Sharon March 30th, 2009

Spring doesn’t come easily in upstate New York - she wrestles with Old Man Winter for a long, long time before he gives up.  The first sign is the daffodils, up a small amount in February, giving false hope, but also inspiration – proof positive, as they weather layers of snow and ice that spring may come in the guise of a fresh girl, but she is one tough young lady.  But I have to remind myself – green stems do not mean spring.

Then comes the inevitable thaw, and the smell of wet earth, that scent that screams spring, but isn’t quite because you’ll have more frozen nights and wintry days yet.  The grass, uncovered, greens up faintly, but the dominant colors are dull grey and brown, and we hold our breath for the change that can’t come fast enough.  The crocuses bloom, and that is a small change, a step forward, but the real thing hasn’t come. 

The birds come back, new ones each day – first the robins, of course, still in winter, but a tiny flit of hope for an end.  Then the grackles come in waves (it is hard to be excited about grackles, but in winter, one can be happy about anything that prophecies its end).  Then a bright dash of red winged blackbird, and then a sudden burst of new birds each day.  But delightful though they are, the birds in themselves cannot carry spring.

Here, spring isn’t a color, and it isn’t a smell or a taste, and it doesn’t even have wings (although it might have feathers, a la Emily Dickinson).  Oh, spring has flavor – wild strawberries and overwintered spinach, dandelion greens and wild asparagus.  Spring has smells – warm wet earth and daffodils, hyacinths and grass, and colors – the clear pure yellow of daffodils, the purple of crocuses, that sweet gold-green that blushes trees and the reddish tint of buds that preceeds it, the vibrant green of new grass.  But it is none of those things. 

It is a sound, a single sound, the end of wintery silence when the Peepers wake up and begin to call to one another for love.  Peepers, for those of you who don’t live where they do, are tiny frogs, who make a sound not entirely unlike the sounds of katydids or crickets when heard from a distance, but different, wonderfully strange and sweet up close.  They are far too loud for their tiny size - standing next to a pond full of them, you would think you might go mad – except that after a long muffled winter of snow, you have to listen just a little longer. 

One year, just once, I heard them begin to sing.  We went to the wetlands on the edge of our property, walking along the road, and we stood in absolute silence and waited, and heard just one peeper take up the song,  for the first time or maybe it just seemed that way.  By that night, the whole watery area was in chorus, but just at the beginning, it was just one lonely peeper, hoping that somewhere, there was someone else for him.  It was strangely magical, and every year I try to duplicate it, to be there when they awaken, and spring truly begins. 

This year we went, day after day, long before it was really likely that we’d hear them, when there was still ice along the edges of the water and patches of snow in the woods, but we went.  And even Asher knew that when we got to the wetlands, we should stand, and be quiet and wait.  And we would, hearing new bird songs each day, until something disturbed us.  Yesterday, we got back late from the Greenmarket and errand running, and everyone was tired, so we did not walk out.  And at chore time, as I was cooking dinner, Eric came back in and told me that the peepers were calling.  We had already put the boys to bed, but ran upstairs, and opened the windows so that they could hear it too.

 I missed the moment spring came to my place, but I expect that, no matter how hard I try and duplicate a near-miracle. Mostly, you don’t see deep change happen, even though you know that it is occurring.  You go out in the garden after an absence of a few days, and wonder how those tiny seedlings became those deep-rooted plants, or you look at your daughter and wonder how it is that she’s lost the look of a toddler and become a child, with nobby knees and a galloping gait.  Mostly the biggest transitions pass us by, and it is enough to say that you didn’t miss anything important in its entirety.  They say on hot nights in July you can hear the corn growing, and just once, I did hear the peepers awaken, but mostly the greatest transitions pass you by and that is our lot in life.

In a purely practical sense, were you looking at my mud-colored landscape, you might wonder what changed, why I say that spring came.  We still have more mud than green, things are still changing only incrementally, the daffodils still aren’t yet open, although the purple crocuses brighten each morning.  Things still squelch, and I know better than to plant out today – the peas I put in today will, as usual, sit waiting for dryer and more settled weather and end up being harvested at precisely the same time as the peas I plant out in two weeks – so why bother, except, of course, that I am chomping at the bit to plant anything outside.  Seedlings are great, but they are not sufficient to sustain me.

All I can say is that I know this is it because it is – not very useful, I suppose, but I know that now no snowfall, no late frost, no burst of winter will make a difference in the consistent forward motion of energetic spring.  So I wait to plant,  the waiting is made easier by the singing of tiny frogs, frogs I almost never see, whose presence I would not suspect were it not for those short weeks in which their music dwarfs the birds and my noisy family, and shakes the foundations of winter.  He’s done for. 

