I paused momentarily at the end of the driveway to check my inner compass, then abruptly turned southeast and headed out on foot. The binoculars bounced off my plaid woolen coat as I climbed the leaf-strewn path past the basalt outcroppings to the far ridge.
Chickadees flitted on bare grey branches by the path; a red-bellied woodpecker cackled from the glen below. A black swallow-tail fluttered down to rest on a lichen-covered rock in the middle of the trail, slowly fanning its wings in the cool spring air.
I stopped at the first power-line cut to survey the valley below. Off in the distance a red-tailed hawk circled in the air high above the river.
Just beyond the second cut I sensed the distant sound of spring peepers. The cacophony grew louder and louder as I approached the vernal pool. Tiny heads, each bearing a set of bulging eyes, bobbed just below the surface. The dark water was littered with hundreds of frogs, each one hovering with legs splayed out in frog fashion behind him. They swam in quick, short strokes, as though they hadn’t yet mastered the power of each purchase. I stood by the bank for some time, enveloped in the orchestral overture.
On my way back along the lower trail I met a man bearing a large tarp full of leaves and pine needles. He slung his oversize bundle down in the middle of the trail as I approached.
“I’m laying down some forest mulch to cut down on the erosion,” he said. “The mountain bikers and dirt bikers have worn the path down to bare rock.”
“I didn’t know they allowed dirt bikes on the trail,” I said.
“They don’t,” he said. “But every evening they come up from below and ride the ridge.”
“That must put the peepers down,” I said.
“To be sure,” he retorted. “Of course, the peepers stop as soon as you approach the pools.”
“I suppose so,” I said.
“Well, I must get busy here. Enjoy your walk.”
I nodded my head and continued along the path. Up ahead a familiar cacophony sounded from the forest. Gingerly, I bushwhacked through the brush to the edge of a swamp.
For a long time I stood, secretly serenaded by another chorus of spring peepers.