She walks straight to something interesting -- a patch of wild onion grass finally breaking the surface of the brown leaves scattering the forest floor.
“There’s so much to look at, even though it looks sort of barren,” Guenther says. But take a closer look, and pretty much all around the group are little signs that spring has finally -- at long last -- come to the Hudson Valley.
In the group are 22 people, including five kids, and a dog named Blanca. Following their tour guide’s spritely example, the children start exploring the ground with plastic magnifying lenses. Pretty soon, the whole group has their face into the leaves by the trail side.
“Get in there,” Guenther says, urging the group to smell the ground. “You smell that? That’s the smell of spring.”
As the group travels the road, occasionally Guenther points out edible plants, encouraging the braver souls on the tour to taste acorns, juniper berries, garlic mustard plant leaves. Pretty soon, the kids are looking to impress Guenther.
“Excuse me. I found some acorns,” one kid says to the guide.
Acorns presented a running theme on the walk. Last year, oak trees in the Mohonk Preserve’s forest produced an unusually large number of acorns. Parts of the Preserve’s forest floor were littered with an uninterrupted layer of nut after nut. Trees produced enough acorns to bamboozle even the wiliest and hungriest of squirrels.
One of the hikers finds an acorn that, when broken open, proved to be sprouting -- a tiny seed ready to become a stately oak.
“Now there’s a sign of spring,” Guenther says.
Native Americans in what’s now the New Paltz area had a much different take on seasons, compared to our Western four-month standard. Seasons were counted by the phase of the moon. The tour guide gravitated toward that idea, saying that she saw spring as having two halves.
“There are really two distinct springs in this part of the world,” she says. “This would be early spring.”
Near the end of the tour, after discovering tunnels made in the soft earth by voles, taking the time to listen to the flowing mountain stream and giggling at Guenther’s antics, the group stops by row after row of buckets hanging from trees. Each one has a tap dripping a steady flow of sap into the containers.
Again, the guide tells her audience to experience nature through the sense of taste. She passes out cups, pouring out the sweet, watery sap into small paper cups.
“Notice it’s got a little foamy. It’s got some sugar in it,” Guenther says. For the Native Americans, the coming of spring meant the return of plenty after the brutal fast of winter.
“The native people lived for this,” she says, holding up the cup as a toast. “Here’s to spring and how lucky we are.”
Robin Glassman, from Brooklyn, came up for the Signs of Spring walking tour with her dog Blanca.
“I thought it was wonderful. She was great,” Glassman says about Guenther. When she is in the area, the Spring Farm Trailhead is usually the part of Mohonk to which she heads. The Signs of Spring tour took place at that trailhead this year. “I take this walk all the time. This is my walk.”
One of favorite parts of the nature walk was seeing the sap being harvested from the trees. “I’d never seen the maple trees being tapped before.”
Isabel Mano, one of the kids on the tour, really liked the walk as well.
“It was really nice. I like it,” Mano says. “It was finally nice so I could get outside and not play video games.”
One of the things that surprised the young hiker was how Guenther stopped to hand the group pieces of an acorn to taste. That was her favorite part, tasting an acorn for the first time.
Mohonk has held the Signs of Spring walking tour for more than two decades. Sometimes, the walk is encumbered by remaining drifts of snow. Sometimes, there really aren’t many signs of spring to report.
“This is the 23rd annual Mohonk Sign of Spring walk,” Guenther says. As the former Preserve educator in charge of public programs, Guenther was the person who came up with the idea for the event. At that time in the late 1980s, the Preserve often led programs that involved people staying inside to look at exhibits and stuffed birds. The expert tour guide said she wanted to get people outside and into nature itself.
“It’s been fun to see it over the years,” she says. “It’s been so varied. It was 12 degrees one time.”
For more information about the events Mohonk Preserve is putting on, head to www.mohonkpreserve.org and click on the “Events & Programs” tab. Be sure to check out the list of events online, since many of the require reservations beforehand.