Fossils of the wind


If it quacks like a duck… from the Undiscovery Channel on Vimeo.

The woods were full of question marks, Mom says at dinner. They’re migrating north. I am suddenly sorry I didn’t go for a walk in the woods. Instead, I spent an hour in the bottom corner of the field, crouched beside the artifically enlarged spring we call a pond, waiting in vain for the wood frogs to resume the chorus I’d interrupted when I had to change my camera batteries. After forty minutes, a single frog re-emerged; at least six had been quacking and fighting when I first got there. Even though I was watching the pond intently for the slightest sign of movement, the frog just suddenly materialized like some kind of amphibian ninja, floating motionless on the surface with a small lump of mud for a hat. He drifted back and forth in the breeze, not moving a muscle. Watching him watch me — this creature that can freeze solid for weeks or months at a time, his heart stopped — I too began slipping into a trance. I was reminded of Charles Simic’s “Stone Inside a Stone,”

On the border of nothing and nothing.

Fossils of the wind.
But what wind?

You can’t step twice in the same river —
With a stone you can take your sweet time.

wood frog

The sun was sinking, and the temperature was dropping back down into the 40s. My fingers grew numb around the camera. I caught sight of the red-spotted newt that has been living in this spring for the past few years, feasting on frogs’ eggs and tadpoles and reducing the once-teeming wood frog population to a half-dozen long-lived survivors. The newt glided insouciantly along the bottom, and I couldn’t help wondering if this was the real “lizard in the spring” in the old Appalachian folksong.

Later, when Mom hears that the wood frogs had been out, she says she’s sorry she went for a walk in the woods instead. It seems we each took the other’s walk! But on the way back up the driveway to fix supper, I paused to admire a clump of newly opened coltsfoot at the edge of the driveway, small suns in a firmament of blue-gray stone.

coltsfoot

18 Comments


  1. You’re right about the lizard in the spring, Dave. Prairie-raised as I am, I imagined an anole in April, but around here, the spring-house is the place to look for “lizards” when you want to go fishing. The little salamanders are a favorite bait.

    Speaking of misinterpretation, I wish I’d had your dream-camera to capture my mental image of the woods “full of question marks.”

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  2. “It seems we each took the other’s walk!”

    Pfft, you know what they say about grass and fences….

    I also blinked at “the woods are full of question marks”… I’d just about decided she was being poetic when I reached “They’re migrating north.” Then I checked the link…. Amusing how those guys are clearly meant to switch between “back off, I taste bad” and “just a leaf, nothing to see here” at a moment’s notice!

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  3. Good point. Though far from the only butterfly to be designed for such an instantaneous switch, of course.

    Rebecca – People put salamanders on hooks? Damn. I’m sorry, that’s cruel.

    Hi, Marja-Leena!

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  4. The farmers are almost done with preparing the rice fields and in a few weeks they will be flooding them and once again the world will be filled with zillions and zillions of frogs singing. Funny how soothing the sound is, though it is quite a din.

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  5. I have a pond on my property. Last year sitting on the deck with some friends, one said, “I’ve been watching this pond for hours, listening to the ducks and have not seen one. Where can they be hiding?” We laughed and laughed after telling him that what he had been hearing were frogs. Exactly the same sounds you have captured.

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  6. miguel – Yes, I remember a post you did about that — was it last year? I can almost picture the photos that went with it. And the writing carried an almost palpable sense of elation, as I recall. If I know me, I probably left a comment extolling George Orwell’s essay on the annual frog-mating ritual outside London as one of his finest pieces of writing.

    CGP – Thanks. Fortunately, R. sylvatica still seems to be doing fine globally, though the sort of ephemeral ponds preferred for its reproduction are constantly being destroyed by builders, and federal protection of such wetlands has been largely withdrawn under the Bush regime, in contravention of the will of Congress.

    Mary – That’s pretty funny! Thanks for stopping by.

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  7. Fossils of the wind.

    Interesting too, that nearer to you, Long Island has them as well.

    One of my keystone images of this late winter derives from a visit to a deserted herpetarium during a downpour, which fell upon a skylight in, as Miguel wrote, a soothing din. All the commonplace sadness and ironies of a zoo were in place, as the soft energy of rain fell on the hard glass which roofed over a dry central garden, around which were walls containing electrically light exhibits of near extinct and extinct frogs, and lizards whose rain forests have gone missing. In one desert scape a leak in the roof let water pour in. It was darkened as workmen swore and converged upon it.

    I’m off to see about Mr. Orwell’s frogs!

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  8. Hm. It seems I can’t entirely delete a comment altogether, but must leave a shred, otherwise it is impossible to save. I also managed to multiply my comments somehow. Very interesting! Uncertainty abounds as well as the red letters “author saving failed!”

