This Thing Called Courage

Sunday, April 01, 2007

There for the Taking

IT'S HARD TO DESCRIBE THE INDESCRIBABLE, but nonetheless we always try. Chris and I went into the Fells on Friday night to find Peepers and Wood Frogs. I've said it before and I'll say it again-- until fairly recently (evolutionary wise) we were nomadic, and wandered here and there about the land-- to the rivers when the fish spawned, to the highland meadows in summer to graze our animals, to the lowlands when the winter cold came. All of this involved travel, and frequently we traveled by night. We also hunted by night, fished by night, held religious ceremonies by night-- in other words, we were nocturnal as well as diurnal. No more-- we've really banished the night from our lives, flooding it with motion-activated lights and sodium-sulphur light towers and neon and what have you, and I think something of mystery and delight has atrophied in our soul as a result. The remedey, of course, is to stay out for a long period of time 'in the dark' as we did on Friday night. But you could hardly call it dark-- the moon was near full, the skies crystal clear, and the light flooded through the trees and spilled onto the meadows. Venus was blazing high in the west, and the darker it got, they brighter these orbs (which have seen so much!) became.

Except for a solitary jogger when we first entered, we saw no one, and seemed to have the place to ourselves. We first climbed Bear Hill, the highest spot in Happy Land, and one of the first of the foothills west of Boston that finally become the Berkshires in the western part of the state. There is a tower at the summit of Bear Hill, which looks wonderfully Wicked-Witch-of-the-Westish, and from its top you can see Mount Wachusett ("that great blue wall," Thoreau called it) as well as Mount Monadnock in New Hampshire and Camel's Hump in Vermont and, in the other direction, Boston Light, on the last spit of land twenty miles out into Boston Harbor. The sunset was glorious, and seemed to spread its red and orange bands all the way out to California. From there we visited 'Okerbloom,' a high meadow that's full of flowers in the summer, and replete with the old-fashioned grasshoppers that lurch-spring out of your way as we walk through the grass. Then we visited Hawk Hill (these are all my nicknames I've given to places over the years) before finally descending into the valleys and then to the lakes. We visited four of the latter, and by this time the day had smeared away and the night was star-flung, moon-drenched, and utterly silent and magnificent. It felt like we could have just kept walking forever.

Happy Land is full of wildlife-- deer, fishers, coyotes, turtles, raccoons, skunks, chipmunks, red and grey squirrels, frogs, foxes, owls (I've heard the magnificent boom of the Great Horned Owl there on several occasions) and many many other species. But in particular we were looking for two types of frogs that really signal the beginning of spring: Peepers, and Wood Frogs, both tiny amphibians who leave their winter homes under rocks and logs and leaves and seek out the vernal (spring) ponds in which they were born. The first order of business is mating, and to attract mates the male frogs sing out their nightly chorus as soon as the nights get above freezing. The Peepers' song is a high-pitched solitary but repeated peep, hence the name, while the wood frog's call is really hard to describe, but it's a kind of rattle, much huskier and duck-like almost. We had passed several vernal pools along our way, but all of them were silent, and I feared that we might have come looking a bit to early. Even so, the night offered us so many delights, it would have been the height of ingratitude to complain. But there is one very large vernal pool, the Mother of All Vernal Pools in fact, that I know of, and this we sought out last. It did not disappoint. As we crossed the big wide open meadow that borders this pool, Chris, with his better hearing, heard them first, and then me a minute later-- both wood frogs and peepers. It was the sweet culmination of an enchanted evening-- we went seeking signs of spring, and nature's wonder-- and received so much more. As our time in the woods increased, it felt more and more natural to be in there-- as if we were reclaiming something from an ancient past. Something in the soul was deeply mollified and and revived and soothed, all at the same time. It's very hard to describe it-- I suppose it's like reading about Paris, as opposed to being in Paris. And I can't recommend highly enough doing the same, the next chance you get.

Saturday night was also another beautiful night of encountering the wonders of spring in New England, but I'll save an account of that for my next entry. The above pic is one I took of Happy Land a few years ago-- it's in the fall, obviously, but was the only one I had to hand. Happy Spring, everyone!


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