LOCAL VIEW –Fall Peepers–

There is always a danger of missing the beauty right before your nose, especially if you take it for granted. I’m sure people who live with spectacular views can get up in the morning and look out the window and say, “The Matterhorn…Ho hum.” In such cases it helps a little to have people come from all over the world to see what you take for granted.

But then there is a new danger of acting as a sort of prop to the scenery. Years ago I lived with a Navajo in Arizona, and I used to kid him about a stoic expression he always assumed when tourists snapped pictures, and with a bit of a smile he’d inform me, “That is how Indians are suppose to look. Check out Arizona Highways magazine.”

I remembered him years later when I was raking leaves off the beaten path for a rich lady, using an old fashioned rake rather than a leaf-blower, and much to my surprise saw a bus come swaying and lurching down the lane, barely squeezing between the old stone walls. The upper part of the bus was largely glass, and on the inside I could see all the tourists, who I assumed were from Japan, were all pressed up against the glass snapping pictures of me, the quaint Yankee raking leaves. As hard as I tried to be natural, I found myself assuming a pose, and felt like a picture in National Geographic.

A third way to miss the beauty is to rate it. No two autumns are the same, and some have briefer beauty, because a gale rips all the leaves off the trees, while others have a browner beauty, because of drought. Rather than appreciating the variety I sometimes look back to the year which was the most brilliant, and become comparative.

The second half of the summer was so wet that all were expecting an especially brilliant autumn. But brilliance is dependent on sunshine. As I took the kids from the Childcare out on a daily walk I’d look over across a pond to the swamp maples, which are the the first to change, and see the amazing growth of color in the sun.

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But then a passing cloud would drape a shadow

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I prefer the colors to stand out, and a part of me called the second view downright dingy. But this would make a liar out of the part of myself that states the beauty is there for eyes to see, so I strove to see it. But then I was put to the test, as we were hit by a long spell of various sorts of gloom, cloud, drizzle and dampness.  Even as the foliage grew more brilliant the weather grew more gloomy.

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I figured I’d likely miss the swamp maples at their most brilliant, and have to wait for the sugar maples, but then I noticed the weather was so wet the sugar maple leaves were rotting as much as they were changing color.

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Then I heard motorcycles roar past one gray morning, and knew for them to be out leaf-peeping it had to be dry, though very gray, and as I headed off to do chores in an adjoining town I made plans to sidetrack into some swamps. I had a sense it was “now or never”.

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All you need to do is pull over and slosh a little into the sedge to have the color engulf you.

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If you are not careful you may become enchanted, wander into hidden valleys, and go unseen for twenty years like Rip Van Winkle.

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Soon you forget CNN or Drudge. You are visiting a utterly different swamp.

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And once you have found beauty on a cloudy day, a clear day is sheer heaven.

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LOCAL VIEW –Blighted Spring–

It’s been a drudging sort of week, full of duties one doesn’t plan for. Not much is blooming, but perhaps clouds of pollen from southern lands blew north, and everyone began sneezing. Or perhaps it was the common cold passing through town. In any case, who plans for that? It complicates things, and makes you make mistakes. Who plans for that? In your hurry you leave your key in the ignition, on the “on” position, as you are only hurrying inside for five minutes. But five minutes becomes two hours with phone-calls and other stuff, and when you hurry back to your car with an armload of other stuff, and are ready to rocket off, the battery is dead. Who plans for that?

We got by. Yesterday my battery was dead, but I wasn’t late to open the Farm-childcare as I got a quick jump from my wife’s car. Today her battery was dead at the Childcare, but she got a jump from me. To me it seemed very symbolic of how we get by, when we are not at our best.

Personally, I blame the delayed spring. Not that I wasn’t expecting it. Why? I think it was a queer mix of science and intuition and memory. I just noticed how a band of colder weather gave colder winters to places like Mexico and Syria and Thailand, even as places further north got a warmer winter, and I figured that band of colder weather would retreat north and get us. Meanwhile I recalled warm early springs in my past that got clobbered by May snowstorms, the worst being in 1977. Lastly, when you live as far north as New Hampshire, among Finns who immigrated here from much further north, you own a certain caution about warmth in March. Call it pragmatism or call it cynicism, I planted peas earlier than ever, but wasn’t surprised when snows followed, with record-setting cold.

But it needs to be said that such flip-flopping of weather is cruel. I am not being a selfish human, as I say this. It is not merely humans who get blighted. I can offer photographic evidence of the day-lily leaves with brown points, and the daffodils broken by frost.

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Of course these are imported species, (as are Finns and even Yankees like myself), but what really impressed me was a local swamp maple that seemed to get fooled. It formed a purple misted tree, in the post I did about frogs singing early, back in March. Currently it looks like it isn’t even going to start budding. I may do a post about what happens with that tree, but I’ll have to wait and see.