Spring has won, again.  The rest will come slowly, achingly, and then it will burst upon us, and some people, looking at the flowers, the grass, the budding trees, will nod and say “spring is here.”  And we will smile at them and agree that it certainly is, and hold quietly the fact that we heard spring happen, and were there, if not for the golden moment, just after life returned anew.

Happy Spring, 


31 Responses to “Peep!”

  1. Patty says:

    Wow. Absolutely beautifully written. Thank you so much. After a weekend of doom and gloom a hopeful post is a tonic.

  2. Maebius says:

    I agree, this was wonderfully written (all your posts are generally). At my old farmhouse, we have a swampy half-pond in the backyard, and I completely understand the PEEP magic. Last night, in hte midst of that cold drizzle around upstate NY, I stood on our back porch for a few minutes just to let myself be ‘driven mad’ by the cacophony.

  3. Annette says:

    We had peepers in Hot Springs Saturday nite. =) Yeah Spring!

  4. Abbie says:

    I heard the peepers for the first time on Friday afternoon. What a delight!

  5. Colleen says:

    Wonderfully well written.

    Peepers herald spring for me, too! We first heard them here in WNC about two weeks ago.

    My nettle patch is already 6″-8″ high and the first violets are dotting the yard.

    Inspired by Organic Growers School (last weekend) and the Independence Days Challenge, I sowed cabbage & radish seeds in one of our raised beds last Monday. After a rainy week, the first sprouts are beginning to push through the soil. : )

  6. Wendy says:

    For me, the herald of spring is the maple sap flowing. We get peepers, too, but spring already has a good steady foothold once the peepers start singing. Here, it’s the sap flowing, and even though we still have very cold nights and even a couple of early spring snowstorms, spring is truly here once we start making syrup.

    And now that we’ve made the syrup, it’s time to plant the peas ;) .

  7. curiousalexa says:

    I have fond memories of a house on several acres I rented one year in MN. Walking out of the house was like walking into a solid wall of sound!

  8. Jerry says:

    I heard peepers on Friday for the first time and look foward to wood frogs and the toads coming soon after. Spring really arrives here in southeastern Ct. when the barn swallows return on April 26th give or take a day. They are like clockwork.

  9. Wow. I loved this. It speaks volumes, across religions, and back to the human nature.

    Every morning when I get up at o-dark-thirty to go to work, I peep out my window at the daffodils and tulips in bloom and watch the goldfinches turn more yellow/gold every day.

    I love spring!

  10. Berkshire says:

    We’re a little later to Spring than Sharon. It is snowing and the wind blowing about 35 mph up here at 1600 feet in the mountains I claim with my handle.

    The excellant news is the rhubarb has popped in the tire collars I shelter them in. The garlic has exploded. The chive can be sampled and can the dandelions be far behind? The real Spring treat is the asparagus that should arrive in a little over a month.

  11. Cathy says:

    Peepers made their debut in western lower Michigan on Friday 3/27 — welcome back, little guys!

  12. ctdaffodil says:

    I’ll have to listen for peepers at night now. They get loud here so it shouldn’t be hard soon.

    I did look for dandelions in the yard today – want to try eating the fresh new leaves….any suggestions on how to prep them??

  13. Theresa says:

    We have a bog/marsh/pond near our house and the sound of the peeper frogs is something I look forward to every year! It is still many weeks away here yet, but it is good to know that others have heard them already :)

  14. Nettle says:

    Dandelion greens:
    Wash and drain your greens. They make a tasty and nutritious addition to spring salads, or if you want to do something more involved, try sauteeing them with some onions and garlic (and maybe some bacon if you’re inclined that way) – do the onions and garlic first, until they just start to brown at the edges, than add the greens and sautee until just wilted. Eat with just a little salt and pepper.

    I love nettles, as you might guess – spring nettles are wonderful and tasty.Wear gloves to harvest and clean, obviously, but once cooked all the sting goes away and they are totally safe to eat. You can cook them any way you would spinach or kale or such greens. I made nettle quiche last spring that was fantastic.

    Sharon, this was a beautifully written post and gave me peeper nostalgia – we have them where I grew up but there are none for miles around where I am now.

  15. Laurie in MN says:

    Have not heard the peepers — I don’t live far enough out that it’s a real possibility — but I have heard the earthworms coming up out of the ground to feed/wave around in the moonlight. It was a strange and magical thing — we even saw them moving last year’s leaves as they searched for food.

    Sadly, spring is still dragging her feet here in MN. Due for more snow today late/tomorrow. But the maple trees in my back yard have bigger bud caps than they did last week, and one of my sedum plants seems to be sending up shoots, so I’m hopeful that she’ll eventually get here. :)

  16. In my backyard, I see the little plants growing, and I even noticed a little strawberry plant poking up out of the ground! Hardy little creature! I am not as yet versed in the birdles up here, though at Riverfront Park I’ve noticed more Canadian geese of late. My partner has been noticing some trees starting to bud throughout the regionm too.

