It’s 5:30AM on Sunday, March 21st. With water bottle in hand and headlamp on, I head out the door and begin my morning long run. It’s officially been spring since 1:32PM ET yesterday but the temperature at this hour is still chilly. Regardless, it’s much better than the sub-freezing mornings of just a few weeks ago and a pair of shorts and a light, long-sleeve T-shirt suffice. I round the corner on to my first major road of the morning and head downhill to a depression between a small pond and a cranberry bog. As I approach the bottom, I hear a sound off to my right, the unmistakable chirp of the early risers of the spring peeper population. They made no sounds yesterday morning or last night but somehow they know that this morning it is spring and they’re attacking it with all of their gusto. It’s uncanny how a small amphibian is able to detect subtle changes in light and temperature and know that it’s the equinox. Perhaps the peepers are more technically adept than we imagine.
The spring peeper, Pseudacris crucifer or the cross-bearer, lives on the edges of wetlands, especially those edged with trees and undergrowth. A creature of the night, the mating calls of the males are concentrated in the morning and evening twilight hours and while their calling is most abundant in the spring, some can be heard throughout the summer and even in to the early fall. Although they create an early spring cacophony, they are seldom seen since the small 1 inch adults usually seek shelter in the edge debris of the pond or marsh. Virtually omnipresent from the Mississippi eastward, continued development of swamp and marsh habitats has caused recent declines in their numbers and even on Cape Cod, they’re losing homes to parking lots and condominium projects.
With our proclivity towards outdoor activities, we walkers, runners and cyclists tend to be more sensitive to the world around us than our cubicle- and car-bound brethren. We hear the late winter calls of owls, see the sun trace its ever higher path across the sky before reaching its apex at the solstice and falling once again to the south, watch water levels in the streams and ponds rise and fall, and sense the movement of the seasons as the plants and animals change around us. Those who have been on the roads and trails for many years sense the longer-term trends; warmer nights and erratic snowfalls, the decline of butterfly populations and the increase of certain moth species, subtle changes in the 17-year cicada populations, and ocean waters where there weren’t any the year before.
So get outside and be active – run, bike, swim, hike and explore – but more importantly, listen and look … no, hear and watch … the ever-changing world outside your office and home. Feel the rhythm, the cadence, the pulse of the countryside for it is as much a part of us as we are a part of it … and sometimes we forget.