Friday, April 02, 2010

Peepers - the other heralds of Spring

I went running this morning.

I don't really like to do it. I'd rather do something involving a ball, or gardening, or playing paintball - something less monotonous.

I've read that having a meditative mantra can help with repetitive tasks, but the one I tried ("Ow... ow... ow...") didn't help much. 

But I have to do something to stave off the creeping effects of entropy on my suddenly-mortal body, and running is a pretty effective tool. So I do it, especially when I can go with a friend like I did this morning.

We left around 5:45 am - which in western Pennsylvania, in April, is before the sun is up - and were having a pretty nice talk, all things considered, until we passed by a swampy area just as the sky was lightening.  What interrupted us was the  sound of Spring Peepers singing in a vibrant chorus.

My friend grew up on Oregon, where they don't have Spring Peepers (Or lighting bugs!), so he had no idea what I was talking about when I  panted "peepers!" 

I had so much fun telling him about one of my favorite springtime things that I'm not sure we ever got back to our original topic. (Sorry Casey!) But it also made me want to share it with all of you.  


Spring Peepers are tiny (about 1") tree frogs who hibernate all winter under logs or bark and spend the rest of the year in plants that grow in or around water. According to National Geographic.com, they can allow most of their bodies to freeze during hibernation, yet wake in spring with no problems.  To the right is an image (From National Geographic) showing a peeper's size relative to a paper clip!


I grew up in the mountains of northern Pennsylvania, where the Allegheny River is small enough to wade across for most of the year. There was hardly a pond or a marshy spot up there that didn't have Spring Peepers. And they were reliable. Robins filtered into the deep river valleys at what seemed to be irregular times, but you could count on the peepers to start singing soon after the last freeze, and to sing evening and morning for at least a month.


[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TmZCN5IhPTQ&hl=en_US&fs=1&]



My dad loved the peepers. There was an old beaver-pond down the road from our house, so full of peepers that you could hear them driving by with the windows up. But we rolled the windows down anyway, and we'd often stop there in the road to let the resounding chorus wash over us with the spring breezes. 

On several occasions we kids got to stay up late, pulling on old muck boots, grabbing flashlights and tramping with Dad out into the marsh to get a glimpse of the tiny singers in action. They have a habit of going silent when you get near, like crickets do, so we often returned home without a glimpse. But other times - well, the other times were magical.

 This picture (from frugalyankee.com) helps explain why it can be hard to find such noisy creatures. Not only are they tiny, but they're very well camouflaged!

It also reminds me of the one time I got to hold a peeper. I was eight or nine, and happened to shine my flashlight down between our feet. We were standing on leafy litter, like in this picture, and when I told my dad "I found one! It looks just like a leaf!", I'm pretty sure he thought it was a leaf. But he held his light on the spot for me, my awkward hands swooped down, and I grabbed a memory I don't think I'll ever forget. This isn't my hand, or "my" peeper, but it was an awful lot like this:  




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The robins arrived here weeks ago, puffed up like feather dusters and picking miserably through the last couple of snowfalls. But spring is here for sure now. The peepers were singing this morning.   

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