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  9. Bill – Thanks for both the comments and the feedback on this new commenting system. I took the liberty of deleting your first comment just now, since that seemed to be your desire, but it’s a little surprising that you can’t do so yourself. In a second I’ll open another browser where I’m not logged in and try that out myself.

    In regards to “fossils of the wind,” thanks for doing what I should’ve and looking for literal applications! It’s maybe a slight stretch to call them fossils, though, I suppose – is a footprint in stone referred to as a fossil? Still, very cool. And your description of the herpetarium was very lyrical, if sad.

    Hope you weren’t too frustrated looking for that essay; it was actually toads rather than frogs (biologically, there’s no difference). Here ’tis: Some Thoughts on the Common Toad

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  10. Damn, Bill, you’re right – not only is there no “delete” button, but blanking the comment is forbidden. That’s kind of a big omission on the part of this plugin’s creators.

    Still, it’s better than no editing ability at all, I hope.

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  11. Yes, I should think comment editing ability is a very good ideal to pursue, and for my part I’m sure I’ll try again, though I don’t like reporting on my misadventures! I’m not liable to edit my comments very well anyway as my favorite thing to do with a comment is to let it fly. I’m not one to keep them long in hand. If I do, they don’t get sent.

    Plug-ins are a big mystery to me, but I’m interested in them because of what they can apparently accomplish. I’d like to be able to make my browser frame disappear and I hear there’s one that can do that. As well I’d like to reverse my scroll orientation, and if I’ve understood correctly there’s one that can do that as well. I’ve been doing a lot of finger pad scrolling on my laptop (an equivalent to right click mouse scrolling perhaps ?) and I’ve just come to notice that when I move my fingers down the screen goes the up, in the opposite direction that I’m moving my fingers and it’s really messing me up! That needs to get straightened out! I want the sense of having the page under my fingers and being able to move it that way and not have to fly up over it like a hawk over field as it passes under me. Maybe that’s not the best way to explain it: I’d like to have the page move the direction my fingers, or mouse, is moving. I think you have a PC, does your screen move with you?

    In the case of the ventifacts I actually had prior independent knowledge of them. I had a bit of difficulty with the Simic metaphor, so I was happy to clunk around with such ready to hand literal objects. I always am. Nothing like stuff! There was some 80’s pop song that had the line…there’s a hole in my heart where the wind blows through… was it Pere Ubu? No… But I like wind shaped holes. Meteorites are somewhere else you can find them, though it’s not exactly a case of wind erosion, and it’s really cool when they give the feel of a wind shaped liquid, as though they were molten, even though they probably weren’t, though I wouldn’t know. Libyan desert glass, sand vitrified by a meteor impact then left to weather millennia of sandstorms is another neat kind of ventifact.

    Are they fossils? Probably not, but that one geologist did call them that so I went with it!

    Sorry to go on so discursively. I’ve been away, as I was being a jerk, so thanks for having me back. I’ll try to be good and to stay sober.

    Thanks for the Orwell link. I recently enjoyed very much reading “Down and Out” at an Orwell-on-line site, especially since I managed to come across pages not of white, with too high contrast, but a very reasonable grey.

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  12. Enjoyed the Orwell essay, though I think he’s wrong about one thing: “So long as you are not actually ill, hungry, frightened or immured in a prison or a holiday camp, spring is still spring.” I would say that even under all those conditions and places spring is probably still spring.

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  13. I don’t know. I think it’s realistic of him to suggest that under such cicumstances the power of spring to revive the spirit might be somewhat lessened, so in that sense spring is not quite the resurgence of life and light that we are used to experiencing.

    Down and Out was good. But my favorite book of his was Coming Up for Air, which strikes me as more prophetic than either Animal Farm or 1984 because it takes such a hard look at our relationship with the natural world.

    “Plugins” as I was using the term refers specifically to optional WordPress code added on to the core functionality, which is lean by design. But if you’re using Firefox there are all kinds of extensions and user-side scripts that you can add – maybe some people call them plugins, I don’t know. I don’t know about other browsers because I don’t use them, except when making sure that a site I’m tweaking displays properly.

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  14. Ha. Well, this was well worth your freezing your butt off, at least for me. :-) Thanks!

    It also reminds me that rana is the word in Spanish for frog. Sapo being a toad. For some reason, as I lose all my Spanish vocabulary from disuse, I remember the distinction.

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  15. You’re right: those two words are very hard to forget, aren’t they? “Sapo” in particular sounds way more like the creature it names than “toad,” to my ear.

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  16. Dave, you’re right! Spring certainly doesn’t come for the toads at the herpetarium.

    And I edited this!

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