Sunday, September 27, 2009

Primitive Green

The great Overdog
That heavenly beast
With a star in one eye
Gives a leap in the east.
He dances upright
All the way to the west
And never once drops
On his forefeet to rest.
I'm a poor underdog,
But to-night I will bark
With the great Overdog
That romps through the dark.

- Canis Major by Robert Frost

The stars stopped me in my tracks. It was 3 a.m. and I was walking the mile from our campsite to Mary's car to retrieve allergy medication for one of the kids. Most of the walk was under the canopy of the trees of Vermont's southern Green Mountains. But now I had walked out into the open and I could see the sky, and oh what a sight. Far away from the glare of city lights, the night sky was deep indigo and filled with stars. Across the heavens stretched the white belt of the Milky Way. The sight was awe inspiring and the concept of infinity was made very real to me. As the cool air of this late August night filled my lungs and the heavens stretched off into infinity above, the struggles of the previous evening melted away and concerns about worrisome bears fled my thoughts. So how did I come to be on this southern Vermont trail in the Green Mountain National Forest at 3 a.m.?

Grout Pond with Mt. Snow in the distance. Green Mountain National Forest Vermont

It began with my friend Mary and I talking about getting her children and my daughter out camping before the new school year began. We threw plans together in a rush and after a frenzy of planning and last minute gear acquisition, we were off to Grout Pond Recreation Area. Grout Pond nestles in a sixteen hundred acre recreation area of the Green Mountain National Forest. No gas motors are allowed on the pond and only primitive camping is available. This serene and simple camping is exactly what Mary and I most enjoy and what we wanted the kids to experience. Mary's son Mark is a Boy Scout and familiar with this type of camping but her daughter Rachel and my daughter Janet had little to no camping experience. So this trip had the potential to be a wonderful new experience for them, or something altogether less good. The way the trip began was not good, and indeed made it seem that we were in for one of those trips that go into the disaster file that every parent keeps of family experiences that had gone horribly wrong.

We arrived at Grout Pond in early afternoon on August 26th. The campground is as I said primitive and the sites are first come first served. Each site has tent platforms and fire rings and the sites are strung out along the shore of the pond. Some of the sites are as much as a mile in along a trail from the designated parking area, which also is where the only available potable water is and where one of the areas two simple outhouses is maintained.

Black Bear warning signs were posted in many locations

The weather forecast had worsened the day we arrived and we faced the possibility of rain making the establishment of camp difficult. We also learned on arrival that two Black Bears had been active in the area and campers were being warned to keep their sites clean and as free of food odors as possible. But here is where we wanted to be so Mary and the girls waited with the vehicles while Mark and I hiked in to find an open site. As we passed occupied site after occupied site I started to be concerned about how far we would have to haul gear. If we could find a site right on the water I could use some of the kayaks (we had five with us) as barges and tow gear across the pond. Mark and I soon reached the last campsite and found that all the pond side sites were occupied and my spirits admittedly sank.

The beginning of the trail to the camp sites. This trail would turn in to a muddy rocky track further in.

The first wonderful moment of the trip occurred when the two ladies setting up camp at site #10 offered to share the site with us. Site #10 had two tent platforms and the two campers, Holly and Natalie, very graciously offered to give us the larger platform. So leaving Mark with these sweet souls I hiked back out to discuss with Mary whether we wanted to take them up on their generous offer. After a brief discussion, we agreed to stay with Natalie and Holly at site #10 and we began the process of getting the gear hauled in. It was at this point that the first rain drops started to fall. So as Mary and the kids took what gear that they could comfortably carry the mile to the site, I began to move kayaks to the water and load them with the first heavy items such as food supplies, cooking gear, and tents that needed to be transported in.

Looking north across Grout Pond

The rain soon began in earnest. I worked as fast as I could prepping the boats so I could quickly get to the site and help rig a canopy over the tent platform. But nature has a way of not giving a damn about the comfort and ease of the creatures scurrying about in the open and indeed the cold rain was soon joined by a strong wind which created not only waves across the pond but actual whitecaps. So the initial trip across the pond became a struggle to keep the towed boats from capsizing and the gear in the boats from being soaked. When I finally arrived at site #10 I was soaked, cold, and exhausted. The rain was steady and didn't look to stop anytime soon. With a sinking heart I had to ask Mary and the kids to make another hike out to get as much gear as they could carry while I rigged a canopy of tarps over the tent platform. So they set off along the wet muddy trail and I started rigging the canopy. After a struggle I managed to achieve a reasonable shelter with numerous ropes extending in many directions. Mary and the kids returned looking wet and tired with more gear. Mary had carried more than she should have and she had a brave face on but I could tell she was struggling with the way things were unfolding. So was I. But seeing the way Mary and the kids were working and keeping their spirits up renewed my determination to make everything ok. Looking at the camp site I christened it "Spider Camp" in honor of the web of lines holding everything up, then I started on firing up the camp stove and heating up the beef stew I had made back home and brought with us. It was wonderful to stand under that rain shelter and eat hot delicious stew while the forest emitted that wonderful aroma that a rainy forest can only create. We had weathered a difficult start to our trip. Things would soon get much better.

