November: A Time to Return to the Earth

November is upon us. The trees are bare and the forest sounds relatively quiet. The days are short and getting shorter. November is a month of profound change and a reminder that winter is right around the corner. If one is to think of November as a time of death and decay, then it should also be noted that November is also a time of renewal in the forest. Without death their is no life, and the products of November's decay will rejuvenate the soils and waters so that life can flourish anew in the spring.

Shed moose antlers returned to the earth.
Before the freeze. Beaver pond in Pinkham Notch. 
The most obvious visual change to the landscape is the bare trees. The leafs of deciduous trees have fallen and the woods are strewn with decaying leafs everywhere. Trees don't drop their leafs in vain. The fallen leaves will release essential nutrients to the soil as bacteria and fungi start the process of decay on the leaves. Nutrients such as calcium, phosphorous, and nitrogen are essential for plant growth, and without the fall leave drop, soils would be quickly depleted from the energy needs of trees during the May to October growing season. The fallen leaves are a necessary sacrifice to renew the soils of the forest. The leave fall also rejuvenates streams with vital nutrients when leaves clog the brooks and creeks this time of year.

Now that we are in November the rutting season of moose will be ending soon and bull moose will drop their antlers. Antlers are made of calcium much like our bones. When a moose or deer drops its antlers, the calcium stored within is returned to the environment. Calcium obtained by the moose through its diet of leafy green vegetation, is returned to the soil. Much of that calcium doesn't return directly to the soil though because animals such as mice and  porcupines will chew on the antlers as a source of calcium. Rare are antlers found in the woods without the chew marks of a critter.

 Another example of the renewal and change of November is the turnover of water in ponds and lakes. The warm surface waters of the summer have slowly been cooling throughout the months of September and October. During cold mornings in early fall, a beautiful thick mist is seen on waterways throughout the northeast. This is due to cold air condensing the relatively warm surface waters of lake and ponds into fog as they evaporate. By November that mist is no longer seen much, and it disappears completely by the end of the month. Now the surface waters are close to the temperature of the air and will soon sink to the bottom as the slightly warmer water on the bottom rises to the surface, recycling nutrients from decaying organic matter on the bottom back to the surface waters where microscopic plant life can use it to start the food chain in the spring. Soon the cool surface waters will freeze over, but not before the chilly winds of November mix precious oxygen into the waters one last time before spring.

November is indeed a time of rapid changes that set the stage for renewal in spring. Something to think about and look for the next time you walk the quiet November woods.

Matt Maloney
AMC Pinkham Notch Naturalist Guide