June, the month that straddles the summer solstice, is in the rear-view mirror. Summer has hit us with a vengeance. Before I lay the powerful and magical month of June to rest, though, I’d like to share some of my favorite memories. There’ll be no weddings or graduations here; this is about the awesome natural world that surrounds and sustains us here in Pennsylvania’s Endless Mountains.
“No, you go first,” says one of the baby squirrels peering out of the duck house high above Hills’ pond: photo by Rich Hill.
As May was coming to an end, we were inundated with rain, much like we had been for over a year. Everyone who had outside work to do had long since grown bone-wearingly sick of it. Then, one day at the end of May, Rich spotted a doe with her newborn fawn. The next day, another deer Mama showed up with … triplets? Even in this little rural patch of Pennsylvania where the deer are at least a third again bigger than those around the Philadelphia area where we used to live, that’s super rare.
As I write, I am happy to say that she still has all three of them, though I fear Rich’s new photos won’t be in my possession in time for this post.
Amphibians: Endangered Species? Maybe not Here
One of the best things about our seventeen acres of heaven is the pond. I think it’s a half acre, but don’t quote me on that. Anyway, instead of dumping that blue dyed stuff that costs a fortune into it to curb the algae, we gave that job to the carp family. Koi, comets and minnows keep it clean for us. We love to feed them in the spring.
We have a pond shelter, which Rich designed and built prior to neuro Lyme disease. From the outside, it looks like a gingerbread house – Navaho red with a steep white roof and an arched door with a scalloped arch above it. When you go in, however, you quickly realize that the whole thing is more of an open porch. There’s a gorgeous Victorian balustrade facing the water with a set of wind chimes in the center. Along the side wall is a cupboard for fish food. Doves nest in the rafters.
The shelter, which you can see on my WordPress homepage, was built into a hill above the pond. It’s floor, therefore, is only resting upon a few supports. When you stomp your feet on it, it booms and groans, echoing across the pond. Pretty soon, the fish show up in droves, including our remaining four adult koi, who are two feet long and brilliantly colored.
Frogs, Frogs, and the secret, Sexy World of the American Toad!
Most of the frogs bury themselves in the mud at the bottom of the pond in the fall and wait for warmer weather. Other amphibians, including the American toad and the tiny spring peepers migrate from the woods. The peepers show up in March and herald the arrival of the season of amphibians with their high-pitched and extremely loud peeps. Then, a couple large and very old bullfrogs start with their slow, deep and measured comments on the situation.
An American toad with his neck swollen up is singing his haunting song: photo by Rich Hill.
The American toads sing a haunting song that sounds to me like a flying saucer, or someone trying to hum and whistle at the same time. Toads come to the pond to find love, and their ritual is wonderful. They gather in the pond, treading water and talking to one another. Though some are always doing their haunting song, others speak in a far quieter voice that I can only describe as sweet jabbering.
The toad tadpoles go through their miraculous transformation in the pond. One day, when they have left their tadpole bodies – with the gills that enabled them to breathe under water – behind, they will migrate en masse up the banks through the grass and into the woods. Our neighbor’s pond is uphill from us. Their toads come down to our driveway, where they are dangerously visible. Rich says the grass waves as they hop away.
After the Toads
After the toads, the pond begins to swell with a chorus of bullfrogs. They all must get their two cents in. Then, they fall silent until one of the members of this assembly thinks of something else to say. Within two weeks, those old bullfrogs, who started so quietly, have had enough of the youngsters. They pack up and leave. We hear them at our neighbor’s pond, and we can report that we’ve noticed this peculiar behavior for years.
Green and the less common leopard frogs begin to participate in the discussion, and then the gray tree frogs weigh in. I love to walk down to the shelter around midnight and listen to them singing, jumping after bugs and minnows and issuing forth with an occasional burp. Rich says that the frogs sit very still, and when they leap for something, it is so fast that you can’t see it.
If we walk around the pond, we will hear them leaping into the water from their hiding places among the reeds. The green frogs give a distinct, high-pitched warning to their fellows about the potential danger we bring.