April 1, 2015
Chapter Chair Tom Wheeler’s Musings on the Season
My favorite season in the North Country is spring. It is not the classic spring of my childhood in Ohio where spring rapidly develops into summer. No, in the North Country spring begins with long periods of anticipation when the longer days and bright sunlight promise warmth but the landscape still holds the remnants of winter.
The first sign of the end of winter are those longer days. With the sine wave of day length, the most rapid changes in the length of daylight occur at the equinoxes. While around Christmas the change in day length is measured in tens of seconds, in the North Country the daylight increases more than three minutes each day for the thirty days centered on the equinox. The sunset appears to move rapidly north during this time.
The response of the natural world is also rapid . Take the time to observe and savor the changing world. The ice in the rivers melt rapidly, on the lakes it melts more slowly. A spring rain will accelerate the process and ice flows (and ice jams) make the river thaw dramatic along our rivers. I believe this should especially be so this spring with the frigid winter. When the spring melt is at its peak our north flowing rivers offer dramatic opportunities for observing the power of nature. One of my favorite hikes in this period is on our Stone Valley trail, with its dramatic waterfalls now roaring from the meltoff and the sunlight creating rainbows in the spray. Other opportunities abound. Some of the best are on the Grass River at Lampson Falls and along the Tooley Pond Road.
As the ground thaws there are new smells and new sights. Stepping outdoors you breath in the smells of a myriad of odors of both decay and rebirth. It is a time in the woods for some early wildflowers to poke up out of the soil before the forest canopy steals the sunlight. Take a slow walk along any forest path and look for trillium. At the Indian Creek Nature Center near Rensselaer Falls (part of the Upper and Lower Lakes Wildlife Management Area) there are developed trails and boardwalks. At the East entrance there is a wildflower loop, a trail which features a number of species of early spring flowers. The west entrance provides opportunities to observe waterfowl and songbirds as they pass through on their spring migration.
In the Adirondacks and North Country spring brings mudseason. You only get mudseason where the winters are harsh enough to freeze the ground well below the surface. As the sun warms the topsoil the ice and snow melt but the lower ground is still frozen. The meltwater is trapped and is unable to percolate through the soil. We are cautioned to keep to more rocky trails. Nonetheless it is fascinating to observe these trail conditions as the land thaws, often with patterns caused by the mixture of frozen and unfrozen ground.
It is about this time as well that you begin to hear the spring peepers. Within a week or two the sound of the peepers can grow to become a cacophonous end to the day near every swamp or wetland.
Keep an eye on the birds as well. Some of our winter birds linger while others leave at the first sight of spring. Some of the early arrivals in spring include the redwing blackbird and, of course, the robin. The wood warblers wait until early and mid May to make their appearance. We are fortunate to have one of the greatest varieties of these birds anywhere with our geography ranging from lowlands to the Adirondack mountains. A good ear and a pair of binoculars are helpful. They are best observed just as the trees begin to fill with leaves in May.
While autumn is best known for colors, take the time this Spring to also observe the subtle changing shades of green as the first leaves appear. As the leaves come out the colors around you change virtually daily. Of course there are the insects as well. Be especially careful this time of year to protect against ticks. With the spread of lyme disease northward, it is wise to tuck pants in your socks and wear insect repellent. The flying and biting insects are bothersome, but they are the food for many songbirds so we should appreciate them as well.
Spring is a time to use all of your senses to appreciate the nature. In the north country where we really have winter (unlike further south) it is an especially dramatic time of birth and rebirth and a great time (and place) to savor the living world.
Apr 1, 2015: Spring