Spider camp. Ropes strung every which way but a successful rain guard!

As the daylight failed we settled into what were admittedly damp tents and sleeping bags. The rain had finally stopped and the sky began to clear as night fell. The kids were in good spirits and Mary and I started to really feel that the trip would be a success. It was during this first night that one of the kids had an allergy flare-up. After discussing with Mary how best to address the situation I had begun the walk out to the vehicles where much of our gear still remained, including the allergy medicine we now needed. This 3 a.m. trek had started as a task that a parent does as a matter of course. It soon turned into one of those wonderful moments in our lives, standing in the dark and staring at the starry heavens. No longer feeling a lack of sleep, I continued on with my task and we soon had the kids asleep in their sleeping bags. Mary and I spoke quietly about the day through our tent walls. Then we heard the Loons.

There is no magic in the world that can compare to the sound of Loon song in the night. Out of the darkness floated the wail of this bird of the northern ponds and lakes and I was transfixed. And as the Loon's voice flowed across the pond, Barred Owls also called on the far shore. Even coyotes joined this symphony of the night. Enveloped in darkness, haunting bird song echoing in the air, the sound of children slumbering, and quiet conversation with a friend, I felt as if there could be no place better than this. The struggles of the day faded into an easy price to pay for the joy of being here, in the dark, in the forest, happy.

The re-arrangement of camp took up much of the morning of day 2.

When morning came it brought bright sunshine and clean cool air. Mary started making coffee and breakfast while I began preparing to haul the rest of our gear into camp and to re-arrange the hasty camp of the night before into a more orderly and comfortable situation. I soon came to appreciate what amazing energy and determination resides in Mary. I am a hard worker in situations such as this, where the kids are depending on the adults to make everything happen smoothly. But Mary not only held her own and worked tirelessly, continuously, and with enthusiasm, she very nearly put me to shame, inspiring me to work even harder for the success of the trip and the enjoyment of the kids. The trip ultimately was a resounding success. Mary played an enormous role in making it so.

Mary cleans up after breakfast

Grout Pond, as any clean back country pond does, offers a great deal of vibrant nature for kids to explore. As Mary and I were taking care of the daily tasks of camping, Mark, Rachel, and Janet went in search of treasures. It wasn't long before they were wading into the pond and catching Red-spotted Newts.

Janet gently displays two Red-spotted Newts caught in Grout Pond.

Rachel displays a Red-spotted Newt (Notophthalmus viridescens) for a close look

A newt is a specific type of salamander. In its adult stage it lives in the water, unlike its relatives which are partially or mostly terrestrial. The red spots are warnings of toxic secretions that act as a chemical defense against predation and allow the newts to coexist with fish which often eat other salamanders. The young stage of the newt is called a Red Eft. It is terrestrial and brilliantly red, also a brazen statement of "Don't dare eat me." After the newt hunt the kids started gathering algae from the pond. This is one of those things that kids love to do that parents don't. I contented myself to watch them and photograph them. This of course elicited threats of being "algae bombed" but thankfully restraint was maintained.

Mark, Janet, and Rachel threaten to throw algae bombs at me.

With everything in the camp now in order it was time to head out onto the pond in the kayaks. We had brought a kayak for each of us and it was wonderful exploring Grout Pond with Mary and the kids. That evening, after Mary once again made a wonderful dinner for all of us, we built a fire in the fire ring. Holly and Natalie had been gone all day hiking in the Green Mountains and when they returned they joined us around the fire on a lovely evening in the woods of southern Vermont.

