2018-02-13 / Outdoor Life

Subtle Seasonal Changes

By Ryan Trapani

The great thing for me about living in this northeast climate is picking up on the subtle indicators that seasons are shifting into another. Usually, this transition is only noticed when drastic changes occur in temperature, precipitation, or growth (or lack of growth) of vegetation. In other words, I tend to notice these changes when they hit me on the head or in the face causing a grab for the snow shovel or a raincoat. I often fail to notice the subtle cues about seasonal changes or shifting that indicate things have already been changing for quite some time.

Hidden in the Sap

For instance, it’s definitely wintry-looking as I stare outside the office window; snow is blowing hard and accumulating somewhere around six or so inches. Although behind this snowy veil, hidden beneath tree bark and buds are indicators that we’ve surpassed the first half of winter and are heading towards early spring. A couple of weeks ago, I tapped a neighbor’s maple trees for syrup-making. Almost every year I tap I hear the same thing, “Is it that time of year already?” Now granted, early January is early for tapping trees, but temperatures were forecasted for a warming trend lending itself to future sap flow. The first few warm days are never really that good for collecting sap; it seems the trees just aren’t “awake” yet. However, after a few days of warmth, they seem to “want” to run anytime temperatures approach 32°F with sunshine on them. Something inside those roots or inside that tree has woken up and knows things are changing outside. The running of sap inside trees is probably one of the very first signs that a transition to late winter has occurred. Sap flow – in this case – is a prerequisite for future growth, just as blood flow in humans is a prerequisite for growth.

Hidden in the Buds

On the other end of the tree are its buds. Each year trees break dormancy or reach budbreak within a few weeks’ time. Some species break dormancy early in spring such as aspen or apple. Others – like white ash – are later. Red maple for instance, is earlier than sugar maple. Red maple buds can be seen lighting up the mountainsides with red as their flowers emerge, while sugar maple remains tight and brown. How do they know this? Trees are like little time-keepers; they’ve been tallying or logging-in the cold days in order to pace themselves before making a grand entrance into spring. In other words, they need a certain amount of time to chill before being triggered to break from their winter slumber. So, beneath those tightly seeming buds, are the recordings somewhere deep inside that tree about winter’s maturing transition.

Too deep? If the vegetative tracking device thing is too deep for you, then let’s look towards my chickens. Sometimes I wonder how they make it back to the coop, but then again, they too shouldn’t be underestimated. Only two days ago, they turned the egg production up a notch after an early winter of free-loading on my feed without nary an egg. The chickens too – like the trees – have been taking notice of the subtle transition into late winter. Chicken and egg-laying are tightly tethered to daylight hours. Daylight has increased slightly since the winter solstice back on Dec. 21 and will continue to until the summer solstice. The indicators of these transition periods are beyond the scope of this article; I’m just trying to pick up a few, but am ignorant of most. What indicators do you look for?

Ryan Trapani is the Director of Forest Services, Catskill Forest Association

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