It has been a month since we received the terrific nor’easter of Oct. 21-22. Record setting winds and hard rains were to remember. In addition to rainfall (my gauge recorded 2.5 inches in 24 hours), it was the timing that was impressive. The strong winds and rains came just as leaves were ready to drop from deciduous trees.
With the force of these weather conditions, the leaf drop was more pronounced and more abrupt than usual. The woods of Oct. 23 were quite different than that of Oct. 20. With such a beginning, we started the days of "AutWin."
Though we had some mild days, including 60 degrees and clear on Oct. 26, the days quickly cooled. Earlier than normal, ponds and swamps were covered with ice as we exited October. This trend continued and in early November, lakes that had open water Nov. 5 were coated with ice Nov. 6. We were also walking on frozen ground at this time.
Temperatures of the first half of November were far below normal and we experienced subzero already Nov. 12. Colder than normal is what most of us would remember of these three weeks of "AutWin," but the statistic that was a bit overlooked was that these weeks were also very dry. Although snow showers passed through, they were without much moisture. Only about one-fourth inch was recorded.
Without a snow cover, the woods remained very open. I find the days after the leaf drop and before a snow cover ("AutWin") to be excellent for hiking. Much that was not seen among the foliage of summer is now visible. The landscape appears bland until we take a closer look.
The woods is not all brown and gray. Here I see plenty that is still green. Unlike the deciduous trees, conifers have not dropped their leaves (needles) and we see just how common the pines, spruces, balsams and cedars are. On the forest floor, there are green leaves of some flowering plants such as hepatica, pyrola and wintergreen.
Here, too, are green fronds of wood ferns. Clubmosses (lycopodium) abound in the woods and we can see many now. But I find that it is the mosses that are such a big part of the "AutWin" forests.
To many of us, mosses all look the same. Now, before wearing a blanket of snow, we can see these diminutive green plants. Though small, they stay green all winter. Walking in the woods during the end of October and early November, I note growths of mosses on the ground, rocks and downed logs, but mostly, they thrive at the bases of trees. It seems like any mature tree has green mosses at its base. Despite similarities of these little leafy plants, I could discern a few.
There are variations in their growth patterns. Some stay low and flat with many branches (pleurocarp). Others rise up above the substrate (acrocarp). Standing like little trees, haircap moss (polytrichium) was easy to see on the ground. Here, too, was branching shaggy moss (rhytidiadelphus). On logs, I found leafy moss (plagiomnium) and a favorite, feather moss (ptilium). A growth of feather moss looks like many miniature ferns.
Due to the arid conditions at this time, moss leaves were curled to keep from drying out. With the addition of moisture, they will open. November snows usually come and go, but soon these green plants will be buried until next spring. But now, though small, they are a big part of the woods in "AutWin."