Holly, Natalie, Mary, Rachel, and Janet enjoy the campfire

When it was time to get the kids in the tents for the night, Mary supervised while I made another kayak run across the pond to get more drinking water and to retrieve more firewood. The pond was still as black glass as I paddled under the moonlight. Once again I was flooded with serenity and happiness to be here doing these things for the kids. When I returned across the pond, loaded down with wood and water, I strayed a little too close to the western shore and I was showered with the calls and screams of Barred Owls who felt I was intruding into their space. Their vocalizations sounded like the screams of maniacs and were absolute music to my ears. When I returned to the camp Mary helped me unload and we then spent a few quiet minutes drinking very well deserved beers by the fire before returning to our tents for the night. During the night I was awakened by the sound of rustling in the trees nearby. Being concerned about the presence of bears, I grabbed a light and crawled out of my tent. After walking around the camp site and listening for movement, I thankfully could see no large carnivores to worry about. It is amazing how much noise small animals can make moving about the forest floor and I put it down to some small mammal's nightly foraging and crawled back into my sleeping bag.

Day 3 of a planned 5 day trip dawned beautifully. But the weather forecast rumors we had heard were troubling. There was talk of a major rain storm moving into the area, so at first light I hiked out to my truck to listen to forecasts on the radio. The result was that we were indeed in for heavy rain later that night into the next day. As I hiked back in along the trail to the camp site to discuss plans with Mary I ran into Holly and Natalie who had broken camp and started on their way back home to Pennsylvania. They managed to embarrass me with very kind words about how I behaved with the kids and how much the kids clearly enjoyed being with me and trusted me. As I said I was embarrassed, but I admit I was also immensely uplifted to have such things said to me. It was a real gift to meet these two travelers from PA, albeit ever so briefly.

Whorled Aster I believe (Oclemena acuminata). The path to the campsites was graced by this beauty as well as other wildflowers.

When I returned Mary and I discussed what to do. Regrettably we had to agree that it would be best to cut our trip short and leave before the rain. So we made the best of our last day and Mary started making coffee. She soon turned that honor over to me as she and the kids started to relight the campfire.

Rachel and Janet enjoy the campfire relighted by Mary

Another beautiful day on Grout Pond, the last of our trip.

After another one of Mary's great breakfasts, pancakes with M and M's for the kids, it was time to get back in the kayaks and enjoy another paddle about before packing up the camp.

Janet cruises among the lily pads in my kayak

Mary snaps a shot of Janet and me on Grout Pond

Mark, Mary, and Rachel.

Mary heads back to camp. The paddling done, we need to get moving on breaking camp.

When we had finished our last kayaking trip on Grout Pond we headed back to camp to begin the monumental task of packing up all the gear we had brought. Mary and I had overdone it a bit and we had expected to be here for two more days. So it was like moving a small village when it came time to haul out. John, A friend of ours, and his dog Bruin, had driven up from CT to join us with hopes of camping himself. But the weather put paid to that. Still we could get a hike in before heading home. John graciously lent a hand hauling gear and I was able to put the kayaks to use as towed barges now that the pond was calm. Mark and I made a run across each towing gear and I made another solo crossing afterward that finally saw all our belongings on the north shore by the boat access. I did leave one thing behind, a pair of sandals that bit my feet cruelly. I figured the next campers could have them or burn them. Either way worked fine for me. We loaded up the vehicles and finally, by late afternoon, headed out on a hike that John had made many times before.

John and Bruin awaited our return at the camp site.

The hike was northwest of Grout Pond. We would hike into the Lye Brook Wilderness and towards Bourn Pond. Unfortunately the excursion into this gem of the southern Green Mountains would have to be cut short as the kids were fast tiring and the rain had begun to encroach once again.

The crew heads into the Lye Brook Wilderness led by John and Bruin.

Janet and Rachel sit on rocks in the stream during a break on our hike into the wilderness

Indian Pipe (Monotropa uniflora) Indian pipe has no chlorophyll and hence no green coloring. It cannot obtain energy from sunlight and gets nutrients from organic matter in the soil instead.

On the way out of the Lye Brook Wilderness. Tired but happy!

We returned to our vehicles tired, wet, and very happy. Our camping trip to Grout Pond in the Green Mountains of Vermont had been shorter than planned and somewhat soggier than expected. Yet it had been a wonderful end to the school vacation. It was a joy to do this with Mary and the kids and I hope we can return next year and spend a bit more time enjoying and exploring this corner of New England's primitive green.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Aristocrat of Franconia

"Ordinary riches can be stolen; real riches cannot. In your soul are infinitely precious things that cannot be taken from you." -- Oscar Wilde

July had been a wet month, a cloudy and cool month. It was the first of August and I was suffering from cabin fever. As Oscar Wilde said, we all have infinitely precious things in our souls. I have those precious things as well. I take them in the hand of my imagination and hold them close to me. They comfort me and inspire me. They turn back the dark thoughts that sometimes steal into our minds and sap us of hope. One of those precious things for me is my relationship with the natural world. On this first day of August 2009, that relationship needed a new breath of life. It was time for me to visit the Aristocrat of Franconia. It was time for me to return to the White Mountains.