    A curious tangent off your post about which I personally would like to hear people’s own self-perceptions: In my spiritual training, I have been encouraged to take stock of my own personal wheel of the year. In many pagan traditions, the agricultural cycle is a foundational tool, and to certain mindsets, the equinox was “mid-spring.” (The summer solstice is “midsummer,” and May Day or Beltane, is considered the beginning of summer, which works for me. Groundhog Day or Imbolc is considered the beginning of spring, and to me personally I feel the spring in the soil r/t in the air at that time of year.)

    Anyway, I’ve been musing about my own personal wheel-year, and I think that as the society around us goes wherever it’s going to go, my own perceptual change points will change. For me, spring feels like agricultural winter, or at least it has in the past few years. Right now I’m second-guessing that though. I think I get a mite down this time of year, not only b/c I live in the Northeast (all sorts of pathologies and social dysfunctions peak at this time of year), but also because I REALLY want to be outside more than I can be. Of late, because it seems spring has awakened earlier, I’m feeling this energy a lot more, and b/c I have Irish/English/Swedish blood, I feel that the “cold” is just part of the bargain. It’s confusing for me though, because I feel excitement at different times of year and I’ve become really alive to the various times of the year.

    Other people I know get depressed in the summer. I used to, but that was because I used to be 300 pounds at my top weight. When I lost the extra pounds, I became aware of a different base rhythm that still unfolds, that still creates perceptions anew about my own physical relation to the yearly wheel we all experience whatever hemisphere we inhabit. What are others’ perceptions?

  17. Michelle says:

    I blogged about the peepers, too! I heard them this past Friday night for the first time, and it couldn’t have been better timing. I needed that boost.

    Spring does seem early to me this year; I’ve had laundry outside to dry for several weeks already. My pussy willow’s catkins are well along, and my crocuses are abloom in the sheltered, SW facing bed where I planted peas on Saturday afternoon. Around here the “wisdom” is to plant peas on St. Patrick’s Day, but that seems early to me, as many years there’s still been snow here then. However, full steam ahead for me: I’ll be planting kale, broccoli, and carrot seeds this coming weekend.

    Michelle, Amherst MA

  18. knutty knitter says:

    We don’t have peepers here just the occasional Australian tree frogs. Spring is daffodils and bluebells and fantails. Its getting into Autumn here and we are getting cold southerlies and almost frosty mornings. Its been a weird summer with very hot bits and cold bits and wet bits but not as we usually expect. I don’t think there will be many tomatoes ripen outside. The lettuce has nearly all gone but the spinach is still good and I think I got most of the caterpillars off my brussel sprouts – famous last words. They look a bit chewed but are still alive.

    Next year I hope for more garden and my kitchen.

    Oh, and I turned off the fridge and turned on the small freezer.

    viv in nz

  19. Rebecca says:

    Wonderful post, Sharon, and wonderfully written!
    We don’t have peepers here, at least not that I’ve ever seen (but I don’t live near water, either). In my location here in Alabama I know spring is well and truly here when the redbuds bloom. The daffodils, tulips, and crocus bloom in winter here, but it is not until the day I get up and go outside to see a riot of pink that wasn’t there the night before that I know that Spring has come at last.

  20. Linda S says:

    Sharon, your beautiful, poetic post made me nostalgic for seasons. Here in the Florida panhandle, we have an ombre of gradual warming from warm to hot to hotter and gradually back again. We don’t have a spring season because we don’t have a winter season. We do, however, have winter days interspersed here and there during the months of January and February, and those are some of my favorites of the year — winter is when the pelicans dive bomb our canal in a comical game of follow-the-leader. I look forward every year to their antics and to knowing that winter is here if but for a day or two.

  21. Kati says:

    What a beautiful post, Sharon! I’m still waiting for spring here in the Fairbanks area, but we had some hints of it this past weekend. This morning, we woke up to more snow. (It’s still coming down, too!)

    For us “Spring” always seems to come in the dark of night. One evening you’ll head to bed and the ground will be brown with last year’s grass, and there will still be piles of muddy-filthy snow in quiet corners of yards, and the trees will be leaf-less, though bud-full. The birds will still be the winter wrens and sparrows.

    The next morning (or, so it seems) you wake up and the buds on the trees have become “squirrel ears” and the snow piles are now strips of water running down the sides of the road to the drainage points on the road, and there are green bits of grass peeking every-so-bravely through the dead, dry grass from last year, and you catch sight of a robin (they RARELY come here before the snow is mostly gone), and the skies are actually BLUE and the temperature is hovering about 50 degrees and feels WARM instead of crisply cool.

