Monday, March 31, 2008

Monday morning reveille

Spring Peeper at edge of pool
Click to enlarge!

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Saturday, March 29, 2008

On becoming a salamander...

I set a goal for myself each year.
Not really a “resolution”—as I understand the annual promises we make to ourselves to involve changes in our behavior—things to which we can consciously direct our minds, and realistically hope to accomplish with sustained effort. Promises whose success or failure rest with ourselves alone.

My goals represent the dreams I’d like to realize.
Many times, larger than I.
And often, beyond my control.
Still, I dream.

This year-- to witness the migration of the spotted salamanders to a vernal pool.
To be there, watching, on the one night that nature summons them from their underground burrows to walk the ancestral trail.
And to see, at last, what I’ve only read about in books.

I studied. And read.
And studied some more.
Until my human mind understood salamanders.
Until I, too, could hear nature calling on that dark rainy night, to walk.
Like the spotted ones.

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Thursday, March 27, 2008

Warm walk

It’s always a bit disconcerting to see feet sticking out of the pond.
But, there they were—2 bright orange legs, webbed toes pointing to the sky.

Ducks settle often on Little Pond pool—there on the top of the hill, with the openness of the wide sky overhead. Feeding on the growth just beneath the surface, floating peacefully until an approaching visitor sends them, flapping wildly, to the sky.

This was a male mallard—and the turtles had already begun the cleanup. An odd passing. The remains of his body left in the very center of the pool.

The warm day threatens more rain.
His scattered feathers are carried on a balmy breeze across the water.

From the edge of the woods I watch as another flapping form circles above--silhouetted against a white sky.
She circles again.
And flies on.

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Have you seen...

The trails were ours alone at Germantown Reserve.
The browns of fall, faded now. The sunlight barely penetrating, though not a leaf between us and sky.

We walked past tree after tree, the gray furrowed bark chipped bare--a brilliant, red core revealed.
In the distance, the Pileateds call.
These woods of Twin Creek are their home.

New work and old.

The striking black-and-white, with the showy red crest has carved his name here.
The deep, chiseled holes equally striking in the spring sunshine.

Cherry trees.

And fallen chips.

"Have you seen...." is an effort to discover the unusual beauty in things not usually appreciated for their beauty.

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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Fresh eggs in the morning

I sometimes feel as though I have the front row seat to a drama unfolding in our vernal pool.
I've read the playbill, understand the plot summary, but struggle with a bit of uncertainty as to exactly who's who. And to further confuse things, the story stops and starts, as spring falters and late storms freeze the "action" on the stage.

Twelve days ago, 2 types of egg masses appeared. Matching them to the adults frolicking in the same waters and their similar timing, I identified them as wood frogs' and spotted salamanders' eggs.

This morning, a new character has made an appearance--an egg mass unlike any of the many, now developing gelatinous clusters from days ago. Fresh and clear, smaller and more dense.
Could it be that these are the Spotteds' eggs? And the original ones were Jefferson's?
I thought I had missed them!

Perhaps Act II will reveal more answers.

Wood Frog eggs showing embryos.
Wood pool,
March 25, 2008

First photo,
Spotted Salamander eggs with cleavage furrow?
Wood pool,
March 25, 2008

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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

My Peeps

The peepers call from across the yard.
Even in the brightness of late afternoon, as I arrive home, several shrill voices greet me. By nightfall, the sound will be deafening.

From the distant corners of our "neighborhood"--as we walk our country block--this sound of jingling sleighbells from Little Pond pool can be heard.

With my boots and flashlight, I head off across the grass toward the din.
My footsteps do not seem to bother them as I approach. Their piercing calls masking all other noise.

One pass of my light across the surface of the pool silences them.

I settle in and wait, light dimmed inside my jacket, eyes scanning the surface. The moment's silence is hurriedly filled with their voices again.
First, one.
Then, many.

From the safety of the water, they emerge,
with tree-frog toe pads to perches and rafts above the surface.
The chorus goes on until dawn.

If you look closely at these pictures, you can see small, dark mosquito larvae that will make up some of the invertebrates--an important food source for the developing salamanders in these vernal pools. A healthy amphibian population here should keep these well controlled.

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Monday, March 24, 2008

A day like this

The full moon is dropping in the western sky--morning sun rising in the east. Long days of rain give way to bright blue.
The chill of another night's frost is just lifting--the grasses in the field dusted white.

Little pond has glazed over again.
The rim cracks and crunches as I sneak closer to see--the faintest green peeking from beneath crystals. The dark water so cold, it stiffens my fingers.

I would give a thousand warm days under gray skies for just one day like this.

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Friday, March 21, 2008

Happy Easter!

Spotted Salamander
Little Pond pool
Butlerville, Ohio
March 21, 2008

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Sky Watch Friday

We hiked the trails of Germantown Reserve last weekend. And of all the areas the trails pass through, the Old Growth Forests always attract me. To be beneath the stately trees that have watched the land change.
Among them, two-hundred-year old Beeches.

Their silvery bark, weathered and worn, yet, so recognizable against the brown, leafless woods.

They rise beside the trail. Their branches still hanging on to the last papery leaves of summer.

Reaching to touch the sky.

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Thursday, March 20, 2008

Salamander Dance

It’s been two weeks now, since I watched them walk.
And the night was much like this one.
Warm and wet, but, mostly…wet.

