Saturday, June 20, 2009

Night Life

If you could see this darkness, feel this night,
heavy under clouds, dripping with dew,
thick with frogs and moths, drawn to the first blushing blooms of milkweed,
you would know what it is to walk here.

It’s been weeks since I have visited my pools, as in the probing visit of this night--
most days just a cursory glance, as I walk on to the woods,
following the wings of dragonflies,
watching birds high in the trees above.

Yes, the shallow water remains.
And, though almost choked with a mat of green snarls encroaching from every edge, the deep, clear, dark water sustains life, napping through the sunshine of a hot summer day.
But, tonight, when, even through a closed window, air conditioner groaning beneath this blanket of humidity, frog song penetrates to within a brick house, I cannot help but wander there.
Every bit of this field is calling.

Orange eyes aglow, hundreds of buff-colored moths, feathery antennae curling back and forth, feed at the heavy heads of grasses, bending their arching stems low to the ground, and cover the large, rosy globes of milkweed blossoms, strong and sweet with nectar.

The heat from a very warm day has remained into the night. Glass beads on every blade of grass glisten with dew. My bare arms as well, quickly covered with a layer of moisture, soon tingle with an itch from every flying insect drawn to me, my light a beacon into blackness that readily swallows it. Even my face, misted and framed in curls brought on by this bath of steaminess, especially interesting to the smallest moths, darting in darkness past mouth, nose, eyes and ears.
A head net, next time--I must remember that.

Northern Leopard Frog, Rana pipiens

Waist-deep in vigorously growing poison ivy, I wade through green to the pool’s edge, my tall spotted boots stepping carefully into the cool water, the soft, woven mat, broken in places perfect for even the largest of frogs to hide in wait.

American Bullfrog, Rana catesbeiana

All across the surface of the smooth water, small mouths rise to grab air, then disappear with the flash of an ivory belly to hide themselves in layers of brown detritus, inches deep beneath my feet.
Shapes I recognize easily—and was hoping to see tonight, caught in the beam of my light through cola-colored water--salamander nymphs, still sporting gills like Elizabethan collars, but soon to lose them, strengthen new legs and walk off to the woods. Having started the season dry, this spring has brought heavy and frequent rains—a good chance that the water will remain weeks longer, and another generation graduate to lives on land.

The movement of a winding, striped form beside my toe startles me. And, though I know he should be here, I’ve never seen him--a Northern Water Snake, browsing the brown bottom, rising to look across the surface. Then, equally startled by finding me in his pool, he dashes below and disappears.

Northern Water Snake, Nerodia sipedon

From the center of this basin, I am surrounded.
First by the ring of dark water, then by the green at its edge. Framed by small Red maples, their toes wet.
It is as if I am drawn into a fanciful scene, where all possible life converges in a single place for a moment--the deer, rabbit, and raccoon, beside bluebird, mink and snake, while fish, frog and turtle swim.
A snapshot, so complete, yet unlikely.

Cope's Gray Treefrog, Hyla chrysoscelis

Yet, as I move toward his fervent call, raised to the night air, as others do the same, I am sure, for this moment, I am witness to a collision of lives not always like this.

Stirred from quiet rest, postured to project,
their song from every tree,
“Welcome to my world. We’ve been expecting you!”

Cope's Gray Treefrog
vocal sac inflated

(all photos enlarge with a click)

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Ruth said...

Exceptional pictures and words allowing me to journey with you to a place I wouldn't likely go to on my own. The world is quite different at night.

Lisa at Greenbow said...

I almost fainted at the thought of walking through waist high poison ivy. UGH I am sooooo allergic. This is one reason why I love to read your poetic expression of the out of doors. Always filled with the exciting and scary.

giggles said...

Yes...not allergic to poison ivy????? Me. yes... Couldn't go near it without getting blisters.....


nina at Nature Remains. said...

I'm pretty well-covered from the waist down--and I can spot the reaching 3-lobed leaves a mile away--I, too, am allergic.
But, what is so nicely guarded by the ring of their reach, is a treasure worth the risk.
A night like this one--rare!

Arija said...

Some nights are just super special as tis one was foe you. Most people don't know and some of those sho do forget how much life there is around us at all times.
A wonderful and enjoyable post Nina.

KGMom said...

Eek--poison ivy, crawling creatures, water snakes.
Sorry--for me, nature would have to remain where it is, and me indoors.
But I do love your telling the tale! Elizabethan collars--wonderful simile.

Steve B said...

Wow, what a great post. Thanks for braving the poison ivy. These are just great shots.

jemkagily said...

What an enchanted evening! Love the dew-spangled grasses, love the idea of you standing like a naiad in the center of your secret pool. Thank you for taking us with you.


Rurality said...

Just lovely! Except for the poison ivy. :)

Michelle Johnson said...

Nina, these are beautiful words for an exceptional night. I love the pictures of those frogs. So pleased you braved that poison ivy. Nothing ventured, nothing gained comes to mind. Have a great day.

Appalachian Lady said...

Nina--enjoyed this post very much. I am glad to see the leopard frog--heard there were problems with them. The beads of water on the grasses makes a great photo. What an interesting way to spend an eventing.

Barb said...

Hello Nina,
A beautiful post about the "night-life" of your pond - more exciting than what the term usually connotes! The eyes of the moths were like stars! Lovely photos!

Mary said...

Nina, I think this is one of your best posts ever! I was with you... And those tree frog photos made me melt, girl. I love them.

You described perfectly the humid, warm, thick nights we have here. I do hear the frog songs but I'd love to get my rubber boots and hear your choruses.


NCmountainwoman said...

Outstanding post, Nina. While never having been allergic to poison ivy, I nonetheless take all precautions. I would be with you every step of the way until the insects started getting to me. Then I'd be out of there waiting for you to come back and show me the marvelous pictures. I absolutely loved the frogs.

RuthieJ said...

Cool pictures Nina. I used to be terrified to go outside at night until I started to learn some of the sounds animals make. As I became more knowledgable, the chance to be out in nature at night became more fascinating and now I love the chances I get to take the nocturnal trips -- by myself or with you! Thanks for sharing with us.

Deborah Godin said...

Two years in a row I've been visited by Northern watersnakes - I'm hoping this year as well. I don't know that they would pose for me like your Black rat snake did... I thought of trying, but didn't want to scare him/her away, in case they were going to nest or hibernate nearby.

Deborah Carr said...

So glad I stopped by...I wonder if you've read Kathleen Dean Moore...I think you'd enjoy her books.

Nina said...

Deborah--Thank you for the tip--I've just looked her up and agree--I would like to read a little more.
It seems she stays to the west coast for much of her travel. Wouldn't it be wonderful to attend a lecture!?