    I have yet to have any consistant success with the flower bed, so I don’t know about spring flowers peeking through the soil, and my strawberries are were new in last year, so I haven’t yet had the experience of seeing them burst out of the leaf-cover I bedded them with last fall. But, the signs we DO have are incredible. And yet, Spring always sneaks in quietly and suprises us one morning with her arrival. We never seem to catch her in the act, maybe because she’s just so dang quick about it around here. Takes her forever to come, but when she’s here, she’s here all at once, not in stages. *wry smile*

  22. Greenpa says:

    yep, good one Sharon. :-)

    People who’ve never experienced just can’t imagine the ROAR of a pond full of tiny 1/2 inch frogs. You have to stand on the edge of the pond, in full dark, to really get it. It’s astounding.

    We have 6 species of frog, 1 toad, and 1 salamander in our pond- it’s tremendous fun watching their behavior over the year- and seeing the variations from year to year.

    The peepers actually winter in the woods- not the pond. Usually under a piece of loose bark or something; they change their blood chemistry so they don’t rupture cells, and go dormant, with body temperatures way way below freezing.

    If you listen carefully, you can hear a peep or two in the fall; in the woods; when the day length is similar to springtime. And in the spring, too- there will be a peep or two in the woods, as they start their march to the water.

    Nearly all invisible; you have to really want to see and hear.

  23. Greenpa says:

    Oh, and. A couple years ago I was thrilled out of my mind to hear a peeper in fall- among trees I had planted, on corn fields.

    When the frogs come back- you know you’ve got a healthy system.

  24. dogear6 says:

    While green may not mean that spring has come, the robins coming back does. The robins come back, it snows, you see them shivering in the snow, and spring is here shortly thereafter. It works like in the Midwest and it even works like that in Richmond, Virginia. It won’t be spring until you see robins shivering in the snow. It’s not an old wives tale, it is a Nancyism. But it is true.

  25. Pony says:

    It has been colder here in the Pac NW for the last few years and we had 7 record-setting lows in March this year, but it looks like spring is breaking through at last. Cherry trees and forsythias are in bloom. Now, if it would just stop snowing in the mountain passes. We’d like to go over to the east side and pick up the apple tree prunings I’ve been promised for making woven veggie supports.

  26. pat nixon says:

    I loved the peeper story. My computer guy just got a new ring tone for his phone- He thought the sound it was the sound of crickets- I had to explain to Marty that the sounds were tiny frogs and what a peeper was. City Boy!

  27. MD says:

    Beautiful post! I live in a city now, but we used to hear the frogs when I was growing up near the Harpeth river in middle TN. We’re well into spring now, with the dogwoods in full bloom, trees leafing out, and birds in glorious choirs serenading the morning at sunrise. Spring here has a smell- I’ve been out digging since mid-February, and the smell of the soil changed at planting time- from smelling like the ice bin of the freezer (though the soil here does not really freeze), to smelling like some delicious (dirty) fruit you could almost eat.
    You make me miss the peepers, though Dad says suburbanization has now killed the river- no more frogs. I hope the rise in environmental awareness (a rivershed association has been formed) will mean that people start working to bring it back. The farmers maintained the river well, because their stock drank the water, and their sons swam and fished there, but the subdivision-living, excessive-lawn-fertilizing people who came after did not care. Maybe some of them will read your beautiful story about the peepers and want some, too. They will clean up the watershed, and the life will slowly return to the stream. We can hope.

  28. Jerry says:

    Just like I said they would toads are out in force on a wet Friday evening here in southeastern Ct.
    I actually had to drive carefully up the small road on our farm for fear of running them over. When I walked down later I counted about forty toads in about fifty yards. Happy spring everyone.

  29. Anonymous says:

    Peepers!!! I thought that was only what my family grew up calling them. I remember driving slowly listening to them and some how feeling that all was well with my world.

    I love to hear the first peepers but the best are the third time I hear them. My grandma always said that peepers mouths would freeze 3 times before spring would truly be here :)

    I think Peepers are just as good as lightening bugs (which are a sign of summer here).

  30. Koshka says:

    I deeply appreciate your writing.

    I do wonder how you as a Jew view the issue of Israel and Palestine as regards the loss of farmland by the Palestinians to the security wall that has been built.

    My view is that this is a deliberate policy by the Israel government is alienate the basis of survival from the Palestinians and is thus counter to what we should be working towards internationally.

    As you have a faith based approach to the importance of food I hope that you will address the question of Israel and Palestine regarding this.

    If you have already written on this please just direct me to the posts.


  31. Quite appreciate you sharing this blog blog post.Thanks a lot Again. Really Great.

Leave a Reply