Spring arrived with a week of warm air that coaxed us from our cloistered homes and out into the unaccustomed sun. It then brought in two days of steady rain, and nighttime temperatures in the low 50s. This was the trigger that stirred the dormant wood frogs and filled the night with the chorus of spring peepers. It brought the mole salamanders - yellow spotted along with the rarer Jeffersons/blue spot hybrids, up from their woodland retreats and out across roadways toward their favored breeding pools. And so, as is our family custom, the children and I joined them in the rain and helped them on their perilous crossings wherever we found them.
Along with the peepers and spotties were a large number of American toads, a pickerel frog, and a lone red eft not yet a newt. We spent two hours shifting live salamanders every minute or two across to the other side of country roads. We traversed the byways of Salisbury, CT and Sheffield MA where we have learned to look for them during this great migration, and heard many more wetlands resounding in the baritones of wood frogs than we have on other years.
Then we left the road and walked by flashlight in a cool rain through the dark woods to a pond where all was silent but the dripping needles of pines. There in the shadowy water, though, were amphibians with better things to do with their time than sing. My daughter and son spotted salamanders swimming in search of each other, and innumerable wood frogs coupling on the surface or in short dives below. My children, old hands at amphibian watching but new to the procreation that is the objective of their overland journey, were enthralled to see what the fuss was truly all about, spotting egg masses newly attached to submerged branches.
Elias noted matter of factly that he wasn't finished watching the frogs "having sex" when I said it was time to go - prompting me to suggest the synonym "mating" for any discussions of this activity at school. Emily, the consummate feminist, asked with just a hint of worldly disappointment whether the female was always on the bottom. I did point out that sexual dimorphism in wood frogs is in the lady's favor, but my daughter knows a raw deal when she sees one. I am certain if she were in charge of creation the female would get to be on top. And why not, on a wet spring night when the woods are alive with the procreative urge, let nature mix it up a bit? Variety is the spice of life.
All I know for certain is that these are magical moments, timed activities not to be missed, and among the finest things I share with my children, and do for myself, at this or any other time of year.