Starships and salamanders are on the move (March 31 newsletter)

Standing water spills over at the edge of the marsh, and the peepers are loud — high, rising, calling all around us. It feels too early to believe in spring yet, but the frogs are awake.

I’m out with a neighbor on a (quietly distanced) walk neither of us had planned until a few minutes ago. A casual text, an amble ten minutes from home, and the night has changed.

We’re standing in the dusk a few yards from the Hoosic River, on the edge of a fragment of wetland. The sound brings us up standing. It’s all around us.

We fall silent. Somewhere in a conversation about Octavia Butler and N.K. Jemison and how a writer chooses what choices her characters will have or will not have — how she imagines beings from other planets, or a civilization in Nubia and the Nile delta, or on Mars … we pause and stand still.

We’re looking across wet ground to a bare tree with its bark worn smooth, and we’re surrounded by invisible singers. What does a tree look like to an inch-long frog that can climb and shift his skin or hers to the colors of bark?

I’ve heard them all my life, and I’ve never yet seen one, though I saw a grey tree frog once — the first time I talked with naturalists at the Berkshire Museum, I remember Scott Jervas sitting at his desk with a live frog on his thumb. I’ve never seen a black and yellow-spotted salamander either, only the flame-orange newts later in summer.

The salamanders should be moving too on evenings like this. A few days ago, Drew Jones, manager at Hopkins Forest, and Scott Lewis, director of the Williams Outing Club, told me it’s the right time.

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