I enjoy bellying up to a cozy bar, husband within arm’s reach and a good cocktail even closer by. This is not always easy to do in the mountains of New Hampshire, so on a recent trip to Boston we did an awful lot of bar hopping. We drank spicy and aromatic concoctions and managed to sneak in more than a few funky bar snacks. It was fun. A lot of fun.
So much fun, in fact, that on the ride home from our weekend away I started to get a little whiny. A taste of the city left me wanting more, and I found myself complaining to my husband about living in the “middle of nowhere”. I think I may have even pouted a little. Come to think of it, I am pretty sure I crossed by arms and threatened to hold my breath if we didn’t spend more time in the city. Very mature of me.
An hour or so later, we pulled into the driveway. Our driveway is long and dark, and at night it is lit mostly by the moon and stars. It is usually a very quiet place.
But not that evening.
You see, along the length of my dirt driveway are wetlands. Ok, to be fair, some would call it “swampy”, but it’s more than that to me.
During spring, this little puddly area fills to the brim with water and becomes the center of New Hampshire amphibian nightlife.
That evening was opening night. We rolled down the windows, sat, and just listened.
Yes, to our delight, our peepers were back.
Every spring we are serenaded by the passionate vocal stylings of hundreds (if not thousands) of glorious little aquatic creatures. Our so-called-swamp is a vernal pool; filled with frogs, salamanders, and who knows what other magical animals.
They sing to each other in the dark for weeks. I once tried to explain this phenomenon to my mother, but she didn’t believe that the peepers were real. So last year I asked her to spend the night at the height of the froggie party. When she walked by the water the noise was so loud, she actually held her hands to her ears.
Now she gets it.
We happily fall asleep at night to the sound of our friends in the swamp. It is incredible. We also see this event as a sign of other magical spring-things-to-come in our little home in the woods.
Sure enough, a short time after the peepers started this year, Phoebe and her boyfriend came back. They are amazing birds, and they seem to like us enough to build a nest and raise their little ones right by our front door every year. In all fairness, they have a luxury condo on a shelf custom build for them by my husband. It’s too good to pass up.
Once I saw Phoebe, I knew more was ahead. I was right.
It now seems we are in the full spring mode here at “Casa McFisch”. For example, the little fiddleheads have appeared, soon to be seas of ferns that adorn our house.
The apple trees are budding, and I see other plants with pink peeking out between green. I can’t wait to see the giant bumble bees bouncing around from bush to bush in the backyard after the blossoms finally emerge.
I am also hoping it won’t be long before the wildflowers show their faces. They surprise us with something new every year. We always add a few other flowers to the yard, too, with the goal of making a bee paradise.
The chippers are also busy in our stone walls – to the pleasure of our resident barred owl. Actual, our yard is a veritable raptor buffet. Last year, a Peregrine falcon and a goshawk joined the hunt. Although I admit, I am a bit concerned, as yesterday the family of field mice who spent the winter in our grill (with our approval, of course) vacated. Apparently they are onto bigger and better things. I feel quite protective of them and I hope they manage to stay under cover.
We have our share of bigger creatures as well. No bear sightings yet this year. However, paw prints in the mud suggest that the lynx is somewhere close by. Last year, a river otter meandered by us when we were hanging out in the yard with the dogs. That was a surprise.
We never know what to expect. Granted, we know May will be the month of black flies, a time when the yard becomes a “no-go-zone”, as these little biting nightmares make life pretty miserable for humans. Afterwards, though, we welcome the bats and dragonflies that take over the skies and help keep the bug population to a minimum.
We take the good with the bad. We do our best to avoid disturbing our little backyard ecosystem and try to respect the creatures who share this space with us. Let’s face it… it is not our yard, it belongs to them. They know what they are doing and they don’t need us to mess it up.
Pulling into the dirt driveway that night with the peepers chirping their welcome made me think of our trip to the city differently. I couldn’t stop wondering where the peepers lived, if they lived, anywhere near that concrete jungle. Or even in suburbia.
Who takes care of them?
Vernal pools are essential to the survival of amphibians. Construction in these swampy and seasonally wet areas is an immediate threat to their survival. People who bulldoze through and fill in these areas for “perfect lawns” and “perfect yards”, people who take away the woodlands that these animals need for survival after their time in the vernal pool, are sealing their fate.
I know it sounds crazy, but I managed to get a little teary-eyed that night, suddenly feeling very, very protective of our little spot in the New Hampshire woods. After arriving home I felt like I was channeling Joni Mitchell. As I was thinking about the lack of peepers in the city, I could have easily shouted “they paved paradise and put up a parking lot!!”
My city-girl mentality and my new “country” persona are always at odds. Yes, I love the city. Maybe someday I will find myself in an urban setting again. I enjoy change and I don’t mind taking the twisty route through life. If I ever find myself an urbanite again, though, I hope I will look at my environment more thoughtfully and use my time there differently.
However, I know I would be equally happy for a long, long time in my little home in the “middle of nowhere”, where I share space with such a unique group of animal and plant neighbors.
And, of course, here in the woods I get the privilege of a being lulled to sleep by a nocturnal orchestra like no other.
All photos/content by Iris and The Very Hungry Entourage
You can read more about NH vernal pools here, and learn how to protect them here; but remember, vernal pools are threatened in many states. Here are some links about Massachusetts, Maine, Pennsylvania, and California – just a few other examples.