and please stay on the trail. Walk straight down the middle, for if we stray and walk around the trail we enlarge it, making the trail-maintenance job much more difficult (by increasing destructive erosion). And, just as importantly, we increase the likelihood of destroying sensitive endangered/threatened spring ephemeral wildflowers just off trail that are on the verge of unfolding.