Each day, their eggs in the pools remind me there will be more to see, soon—but I eagerly wait and watch, hoping for another glimpse of the beautiful spotted salamanders in the dark water.
They hide themselves by day, so well, they might not be there at all.

My flashlight catches a glistening body moving across the grass. Hardly the numbers of weeks ago, but it confirms my feeling that tonight’s weather suits them well. His direction suggests he is leaving—returning to the woods, his social gathering disbanded for another year.

Little Pond pool:
Peepers, chorus frogs and wood frogs call loudly. The shape of the basin and my position within it contains the sound—a large dish, magnifying their shrill voices to the threshold of pain. The activity here can be felt—a frenzy of frogs.

The shallow water at my feet is clear, a grassy woven mat obscuring the bottom. But beyond a ring of dead stalks, in the deeper water, I cannot see.

Wood pool:
Smaller and stiller—this pool is the wood frogs' chosen.
They float effortlessly on the surface—legs splayed behind, eyes shining in the beam of my light. In the risen water, they seem drawn to me, scooting right to my toes to hover and wait. A large coppery female is laying eggs just beneath the surface.

Her smaller, darker mate fiercely hanging onto her back as she deposits the compacted black wad of eggs on a stalk of grass. By morning, it will have quadrupled in size as the protective gel covering swells in the pool to become the familiar shining silver masses.

At the leafy edge is a toad—quiet, but drawn here, too. Perhaps she waits for her mate’s call to find him in this extraordinarily dark night.

The water is pelted with raindrops, the oak branches guarding it, shedding also onto the surface. Rings upon rings dance on the wood pool.

The salamanders dance, too.

Slowly moving in the shallower water and hiding quickly beneath the dark leafy bottom as the light approaches, I count 15. Each popping to the surface to steal a breath, then burying themselves, again, in the depths.

Born of these waters, some perhaps 15 years ago, these solitary beings have found their way back.
To this place where, tonight, they revel in being a spotted salamander.

My thanks to Pat Rossmann for photos 1 and 4
--and for bringing a camera out walking with us on such a wet night!

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Wednesday, March 19, 2008


The rains continue.

I woke this morning in the complete darkness of night. The power has gone out--heavy clouds unload a steady stream of drops against the metal roof.
Down in the ravine, the creek flows furiously--the brown murky water tearing at the sides of its course.
Above it all, still the calls of peepers from across the yard.

Last night, as I walked out to check the pools, sloshing along through the several large puddles that have expanded to become yet another pond, I came across this uncooperative character. His “chimney” in my path days earlier, he scoots around this grassy pool tonight—invited out by the warm rain lapping at his door.
A "crawdad."

As the water recedes, so will he—back beneath the earth, into his tunnel, beyond his muddy doorway.

And the rains continue.

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Monday, March 17, 2008


Every day begins with a walk to the pool.
What started several weeks ago as a mild interest in understanding more of the ecology of this small seasonal basin, has become much more.
There is life here now.

And although it is very clear that animals that reproduce in these numbers, do so for a reason--I'd like to think these will survive, beyond the 10 percent of most.

There are no fish here. Nothing larger, in fact, than the wood frogs that left the bluish gray masses, before returning to the wet, leafy floor beneath the surrounding trees. But every morning I see footprints.
I know that I am not the only one watching.

The Jefferson salamanders drawn here with the first warm rain, have also gone. Beneath the snow-covered pool, they waited. Their eggs, on the long submerged grasses, now all I can see.

Tomorrow morning will be rainy again.
At the edge of the pool, I will be watching.

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Sunday, March 16, 2008

Have you seen...

What last night's fog had hidden in mist,
revealed in dawn's droplets.

Click on photos to see detail

"Have you seen...." is an effort to discover the unusual beauty in things not usually appreciated for their beauty.

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Saturday, March 15, 2008


It was a rainy, foggy night.
(No, really.)

And we did gather to meet and greet.

, Kathi, Susan and I—at Trixie’s mom’s house, not far from where I live.
Four bloggers from very different worlds, for a moment, together in one room-- sharing an evening of wine and stories.
Though we follow each other’s lives in our published posts, a chance to connect the dots, fill in the blanks.
To discover the real people behind their written faces.

Trixie’s mom was warm and generous to share her space with us. And Vivi and Isabelle, two adorable girls, more captivating in person than their moms’ photographs could ever capture.

A reminder that the writings and stories we so easily encounter and quickly scroll past each day, are far more than words and pictures.

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Thursday, March 13, 2008

Running Late

I had already made my rounds--a loop out through the back woods with a hurried check for any changes in the two vernal pools, and weaving back across the field, to the house.
A short walk.
Then, off to work.

Pleased that I was, for once, ahead of schedule, and excited that I might actually walk casually in the front door, instead of the more usual scurrying and apologies to my coworkers—I gathered my lunch bucket and purse, grabbed jacket, phone and keys…and stepped out.
Almost in the same moment as I was pulling the outer door closed behind me, a loud “TICK” stopped me in my tracks.

My first thought...bird hit window.

But as I circled the house, checking beneath each and finding no one, I reconsidered. Maybe a branch had dropped onto the skylight, for it sounded less like a feathered object than other strikes.

Scanning, finally, to the herb garden just outside the kitchen, I found him.
A Hairy Woodpecker, mired in the one remaining pile of icy snow beneath the east-facing window.

I would be late for work.

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