At 11:30 at night on the northern end of Lake Parker, most of the human lights are gone. The residents of West Glover have long since gone to bed, and light from an almost-full moon illuminates the sky just enough to make out the canopy line of hardwoods and softwoods in full summer foliage. Otherworldly lights dance among the branches before me, and peepers sing their staccato, “Pick me! Pick me!” over the soft pattering of rain on my car’s roof.
Wait a minute. Why is this weird chick creeping among residents’ homes so late at night? What’s a herp? What does that have to do with Herpes? Hold your ponies, I’m working on it!
Herps (short for herptiles or herpetofauna, and referring to reptiles and amphibians collectively) have long been a passion of mine. As a kid, my parents wouldn’t let me get “normal” childrens’ pets like a hamster or a rabbit. We had already tried having indoor mammals, and they smelled too much. After a trip to the local pet store, I became the proud new owner of a baby Green Iguana. I was hooked.
Over twenty years and many herps later, I have returned to college to transform my passion into a career. Following this vein, my senior project centers on the distribution of Mink Frogs in Vermont. My late-night creeping in NEK towns is innocent data collection that will eventually feed into this project.
Were I to plan this study again, I would make sure to notify residents in the areas in which I am taking data prior to collection nights. Unfortunately for one man in Lemington particularly, I did not have time to do that. I am grateful that he was so cordial when informing me that they had a rash of break-ins recently. That interaction could have gone much worse.
Side note: if you are planning a route and Google Maps tells you that a road “may be closed at certain times or days,” that is code for, “This road is not really used anymore and will screw your car up, so find a different route.” My ’08 Forester already creaks like a wooden ship from a cracked exhaust, and some of these old roads make me wish ‘Roos had higher clearance, to say the least.
On the upside, overgrown roads strewn with puddles and branches hanging almost too low overhead remind me of my youth in rural coastal North Carolina. I explored these roads of memory first on foot, then via ATV, and evoking these scenes in my psyche grants me a temporary reprieve not often found in the life of a non-traditional student.
Regrettably, Google Maps does not always inform, however subtly, of suboptimal driving conditions. One road in East Haven, after masquerading as a normal Vermont dirt road for nearly five miles (albeit with very little in the way of residential property), constricted to a swampy rut before ending abruptly at a pile of boulders just south of the East Branch of the Moose River.
Kicking the car into reverse—because heavy brush to either side prevented an about-face—and turning down an intersecting road that, on paper, led to the western side of East Haven met with no more promising a detour. The road terminated unexpectedly in a mound of gravel more than twice my car’s height. It appeared the town decided to take advantage of the warm season to repair the path.
Were I not in such a good mood, such diversions would put a serious kink in my day. As it is, the recent reappearance of the sun warms my back and eases my mind. I passed off these minor inconveniences with nothing more than a glance at a paper map.
Not to be outdone by our solar revitalizer, the moon donned a glowing golden shroud this past Wednesday, taunting me as I sped down the state highway in search of my next site. Harvest moons, with their abnormal vastness and ominous hue, make it easy to see why past cultures may have worshipped and woven stories about forces of nature they could not understand. I found myself creating my own conjecture about the tiny lights in the trees, though logically I know they are likely male fireflies looking for love.
In addition to the bioluminescent lampyrid beetles, I saw and heard a number of vertebrate species this week. I came very close to sideswiping a large North American porcupine standing on the double yellow in Maidstone as I rounded a bend. A mother striped skunk, kit scruffed in her mouth, waddled in front of me in Ryegate. I watched bats swoop over Lower Symes Pond snapping up mosquitoes as the sun sank in the west. Thanks, bats!
While collecting at the Columbia Bridge in Lemington, I heard what I thought were coyotes yipping below on the New Hampshire side of the Connecticut. Either a red fox or white-tailed deer greeted almost every night. Last night, in Glover, a male American Goldfinch sang for me nearing midnight. Go home, goldfinch. You’re drunk.
Although the Mink Frog still eludes me, four other frog species have graced me with their calls. The quintessential Spring Peeper called in abundance at almost every site I visited, and certainly in every town. The Gray Treefrog’s short, bursty vibrato hailed from Lemington and Glover. Long, high-pitched, buzzy trilling signaled the American Toad in Lemington and Glover as well. In Ryegate and Glover, the banjo-string “gunk” of the Green Frog joined the peeper chorus.
In today’s western world, it can be arduous to find time for ourselves and rejuvenate our souls. The songs of the peepers, pervasive and overwhelming as they are, remind me that we can never be alone in this world. They bring me back to the spirit of the Earth as so few things in my cushy living room can. It is this fleeting tranquility that fuels me on long, lonely, nocturnal drives. It is this peace that I wish to share with everyone in my life.
Written by Heather Cullen.