14 Oct

The Call Of Spring From The Monkey-Puzzle Tree

Not even gentle whispers of hidden and dying snow or gurgles of newborn rivulets seeking the sea, nor catkins of pussy-willows nor tang of bared and softened soil, not these alone will make a true March unless with the evening “thief, thief” of newlyarrived robins there comes also the cadence of Hyla the spring peeper. Soon from every pool, from every ditch, from every pond the chorus rises. Woodland bogs with skunk cabbage on their margins, meadow hollows brim full with water that was but lately snow, marshes with the feet of last year’s cattails still in their midst-all echo at evening with these shrill voices.

From the roadside ditches, above the motor’s noise, they make themselves known. At every stop of the train their notes come to the sleeper in the Pullman. And to one who, at home, steps out to draw, lung-full, the air of March there comes a vibrant throb. It is the effect of the peeper voices in great multitudes. How much a part of spring they are! Who has not exulted with the promise that the first peepers bring?

But how many have searched them out where they shrill by their pond or puddle? How many have stood amazed at the littleness of the object from which a voice comes that may carry, in the quiet of evening, for a mile or more? For Hyla crucifer, the spring peeper, in spite of his voice, is no bigger than the first joint of an average thumb! But here we are concerned chiefly with the peeper’s cousin, Hyla regilla, the far western tree frog. Like the peeper the western tree frog announces spring; like the peeper he has a voice all out of proportion to his size; but where the peeper says “pee-eep”, this one in the West says “scratch-it.”

Outside my laboratory window is a monkey-puzzle tree. The monkey-puzzle tree, odd though it is, has very little to do with this story except that beneath it is a heavy mat of English ivy. And in this ivy is the home of a western tree frog. In the far West it is a bit difficult to tell just when spring begins and it is possible that Hyla crucifer, if transferred here, might misjudge it altogether and announce spring when the rains begin in December, that being the only thing comparable to March in the east. But Hyla regilla is not deluded.

Spring begins at the end of January when alders bloom just as blooming alders in March announce spring to peepers three thousand miles away. So it came about that as January was running into February and the alder catkins in the canyons were shaking their pollen into the wind, there arose outside my window beneath the monkey-puzzle tree in the ivy vine, one cloudy day, a loud voice that said, “scratch-it, scratch-it.” I knew that Hyla knew that spring had come.

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