Monday, January 16, 2017

Winter (?) Woods

by Beth Sullivan
January has the reputation for being a little fickle with a tendency to have a “January Thaw” somewhere near the end. Lately Mother Nature’s mood swings have been a bit more drastic, and all happening in a week’s time.
Last weekend we were snowed in; just shy of a foot of snow fell here, with frigid temperatures. The snow was beautiful, light and fluffy and the woods were cloaked with a purity and crispness that we hadn’t seen yet this season. Judging from the tracks on several of our preserves, a number of people braved the cold to don snow shoes or cross-county skis. I was fine with just boots.
With snow on the ground, the brook was just a series of dark holes in the white.

Visiting Paffard Woods

Paffard Woods is beautiful any time of year. Always something new to see. Because it is close to home, it is a favorite to drop into, to check the trails, look at the water levels in the brook, and, unfortunately, to do a necessary trash pick-up in the parking lot.
The beige leaves of the beech trees remain in contrast to the snow, and rustle in the wind.

With the fresh snow, the trails and woodlands took on a lovely soft rounded and bright look. Thanks to some earlier rain, there was some water in the brook, and the open pockets looked dark and made for pretty contrasts. In some places we could still hear the little gurgle of the brook, not fully frozen, under the snow and between the rocks. It was easy to see where squirrels had dropped into the snow and possibly tried to find previously buried acorns. There were some interesting prints, where birds had landed on the snow, only to find it was probably deeper than expected, and their wings left prints as they lifted themselves out. All in all a cold yet quite lovely hike in the woods.
Something popped out to find a snack.

The soft impression of a bird's wing.

Fast forward just a couple of days; the temperatures hit the upper 50’s, there was heavy rain, and literally overnight the snow disappeared. The warmth seemed to stir more squirrel activity as we saw them foraging through the leaves, but no prints this time. We saw a few moths and hoped they were not the dreaded Winter Moths still out and looking for reproductive opportunities. The feel of the woods was like April. There was almost a humidity to it. The streams were running quite full, and we undammed a few areas where leaves and debris had blocked the flow and created flooding around the bridges. (Playing in running water is fun anytime of year as far as I am concerned.) The water flowing under and through the stone bridge on the middle trail was so beautifully noisy, we just had to stop and listen and spied some evergreen Christmas fern still looking fresh. We noted skunk cabbages up in the wetlands; the moss was an exuberant green on the rocks and ledges, and the lichens were all soft and rubbery from the abundant moisture.
With rain and snow melt, flooding needed to be relieved.

After the thaw, the moss and lichen were refreshed.

The brook is refilled, and the mosses and ferns tease us with their emerald color.

Not Spring yet

I know we are in for more cold. As much as I enjoy the respite and warmth, I know the temperature swings are not good for many plants and animals. We do not want things emerging from hibernation, teased by warmth and thawed wetlands. We do not want to see flower buds begin to swell, all only to be blasted back by the cold we know will come. We do need things to stay in sync. So much depends on it. But it sure is fun to see so much variation in a short time, in a familiar place.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan.

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