“High Summer” By Ranger Dave

My quiet crusade in The Pocket Guide to Woodstock is to promote hiking in Woodstock. For a town covered with forests, Woodstock has surprisingly few marked trails. Visitors must feel frustrated by seeing so much green terrain, but finding so few places to park the car and explore. Enter my friend, Dave Holden, who has contributed six hand-drawn trail maps to The Pocket Guide that are the highlights of the book. With luck, these maps will encourage readers to venture on new hikes, such as the new Byrdcliffe—Mount Guardian Trail that Dave and his friends laid out this spring. It’s a gem.

For years, Dave has been my guide to little-known corners of Woodstock, where he has mapped out old woods roads, bluestone quarries, and Native American ceremonial burial grounds. He appears in several chapters of Walking Woodstock and could fill a book of his own. Now he runs his own professional guide service, Pathfinder Hikes & Tours. I should warn you that Dave is an ambler not an aerobic trail hound. You won’t cover a lot of miles. But you’ll see more in the woods than you knew was there.

For years, Dave was an unofficial keeper of the Comeau Property, known to many of us as Ranger Dave. (Decades ago, when he was younger and newer to Woodstock, he was known as Holden, a not unintentional reference to Holden Caulfield. But that’s another story.) Every so often, Ranger Dave updated us with his seasonal reports, lush pieces of nature writing that reminded us to savor our natural surroundings. Here’s one from July, 2011.

“High Summer Life-Storm” Waghkonk Notes, July 2011

By Ranger Dave

Once again the Earth has cycled back to where its northern half (which happens to include us) is tilted toward the Sun, giving us our longest days and some of our warmest weather – our High Summer. In our corner of the Catskills, and on our reach of the Hudson Valley, in terms of burgeoning life-forms this is a rich, rich time of year – a veritable life-storm. We are literally surrounded by the fruitfulness of the season. The heavy, humid air we wade through is thick with insect-life. Every specie of animal is busily reproducing their kind and raising their young. Myriad trees and and other plants are racing for the sun, sending out new roots and making seed. The very topsoil at our feet is seething with countless forms of life – animal, insect and microbe.

Even though I’ve experienced a good number of northeast summers they always amaze me. Each one is unique and this one is no exception. The element that truly stands out this year is water, water, water. Actually, 2011 has been a great year for water in our area. It started with plenty of snow-melt. Then we transitioned to lots of spring rains and now we have (so far, at least) plenty of summer rain. At one point the Sawkill water-level had started to recede. That didn’t last long, although it is interesting how rapidly a hot wind will dry out the woods and lower any stream’s water-level. Right now it looks like there is no danger of there being any low water in the Lower Esopus watershed (which, of course, includes the Sawkill) anytime soon. At least the “Yoo Hoo effect”, created by the DEC’s over-release of sediment-rich water from the Ashokan this past fall and winter, has abated. Of course, that’s just what we see on the surface. It will take a while to determine exactly what damage this did to the ecosystem of the Lower Esopus. Hopefully, the long-range health and biodiversity of this beautiful creek will not be effected (visit esopuscreekconservancy.org) Personally, if given the choice of too much, or not enough, water (naturally-occurring, not reservoir over-releases) I would choose “too much” over “not enough”. In our area, in general, drought is much more disastrous than flood. It has a wider reach and many more negative effects. One major effect is fire which can permanently scar a landscape (and further increase damage from flooding, by the way). Fire is something we don’t think about that much now because the worst fires we’ve had in recent time have been brush-fires (I’m not including the big fire at Mohonk a couple years ago). It’s been a long time since we’ve had major forest-fires in the southeast Catskills. We’ve made the potential problem much worse by leaving the woods thick with underbrush, which gives a brush-fire a boost into a crown-fire – a forest’s worst nightmare. Also, we have been building new houses amongst the trees and underbrush – dangerous for loss of property and perilous for firefighters that would have to fight them (in the old days the fires were allowed to burn themselves out). I think this is very unlikely to occur this year, although if it did stop raining (right!) and the weather stayed hot and windy, we would all be surprised how quickly everything would dry out. Our incessant rain may have affected the Cicadas. Last year at this time we already had chorusing Cicadas for a few weeks. Perhaps the ground needs to dry out more before they can hatch.

Most of the local flowering has now switched from forest to meadow and field. One exception is the Partridgeberry. Growing on runners along the forest-floor right now their bright red berries are present as well as their little white, trumpet-like flowers, standing up as if declaring their pride in making such pretty fruit. Present now in our open spaces are Beebalm, Goldenrods, Ragweed (which I know many of you are so looking forward to their pollination), Queen Anne’s Lace, Wild Strawberries, Wild Blackberries and Raspberries, Long-stem Buttercups, Red and White Clovers and many others – most notably, Milkweed. While our meadows and fields right now are home to so many butterflies and moths – Black and Tiger Swallowtails, Brushfoots, Dusky-wings, Fritillarys, Hairstreaks (I’ve said this before – great name!), Hop Merchants, Metalmarks, Mourning Cloaks, Nymphs, Questionmarks (why?), Satyrs, Skippers, Snout, Spring Azures, Sulphurs, Viceroys and Whites – the reigning king and queen of them all – the Monarch – is just starting to show up. Perhaps these are the first scouts checking to make sure the green, sunny, open spaces they had dreamed about while wintering in Mexico were really and truly present. Who knows, perhaps generations of Monarchs have passed down stories of these green meadows – their Avalon. Unfortunately, they are threatened by increasing development which destroys Milkweed habitat so essential for their life-cycle. These are amazing creatures when you consider their epochal migration over thousands of miles and the challenges presented to them in doing so (see www.journeynorth.org). Also, their intertwined dependence on and with Milkweed should teach us about our own dependence on the varied elements of the world around us.

Hopefully, all of your summer journeys will not be as challenging as the Monarch’s, yet every bit as rewarding. Enjoy the season and please do it safely.

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The Mother Grouse Blog is produced by Will Nixon, author of My Late Mother as a Ruffed Grouse and Love in the City of Grudges available on-line.

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