It happens gradually, of course, so there is no bright line that marks the beginning of the new year. Crocuses come up through the snow sometimes, long before anyone else would say it is spring. Daffodils are in full bloom around here. The small scarlet flowers of the ubiquitous red maples that haze the late winter woods are actually beginning already to fall and collect in drifts around the porch. Traditionally, robins have signalled the beginning of spring, although in this neck of the woods we seem nowadays to have a few around for most of the winter.
Sometimes you just feel it in the air, something you can’t quite put your finger on, like that warm, portentious wind that Pliny is said to have believed impregnated the mares prancing in the spring pastures.
But for me, the real turning point, the signal that always fills me with the excitement and beauty of the world waking up again is the first evening when I hear the unmistakable chorus of spring peepers in the woods (you can listen here). Generally it’s a warmish night shortly after a good strong rain. The frogs have emerged from their winter torpor and are looking for love, so to speak, and a good little pond to lay their eggs in.
This year, spring began two nights ago, when we came home from work a bit late and suddenly the chorus emerged into consciousness from the background noise. Winter is gone!
Pseudacris crucifer (formerly known as Hyla crucifer) are tiny little frogs only an inch or so long as adults. The genus name comes from the Greek meaning “false locust”, presumably because they sound like a cricket or locust (and are not much bigger than one, for that matter). The species name crucifer comes from the cross-shaped marking on its back.
I can vividly remember seeing them for the first time in my life — maybe the only time, though I’ve heard them many times — when I was maybe eight or nine at Bull Run Park in Northern Virginia and being mesmerized. As a suburban kid this was real, exotic wildilfe to me. Complete animals, so tiny and beautful.
A year or two ago, I heard them calling during daytime, strangely enough, from a drainage ditch near the dump. It gave me a surge of hope that, even in this tired landscape, Nature remains resilient. Many happy returns, little friends.