Our eyes are color-starved right now without the color- overload of spring, summer and fall, so that when we do find color in the woods it really stands out. Sometimes it seems to me that the smallest plants make the largest impressions in this season, perhaps in the same way that the hardiness of the small birds does the same. Not to downplay the ever-green of White Pines and Eastern Hemlocks, or the curled-up verdure of the Mountain Laurel, but something about the waxy, shiny brightness of the little, valiant wintergreen leaves defiantly pushing aside the snow to grab their share of sunlight way down on the very bottom of the forest floor that always impresses and inspires me. Wintergreen (Gaulitheriaprocumbens) is a shrub that only grows to about 6inches at its highest. It is commonly found in well-drained acidic soils of conifer and oak forests. Like the blueberries, mountain laurel and wild azalea, it is a member of the Heath family and it is no surprise that they all are commonly found together. Wintergreen was the original natural source for oil of wintergreen used in early beverages and candy (and, yes, chewing gum). Locally, wintergreen is found widely dispersed throughout the area. There were small wintergreen distilleries in Woodstock (see Alf Evers, Woodstock: History of an American Town, page 364). In the 19th- and early 20th centuries, large amounts of it were harvested and distilled in the town of Kingston, on — surprise! — Wintergreen Hill. The top of the hill is still thick with the shiny leaves.
Promises to keep
This is an amazing time of quiet in the woods that are “lovely, dark and deep” as Robert Frost says so well in his Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening. No leaf-blowers, few chainsaws…just the persistent pecking of a downy woodpecker among the tree-boles that seem so dark now against the snow-gleam. In one sense many things in the forest become so self-evident right now. You can tell which direction the snow came from, only plastering one side of the trees.
We can see so far into the woods, without leaves (remember them?) to block our view, seeing birds and squirrels in the near-distance that would have been hidden. Tracking becomes so easy, each track telling its own story. Sometimes a second track intercepts the first one — one story ends and another continues on. The person walking in the woods has to be extra-careful. If bushwhacking, we have to watch out for hidden dips and holes covered over by white and it’s not a good idea to go too close to stream-banks or the edges of ponds because snow may overhang the water. It is no fun at all (and can be extremely dangerous, possibly leading to hypothermia and death) to take an inadvertent “dip” in ice-water. Even walking on trails involves extra caution as ice easily hides under snow. Unfortunately, snow also hides things we wish would remain hidden — our scarred land and the trash which inevitably follows us, for example.
Let’s take this time and enjoy the peace and quiet it can bring, to escape, if only momentarily, the turmoil of our world, to watch the many shades and shadows of the subtle reflections of bright light on snow, while breathing clean, crisp air.
Indeed, this is a time for us to reflect, as well. Please stay Safe and Warm, dressing in layers. Must haves right now: warm boots, hats and gloves; polarized sunglasses will help with glare off the snow and ice; sunblock; ice- grippers on footwear (at least YakTrax); trekking-poles can be a big help; flashlight and/orheadlamp.
To reach Dave Holden, call 845-594-4863 or email firstname.lastname@example.org; also see Woodstock Trails on Facebook; rangerdaveholden on Instagram or www.woodstocknytrails.com.