By Jill Henderson – Show Me Oz –
The Vernal equinox, also known as the Spring Equinox, marks a point when day and night become equal in length for a short time all over the world. This stellar event marks our astrological trip into spring and the long-awaited wakening from the Great Sleep. As if on cue, the first creatures to respond were the Peepers – those incredibly small amphibians readily identified by a conspicuous X-mark across their backs – as if picked out by the Creator for a very special purpose.
Peepers, also known as Spring Peppers – or officially Northern Spring Peepers(Hyla crucifer crucifer) are tiny, ¾” to 1¼” long grayish-green woodland frogs that spend most of their lives on dry land. That is, except during the spring mating season when male frogs move to a shallow, fishless pond and begin to sing for their mates.
I’m always on edge as peeper season moves in. I listen eagerly for the first lone peeper to call. The sweet, ascending whistle of the male peeper carries an incredible distance on leafless spring days. His voice echoes off of hillsides and dodges around trees.
At first it’s only one peeper calling, but after a few days, there will be others. Every day a few more join in the chorus until hundreds of frogs are in a total harmonic frenzy and their once sweet solitary little whistles are suddenly a raucous din. At times their calls are so loud and so numerous that they can be heard indoors with the windows closed. Apparently the females find this serenade completely irresistible and arrive at last to be wooed by the boys in the band.
After any heavy rain, our small west pond holds about 8” of water for a short time before slowly draining back into the rocky earth. The pond is situated on a southwest slope that drains a good portion of the front yard and meadow. The rim of this slope runs for about 200 yards before it joins another, smaller drainage that slips down into thick forest.
The peeper pond was dug a long, long time ago. So long, that it has slowly filled with sediment over the years and trees have grown in a ring all around it. The berm that holds the water in the bowl has been worn down by years of wind and rain, giving the whole the appearance of a natural depression in the earth.
Yet, this pond is not visible from anywhere but the hump of the rim itself, from where one must still look down to see into it. The peepers find this protected spot, with its shallow water and grassy edges, most agreeable. Each year, masses of them congregate here to breed.
Listening to the growing chorus of the peepers made me wonder what a horde of these miniature frogs sound like up close and personal. Because they are shy frogs, even the smallest sound or movement startles them into an immediate and prolonged silence.
I’ve seen them quieted, albeit temporarily, by a lowing cow two pastures away. I’ve tried to sneak up on peeper ponds many times, but they almost always sense my presence long before I get close enough to get what I came for. With that in mind, I set out one afternoon using all the stealth I could muster to inch my way along the edge of the forest and down to the pond undetected.
It took more time than I expected to sneak up on the peepers without disturbing their song, but while I was creeping around a sense of timelessness surrounded me in a surreal veil of awareness. As I came closer to the rim of the pond the peeper’s calls grew louder and richer in tone and I could feel the vibrations of their combined sound literally vibrate in my body.
At last I came to the very lip of the pond and was able to lay with my head inside the sacred circle. The shallow depression acted more like a parabolic dish than a pond, amplifying the sound to incredible levels. The very air pulsed with the movement of their voices and I lay there completely and entirely enveloped and absorbed by the tantric chant.
I closed my eyes and soaked it in, letting their voices pass through my skin.
It is moments such as this that I stand in awe of nature’s effects on humans. Such a small thing the peeper – its size, its single small whistle, its little x-marks-the-spot. Yet, it is truly larger than life in the role it plays in our transition from the Great Sleep into the Sweet Awakening. I guess the Creator put the X on the peeper’s back for a reason, after all.
© 2013 Jill Henderson
Set in the rugged heart of the Ozark mountains, A Journey of Seasons is memoir, back-to-the-land handbook and nature guide rolled into one. Henderson’s 20-years of living off the land and foraging in the wilderness shines in this cyclopedic work filled with nature notes, botanical musings, back-woods wisdom and just a pinch of “hillbilly” humor. This is one journey you don’t want to miss.
Available in the Show Me Oz Bookstore
Jill Henderson is an artist, author, and the editor of Show Me Oz . Her books, The Healing Power of Kitchen Herbs, The Garden Seed Saving Guide and A Journey of Seasons can be found in the Show Me Oz Bookstore. Jill’s work has also appeared in The Permaculture Activist, The Essential Herbal, Acres USA, and Llewellyn’s Herbal Almanac.