A reader in New York City, noting the recent mention of Hyla crucifer, writes:
“Oh to be in New Hampshire -- my cousin emailed me just yesterday that the peepers have started. When my mother was beginning to fail, her caretaker would drive her on spring evenings to a place where she could hear the peepers from the car.”
Go here and here to hear what my friend’s mother wished to hear, and at the same time read what Thoreau observes in his journal for March 31, 1857:
“The voice of the peepers is not so much of the earth earthy as of the air airy. It rises at once on the wind and is at home there, and we are incapable of tracing it further back.”
Even when we understand the spring chorus as the peeper’s mating call, a song of courtship, we understand very little. The sound moves us out of proportion to its exclusively biological significance: “We are incapable of tracing it further back.” Nature is both familiar and alien, and that is the source of its attraction, though some remain immune to the charms of the natural world. Imagine hiking the fields and forests with Franz Kafka. Still others identify nature with the distant and exotic, as though Amazonia were “real” nature, but not the backyard. Though boasting he had “travelled a great deal in Concord,” Thoreau helped manufacture the cult of wilderness, a natural extension of the Romantic longing for transcendent experiences.
Saturday morning, my 10-year-old was standing idly by the big window in the living room when he was startled by what he called “an explosion of feathers.” Not for the first time, a bird had crashed into the glass. We couldn’t find it and concluded it had flown away or was hiding in the ivy. But there it was, nicely camouflaged against the stone-filled concrete of the driveway – a newly fledged house sparrow. I lifted it and a drop of blood appeared on my palm, and I noticed another, smaller, on its beak. The bird was frozen in shock, perhaps dead, then exploded again in flight and landed high in the cedar beside the house. For a second I had stared into its staring eye, not knowing if it was alive or dead. Yvor Winters writes in “On Rereading a Passage from John Muir”:
“This was my childhood revery: to be
Not one who seeks in nature his release,
But one forever by the dripping tree,
Paradisaic in his pristine peace.”
And in "The Manzanita," about the arbutus or madrone, a tree common in our region and elsewhere on the West Coast, Winters writes:
"This life is not our life; nor for our wit
The sweetness of these shades; these are alone.
There is no wisdom here; seek not for it!
This is the shadow of the vast madrone."