What the Peepers Are Telling Us
Last night, I sped my family home from a week of Spring Break that took us far from the Nonotuck biome. As they slumbered in their car seats, I was feeling anxious—Had the leaf buds burst yet? I couldn’t see; it was too dark. This fleeting moment of the return of life is one of the sweetest in the circle of seasons, isn’t it? The thought of missing it brought a dull pain to my heart. An imaginary finger wagged in mind: “Was your vacation worth it?” But just as we approached Mt. Tom on Rt 141 in Holyoke, where it ascends and then drops over the old volcanic ridge into the plush yet rusted valley of Easthampton, we heard it..
“PEEPERS!!!“my daughter exalted, suddenly awake. The sound of thousands of frogs, louder than the radio and engine drone, almost vibrated our skins. We were so happy! To be home again where the viva-power of our non-human neighbors is so intense, and so inspiring.
I didn’t need to see the treebuds anymore—the frogs told me they hadn’t burst yet.
The vivifying relationship between the peepers and the trees and the rivers is one we sense, and feel, and celebrate. The mere appearance of the tiny frogs in the vernal pools, their cheerful uninhibited en masse braying—all those Romeos impressing their Juliettes—is something real that signals that life, the bios, is so much bigger and more beautiful than we can embrace with our thoughts, our science, our philosophies, our stories, our paintings and our music (That doesn’t mean we can’t try to, though; Vermont-based musician Nico Case talks about how she sings along with the peepers.).
Go ahead—try to catch a spring peeper. Track their sounds to the pool they’re cavorting in and you’ll find that, just at the moment you’re almost close enough to see them, they hush. Get closer and you’ll find, that unless you’re ready to get your feet and hands wet, all you’ll see is dead leaves submerged under water. The peeper family is an ancient one, and it got that way because it knows how to hide from raccoons, birds and humans.
And yet, despite all this, Robert Frost deserves credit for nearly getting his arms around these squirming multitudes. In his poem Hyla Brook, he re-presents the relationship between Hylas (peepers ), trees and rivers that I want you to witness outside today. He describes how, as temperature rises, trees awaken from their winter slumber and suck the water out of the soil. The vernal pools, and forest streams and brooks, start disappearing the moment that leaves start unfolding on branch tips; all that water becomes the green of the trees. This is why white water canoeing is an early spring sport—
The songs of the peepers, then, peal before buds break and flowers appear. For all we know, it’s not only us who listen with joy; the trees might be listening, too.
Find out how families can become citizen scientist for Vernal Polls in Western MA in Hilltown Families’ recent post, Citizen Scientists Wanted for Vernal Pool Habitat.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kurt Heidinger, Ph.D. is the Executive Director of Biocitizen, non-profit school of field environmental philosophy, based in the Western MA Hilltown of Westhampton, MA where he lives with his family. Biocitizen gives participants an opportunity to “think outside” and cultivate a joyous and empowering biocultural awareness of where we live and who we are. Check out Kurt’s monthly column, The Ripple, here on Hilltown Families on the 4th Monday of every month to hear his stories about rivers in our region. Make the world of rivers bigger than the world of pavement inside of you!