The storm came and went like a nightmare. Wind tore its way through tree branches and battered my homemade birdfeeder against my fourth-floor window. Rainwater gurgled into gutters and cascaded off the roof of my dormitory. Violence pervaded the night. And then it stopped. The sinister darkness that the thunderstorm brought was soon replaced by a brilliant night sky, the few clouds remaining dyed cotton-candy pink from the nearby city of Charlotte. Perfect, I thought.
I'm not used to this kind of weather in February. A Falconer native, I am a foreigner to North Carolina, but I know what a warm, moist early spring night means. It is the same anywhere I go. It is a constant, something I can rely on. It was there that night, waiting for me in the darkness, and I intended to go out and find it. With the passing of the storm I donned my raincoat, slipped on some old shoes, grabbed my headlamp and camera, and I was out the door.
At first it was silent as I squished my way along the soft red earth of the cross-country trail that meanders its way around the college's ecological preserve. A few droplets of water slipped off leaves and branches and plunked their way toward the ground. Otherwise, not a sound. Not what I was hoping for. And then, cresting a hill below a powerline, I heard it. Only the stars witnessed the slight smile that crossed my face as I gave audience to a conversation that broke the silence only a short distance away. Not a conversation really, but a monologue that is common to moist nights around the world, yet unique from place to place. The North Carolina version of this spring soliloquy belongs to the upland chorus frog, a diminutive species that breaches the silence of such nights as the one I have been describing with a crescendoing prreep that has been likened to the sound of running one's finger over the teeth of a comb. As I approached the source of the noise, a shallow, muddy pool of a cool rivulet, the chorus of what was easily a hundred or more frogs abruptly ceased. They heard the stranger coming and didn't want any eavesdroppers.
A pair of chorus frogs.
And so I waited. I sat in the mud by the stream in darkness and in silence. I watched the stars. I thought back to similar nights, 600 miles away, years ago, where I sat and listened to the songs of spring peepers and wood frogs. Those sounds, those peeps and quacks of Chautauqua County nights, are the sounds of my childhood and adolescence, of home, of place. Amongst calling frogs I find belonging. Hat turned backward, headlamp on, muddied hands and clothes, camera at the ready, knee deep in swampy muck, enveloped by an impermeable cacophony of deafening yet beautiful sound: This is how I find a piece of home wherever I go. I've found it near a pond in Vermont and in a bald cypress swamp in Southern Indiana. I was searching for it in North Carolina.
This night it didn't seem like the chorus frogs were eager to welcome me. They remained quiet and hidden as a full moon rose over the trees to the east. They seemed unsure of this peculiar visitor; hesitant of him. Then it happened. A few feet away one brave little frog uttered a single, tentative prreeeeep. It was answered by the call of another frog tucked underneath overhanging brush. Another followed, then exponentially more until I had to cover my ears to block out some of the sound that was now reverberating in my skull and in my being. Within a matter of seconds I was no longer 600 miles from home. I had found it on the bank of a muddy stream in North Carolina.
Warm, rainy spring nights will soon come to Audubon. Until then visit the center Mondays and Saturday from 10 a.m. until 4:30 p.m., and Sundays from 1 to 4:30 p.m. The trails and Liberty are open dawn to dusk. Call 569-2345 for more information or visit our Web site at www.jamestownaudubon.org. Audubon is located at 1600 Riverside Road, off Route 62 between Warren and Jamestown.
Rex Everett is a volunteer at Audubon and a college student who prefers listening to frogs to studying any day.