Throwing my gear in the truck I headed north. This would be an ironman trip. Drive 200 plus miles to the trailhead, hike the mountains for 7 plus hours, then drive the 200 plus miles home. I've been doing these things a very long time. I almost always do these trips alone since few people are quite a crazy as I am. This is probably a good thing for society in general, but I am digressing here. The hike I was planning would take me to Franconia Ridge. I would ascend Falling Waters Trail to Franconia Ridge Trail. Heading north on Franconia Ridge Trail I would cross the 5,089 foot Mt. Lincoln and ascend The sixth highest peak in the Whites, Mt Lafayette at 5260 feet. From that summit I would descend Greenleaf Trail to the Appalachian Mountain Club's Greenleaf hut and descend the rest of the way on The Bridle Path over the "Three Miseries" of "Agony Ridge" back to my car. The portion of the ridge trail I would cover today is all above treeline with spectacular views of mountains in all directions. Ample opportunities to add to those precious things.

Walker Brook below the trail crossing

Falling Waters Trail is aptly named. Very soon after leaving the trailhead it crosses Walker Brook on a footbridge. I stopped to look at the brook below the bridge and I immediately felt it. You need all your sense to experience a mountain stream. You see there are two streams, one you see and hear, and one you feel. One is the cold water streaming down from the slopes over granite, gravel, and sand. It fills your ears with its churning voice and it fills yours sight with roils, swells, cascades, and the dancing gems of splintered sunbeams. But there is another stream passing downward. It is the air cooled by the stream. It flows like an invisible twin above the stream. When you stand on the bank you can feel the deliciously cool air flowing past, invigorating and magical, it strips the years from you and makes you feel like child experiencing the world anew. I can not adequately describe with these simple words the wondrous sensation of experiencing these twin streams.

One of the many falls on Dry Brook

Falling Waters Trail crosses Walker Brook and then heads up hill to Dry Brook, which it follows for some distance. Dry Brook was certainly not dry, indeed after all the rains of July it had an above average wetness about it. There are many waterfalls for the hiker to savor on this stretch of trail. And much savoring was happening today, for you see this hike is one of the most popular in the White Mountains, and it was a Saturday to boot. So the trails were getting proper use. When there are many hikers using these narrow trails there is a certain etiquette that is in play. Admittedly it is tribal knowledge, but generally speaking, when it becomes clear that you are holding up faster hikers, you move aside and let them pass. This usually happens as a matter of course but this hike sees many one time hikers and many tourist hikers. You have to be patient with them but eventually they'll let you pass.

Cascade on Dry Brook. Certainly a cascade, but a dry brook?

I soon came across a family of four Czech hikers, two of which were teenagers. The parents soon let me pass but the boy and girl were having none of it. I soon realized they were trying to stay in front of me so when we came to a stream crossing at a wide shallow fetch I seized my chance. Rockhopping on wet slippery stones let me get around them. However they were very wet and very slippery stones indeed. One was a bit too slippery and I took a sudden and very cold seat in the stream next to the teenage girl. She let out a surprised "Oooo!" which I took to be Czechoslovakian for "Oooo!" but I could be mistaken. I muttered "Very Slippery..." and with water and dignity streaming off my butt I continued on, no doubt having impressed this foreign visitor with my acute appraisal of the obvious.

Base of "Shining Rock"

The trail eventually leaves Dry Brook behind and uses switchbacks to climb the steep slope towards treeline. Shortly before the trees fail a spur trail heads off to the right to a vast slab of exposed granite called "Shining Rock." This stone face is constantly bathed in water sheeting across its face, and it can be seen from Rte 93 all the way down on the floor of the notch. A number of hikers have unwisely tried to scramble up its slippery face and serious injuries have occurred. I chose to touch the rock with my eyes only and to admire the view offered from this spot of Cannon Mountain visible across the notch.

Cannon Mountain rises on the west wall of Franconia Notch.

