Sunday, April 11, 2010

Wet Feet And Strangers In The Wood

It started with a stranger in the woods. Enraptured by the calls of the red-winged blackbird, the stark wintered-over cattails and the sun shining on the last shards of ice on the pond, I struck up a conversation with a passerby. It must have been my goofy, content-with-the world-and-all-of-nature smile but it was not long before this fellow was saying, “I know where there are some great vernal pools.”

I know, like you haven’t heard that a thousand times.

The vernal pools were much larger than what I’d expected, 15 or 20 feet across and more than knee deep. He said the defining feature of a vernal pool is simply that salamanders and frogs lay eggs in it. “You can see better with polarized sunglasses,” he said handing me his. Suddenly I could see right past the reflections on the surface of the pool to the frog eggs underneath. There were thousands of them!

I asked how he knew they were wood frog eggs. Perhaps it was just the springtime euphoria muddling my mind, maybe he’d interpreted the question too broadly, but all I remember of his answer was, “I’ve always loved the woods." It was very romantic.

He had to go he said, but just beyond the next bend, up the little knoll at the narrows, if I took a right at the glacial something or other I'd find another pool and more frog eggs. I thanked him and told him I’d check it out and much to my surprise I did.

Have you ever noticed how hard it is to give directions in the woods? If you aren’t versed in geology or aren’t entirely sure what the difference is between a birch and an alder… well, you’re kind of screwed.

But at the top of the next knoll, thanks to the lack of foliage, the pool was easy to spot. I used my brilliant powers of deduction to figure out that the glacial thangy he’d referred to would have to be the large boulder and I bounded down the hill thinking, “Huh, so this is a ‘narrows’? I don’t see that. At least I knew what a knoll was.”

And thank goodness or I never would have gotten my feet wet. I was just going to step in a little. My shoes are good in up to an inch and half of water, but in my quest for the perfect angle on frog spawn, I overstepped. I’ve really never had more fun looking at small gelatinous balls suspended in goo. And I've never been happier hiking while wet.

[I’ve been watching spring unfold during my walks around an oversized pond in Northampton MA, called Fitzgerald Lake. This particular incident occurred Thursday March 25th, 2010.]


  1. Years ago, as a reporter, I remember covering some land development or another and the big hold up at the Planning Dept. was vernal pools! Once I learned about them for that story, I have always kept my eyes open. Weird that! Good luck on your part!

  2. Dan,
    I bet vernal pools brought a little excitement into the planning board meeting. Thanks for the comment. No doubt we'll be delving into vernal pools again. I went to the library yesterday and came home with an armload of books.

  3. i did my senior thesis on vernal pools and every time i tell people this they get this strange little twinkle in their eyes, and say "ooh! vernal pools!" to this day i have no idea what the attraction to them is for us homosapiens but nearly everyone will get that excited glint ... maybe it's all the mating calls and egg laying ... feel free to email me with any questions you have :)

  4. Balefire,
    You did your senior thesis on vernal pools! I might just email you.... Thanks!