Fall has faded like the colors of the leaves as they change from the fresh, bright hues of the early part of the season into the somber tones appropriate to Winter. We, like the animals and plants, have had our frost-warning of what is yet to come and are all “gathering our nuts” (so to speak), each in our own way, in preparation for the cold dark that is to come. The migrators have gone south, leaving only us hardy (and some not-so-hardy) souls to survive, and even thrive, in another Catskills winter.
Overview under Overlook
All of the leaves are down now, like a vast fallen rainbow draped over the land with its color quickly fading. Mild temps will awaken some flies and moths from under bark or shingle and bears from their den, but not the turtles tucked snugly into the mud, nor the woodchuck in its burrow
All spring, summer and fall we bathe in an abundance of sunlight, so much so that we expect it to last forever. As we approach the Winter Solstice (Dec. 21), and our days get demonstrably shorter, we will start to appreciate the importance of that light and its prerequisite for life. It is no wonder that the ancients considered this a powerful, sacred time when the forces of darkness were at their strongest. When obvious signs of life can be hard to find, as we turn into a desert of snow-dunes in a bleak, cold landscape where mice scurry to avoid the hawkish-knife, there will be one beacon of green that will literally standout in our winter woods, offering shelter to many creatures as well as showing us the hope and permanence of life amidst the season of death — the Evergreens. It is no wonder that many cultures consider them to be the Tree of Life.
Weather or not
Besides the eternal evergreens being, well…ever green, there are still patches of verdant life about, lawn- and field-grasses are still exposed, bright green ferns flourishing in micro-climate niches among mosses at the bases of south-facing trees. It could well be that these will be soon buried in white, protectively frozen and padded from inadvertent crushing ‘til spring, for that is one benefit of layers of snow. One of the detrimental effects of recent mild winters (God, I love them!) is a lack of protective snow-cover, allowing herbivorous grazers, like White-tail Deer, to over-graze and destroy substantial amounts of under-protected plants and shrubs. This helps account for their unhealthy lack in our forest understory. Even the endangered/threatened spring ephemerals — Jack-in-the-Pulpits, Canada Mayflowers, Dutchmen’s Breeches, Trout-Lilys and all the rest — are left unprotected when snow is minimal or non-existent. The danger to them is not just from over-grazing herbivores but even from the effect of human feet that stray from trails, accidentally destroying these little beauties we all love (hence another reason it is important to wear proper footwear and staying on the trails, year-round).
Regular hunting season continues until December 11, with late bowhunting season continuing on to January 1, so please keep wearing bright colors if anywhere around hunters, even if you’re on a trail. Also, Fido should wear an orange vest or scarf and it may not be the best season to let them go off-trail off leash. You may encounter hunters using the trail to access hunting areas and I always advise everybody to be respectful of each other. Please keep in mind that they’re only hunting for a short period and that the fees that they pay help the DEC fund many locations where everybody recreates year-round.
Remember to bring a flashlight if you venture into the winter woods in the afternoon — the dark can come up on you very fast. Hats and gloves or mittens are always a good idea, as well. Please stay safe and warm as we approach the shortest day and longest night of the year, the Winter Solstice.