Returning to Falling Waters Trail I pushed onward and upward. Soon I reached treeline and gained the ridge crest at the summit of Little Haystack Mountain. There were many hikers sitting among and on the boulders of the summit. I stopped and took in the spectacular views. Spreading out in all direction were peaks of the White Mountains. A bit of a haze hung in the air blurring slightly the details but the beauty and majesty of these crystal hills blazed brightly. Looking south along the ridge I saw the cones of Mt. Liberty and Mt.Flume, these peaks I would visit another day. Today I needed to visit the aristocrat and he lay to the north.

Mt Liberty close and Mt Flume far. Viewed from Little Haystack Mountain on Franconia Ridge

After taking a few photos I headed north along the trail. This is the alpine zone and its fragility has been sore tried by the soles of many boots over the decades. Happily, intrepid and selfless souls have spent many back-breaking hours lining the trail with stones and boulders to try and keep all traffic to a defined narrow trail. I tip my cap to those of you who undertook this work.

Franconia Ridge Trail bed. The work of many feet... and generous caring hands

Following this path in the sky, I frequently stopped and marvelled at the sights offered to me. To the east of the ridge lays the Pemigewasset Wilderness, an expanse of forest, mountains, and rivers free of roads. And rising up in the wilderness is one of New Hampshire most remote peaks, Owl's Head. To bag this peak using trails you have to hike nearly twenty miles round trip.

Owl's Head rises in the Pemigewasset Wilderness

Heading north I soon had Mt. Lincoln in view. I would have to pass over this 5,000 footer to reach the aristocrat. I couldn't help but think how Lincoln and the ridge looked like the back of a slumbering dragon from where I stood. I took a few minutes to stop and eat, drink and think. Many hikers were passing me in both directions. There were many languages to be heard but predominately French. As I said many tourists do this hike. I certainly can't blame them. As I was eating, a group of about 10 girls aged 11 and 12 passed me. They were full of the ebullience of youth and they were trailed by two 30-something male chaperones. The girls broke into a chorus of a Hannah Montana song as they passed and one of the chaperones looked sheepishly at me and said "This is embarrassing!" I laughed and assured him that I understood. I had an 11 year old daughter back home.

Approaching Mt Lincoln

After putting a dry shirt on me and some food in me, I hiked up to the summit of Mt Lincoln. There were hikers lounging here as well. It's funny how many friendly faces you find on these lofty places. Of course not all of mankind's faults are left in the valley's below, we take our demons with us wherever we go. However these demons seemed to dwindle and fade on these trails and smiles are readily passed back and forth between strangers. I passed over the summit of Mt. Lincoln and stopped to look back southward along the ridge. There still standing proudly in the distance were Liberty and Flume.

Looking south passed the summit of Mt Lincoln. Liberty rises in the center and Flume stands to the left.

At this point I took a few moments to admire the alpine plants around me. This is a harsh place to grow. Biting cold, high winds, and short growing seasons make this a fragile environment easily damaged by human feet. Any damage due to our passing is slow to heal. It is of prime importance to stay on the marked trail, and thankfully most hikers do.

The fragile alpine habitat above treeline.

Mountain Sandwort (Minuartia groenlandica)

After spending some time examining what was at my feet I once again cast my eyes to the distance. Looking east I gazed upon Mt. Garfield, the Twins, and Galehead Mountain, and to their south stood West Bond, Mt Bond, and Bondcliff, known collectively as "The Bonds."

Mt Garfield, the Twins, and Galehead Mountain.

"The Bonds"

Time was passing and I pushed on. The aristocrat was in sight. Moving through this dramatic landscape you can not help but be reminded of the forces that sculpted it. Some dramatic and cataclysmic. Some slow and timeless. Water, wind, fire, cold, ice. All these things have left their mark on the White Mountains. As I neared Mt. Lafayette I came across one of the silent sentinels that bear mute witness to the forces that shape our world. A balanced column of stone stood vertically just below the ridgeline. How long had it stood thus? How long would it last before time laid it low like the grand visage of the Old Man Of The Mountains?

Silent Sentinel

Leaving the sentinel I made my way northward. Mt Lafayette, the Aristocrat of Franconia towered above. Once called Great Haystack, the mountain had been renamed in honor of a French soldier and aristocrat who offered his services to the revolutionary army of our rebellious forefathers. His name was Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de La Fayette. The mountain was simply renamed "Lafayette." Cartographers are still thankful for the truncation. Interestingly the Marquis was the first person granted honorary United States citizenship.

