Sam Cook column: Seeking the sound of spring
On a mission to a wet place — listening, listening.
I walked into the woods on a recent morning reasonably sure that I would be disappointed. The yellow dog and I followed a familiar trail that would lead us to a low, wet area we knew well.
It’s where the frogs sing each spring.
The trail itself was being held captive by a winter reluctant to let go. Which is to say, we were walking on smooth, frictionless ice. The ice was a result of recent meltdowns that had refrozen on this 32-degree April morning. Staying upright was a dance of sorts. Patches of snow remained everywhere in the woods, hanging around like the last guest to leave a party.
Oh, the woods sounded like spring. A nearby stream had long ago shucked its ice cover. I could hear it murmuring along on its way to Lake Superior. Birdsong filled the air as songbirds proclaimed their territories. Somewhere in the woods, not far away, a male grouse drummed its wings. He was letting any prospective females know he was available to help perpetuate the species.
I appreciated all of that seasonal spunk. But I had come hoping to hear some frogs.
I hustled ahead, hoping, hoping.
I knew the place when we came to it. Low and damp. Hummocky clumps of grass. A stand of moisture-tolerant ash trees in the foreground, jackpines beyond. I stopped and listened. The only sounds were bird calls.
I stood there for a few minutes, just listening. Sometimes the frogs will surprise you. Maybe I would hear the single high note of a lone peeper. No. Or how about one low croak from a precocious wood frog? Nothing. Or the telltale trill of a lovestruck chorus frog? Nope. Not happening.
Just birdsong — and now the crunchy footfalls of a fellow human being coming toward me along the trail. A young man, walking his dog. He paused when he saw me standing in the trail. I asked him if he had heard any frogs yet this spring.
“No,” he said. “I so look forward to that. It’s one of my favorite times of year.”
I concurred. But we would have to keep waiting. The man and his black and white pooch continued on their morning hike.
I cannot explain what it is about the calling of frogs in April and early May that gets up inside of me. It makes me want to sing or dance or just run like an animal through the woods. I think, too, for those of us who appreciate their calling, it marks the official demise of another winter.
I have stood at this same spot on spring nights when the woods reverberated with frog song. One can rarely see the source of this music, but there must be hundreds, maybe a few thousand of them, to make that much sweet noise. It drowns out the calling of any birds in the immediate vicinity.
The boys do the calling, as I understand it. Somewhere nearby, the females listen. They do the choosing of the males, and another generation of frogs is in the works. I could go into more detail, but you get the idea.
The dog and I headed for the car. But we will keep coming back, almost nightly, until the frogs sing.