In any case, though spring seemed ready to bust out in March, here it is a month later and the treeline looks pretty leafless.

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However though the spring can be delayed, it cannot be denied. On the blighted lawn purple splashes.

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And a few daffodil were more cautious, and now stand proud for being cowards.

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And the grey fur of the pussy willow suddenly is yellow with pollen.

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And the wiser, more cowardly swamp maples now venture to bloom.

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And these tiny flowers, softening the treeline with a haze of reddish purple, always are worth a closer look.

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However, though my heart is softened by the loveliness, I will not be a sucker and a chump. I remember snows in May. So I look to the black cherry trees. In Washington DC their cherries may be fools, and come out only to be blasted by frost, but I like to think our northern cherries are smarter. And even this late they are only budding.

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So here I stand, betwixt and between. Spring will not be denied, but will not be a dunce.

The trees are distrustful; the very buds
Are reluctant; yet sneaking through the brush
Is a quickening of all creature’s bloods;
A hope that makes the grayest banker blush.

Who are you? Elf or zephyr or angel;
Invisible dancer swirling dead leaves;
You put us all through a long, slow, strange hell
Where the more one doubts the more one believes.

Logic dictates we distrust, and yet you
Seduce us with memories of past times
When you beat back that logic. Can you do
It again? In the face of this world’s crimes
Can you undo the loss of virginity?
Do that, and Oh! What a spring it would be!

Local View –A choir of quackers–

Spring is way ahead of last year, for we have already heard our first quacker frogs. I heard them on March 24, and brought a small child who moved up here from Arizona to the side of the road to hear them. Last year I first heard them on April 16, and I remember there was still a bit of ice on the north side of the pond where I heard them.

They are not as shrill and overpowering as spring peepers, which is the first frog most notice. The quackers are more subtle, and when a car goes sighing by on the road the car drowns out the sound of them. In fact our Childcare usually drowns out the sound of them, which is why I brought the small girl to listen alone. If you bring many children they are too loud, and if you bring the dog it charges ahead and all you see is many ripples in the pools.

The quackers actual name is “wood frog”, but that is rather a drab name for an amazing critter. They can be frozen, and then come back to life. I can’t, though I’ve come close, and I always appreciate those who can outdo me, even if they are just a frog.

When I was younger I called them “banjo frogs”, (before I learned real banjo frogs live in Australia). The sound of their voices is somewhere between a banjo and a quacking duck. However all recordings I found make them sound much louder than they actually are.

Their entire strategy seems to be: To be done with the entire business of reproducing before the rest of the animal community knows what hit them. They breed in forest melt-water pools that are often dry by the end of May. Their eggs hatch into tadpoles that hop off as frogs in a matter of days. However in order to do this they have to be right in the woods, so they skip the bother of burrowing in the mud at the bottom of ponds to hibernate. They burrow down in the forest floor and allow themselves to be frozen solid. Or, actually, not quite solid. The center of their bodies contains some sort of natural antifreeze and never entirely freezes (or, if it does, they don’t survive.) If you’re interested, there is a fairly good post here:

http://www.dogonews.com/2015/3/19/tiny-wood-frogs-survive-winter-by-partially-freezing-their-bodies

And there is a melodramatic PBS YouTube video (with the overdone PBS music) showing a quacker thawing out here:

However in the actual woods there is no PBS music. Thank heavens. There is just the silence of a sunny day, with the forest floor brilliant as the closest thing to shade is the swamp maples, barely beginning to bud.Swamp Maples IMG_2154And on the sunny forest floor is what is barely more than a puddle, reflecting the sky. Wood Frogs IMG_2157And from that water you suddenly hear the soft, strange sound of something utterly unlike PBS music. It is reminiscent of a duck playing the banjo, however, as you’ve never heard a duck play the banjo, it a music unto itself, so soft that if the wind stirs leaves and sighs in the pines it can be drowned out. But when the wind quiets the sound stirs something in you, and you too are awakened. And it is then you cannot stay quiet, are inspired to write words to drown out the PBS music.

Before the geese make eyes wild by calling,
Before the first bluebirds make soft hearts weep,
Before spring’s strength is enthralling
The brown woods stir from their long, frozen sleep
And a strange music plucks from new, black mud
And ripples the waters of forest pools.

Too quiet to surge ones long unstirred blood
And too quaint to make austere men be fools
It is a background to a bright prophecy
Like a quiet herb in a warm mother’s love-soup.

I take a small child to hear it with me;
To watch her face, as time loops the loop
And see as she sees life’s not forsaking
The bleak; Instead the bleak are awaking.