The approach to Mt. Lafayette

The Aristocrat of Franconia

The crowning moment of my hike was reaching the summit of Mt. Lafayette. There were quite a few hikers gathered there. One of the features of the summit is the foundation of one of the many hotels, huts, and shelters that stood on the summits of many of the peaks. All that remains now is an empty foundation but it speaks to the herculean efforts of the early settlers of New Hampshire.

Lafayette Summit

The stone foundation on Lafayette

One does not spend hours hiking to such a magnificent place and then hurry away. At least this one doesn't. I spent some time just sitting and thinking. Thinking and looking. There in the hazy distance stood Mt. Washington. How fitting that Washington should still overlook Lafayette. I took one last look at the sweeping panorama like a diver taking a deep breath before plunging into the water and I headed down. Below me, on the knee of Lafayette, stood Greenleaf Hut. I wound my way downward on Greenleaf Trail, pausing to take a few last looks at the ridge.

Greenleaf Hut seen from Mt Lafayette. Cannon Mountain stands across the notch

Looking back at Franconia Ridge and Mt Lincoln as I descend

Greenleaf Hut with Mt. Lafayette

Reaching Greenleaf Hut I took one last breather. The final push down would be along a ridge with an imposing name. It's sometimes called "Agony Ridge," and there are three humps along the ridge called "The Three Miseries." These names really refer to the agony and misery of the poor porters who haul massive loads on their backs from the notch below up to the hut over steep, slippery, jumbles of rock and stone. However there were many tired hikers descending this trail today who looked like these daunting names were justifiably earned, or at least should be replaced with "Is it over yet Ridge?" The trail had long since descended back below treeline and I pushed hard on this last leg of my hike. There were a few places where views could be had and I only paused briefly a time or two to take them in.

Parting view of Lafayette and Lincoln from "Agony Ridge"

I managed to make it down Agony Ridge without any lasting agony, though admittedly I did turn both ankles. Returning at last to the traihead parking lot I once again tossed my gear in the truck. Dirty, sweaty, and tired, I was absolutely satisfied with my day. It was my first visit to the Aristocrat. It was an amazingly beautiful and inspiring place and I hoped to return soon. I had added one more infinitely precious memory that would be mine forever. Walking in the mountains of New England can do that to a soul.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Shades of Gray

"The world is full of magical things patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper."
- Betrand Russell

It was late one evening at the end of July. I was on my way to the kitchen to get a beer when I heard it. Once again I was being taunted by the voice of a Gray Tree Frog (Hyla versicolor) calling outside. It was quite close from the sound of it, a situation that had become all too familiar. Many summer nights over the past two years I have heard the trill of this little amphibian close to my apartment, only to be unable to find the creature itself when I ventured outside. The frog’s ability to instantly spot me and stop calling was amazing. Try as I might in my best stealth mode, the night would go silent as soon as a line-of-sight existed between me and the frog. Once the calling stopped it had proved impossible to find the little frog. Still, hope springs eternal. I put the thought of a cold one on hold and once again headed for the door.

Nearly every time the frog had ventured close to the building it had been near the front of the dwelling. This time it was on the side of the building where there were no trees. The trill had been unusually loud and therefore I assumed the frog must be on the building itself. Grabbing a flashlight I went out the front door being as quiet as a church mouse. Actually since no church mouse has ever exited through my front door while I listened to how much noise it made, I am being a bit presumptive here. I eased to the edge of the building and peered around taking care not to let my body show. Incredibly the trilling stopped instantly. Well call me Ishmael, this frog seemed determined to play the white whale to my Ahab.

Right you little blighter. I strode out into the open and began searching the wall of the building. The frog had been so loud I figured it had to be on the building or in the thin strip of grass between the building and the paved drive. Yet after several minutes of scrutiny I could not locate the triller. Frustration rose in me once again and I stood there staring at the beige wall that clearly lacked a frog. Gray Tree Frogs can change their color. This ability is believed to be triggered by activity level, temperature, or to approximate their immediate environment. It happens more slowly than a chameleon and only natural colors are achieved. So it wasn’t going to be the unblemished beige of the building was it? Not unless it had the same lack of imagination regarding decor as the people who built this place.

Gray Tree Frog (Hyla versicolor)

Then the silence of the night was rent by the trill once again. It was behind me, much further away from the building than I thought it could possibly have been. There by the curb, on the pavement about 50 feet away, were two small stones. Only these stones had legs. And one stone was trilling. I did not expect the frog to be in the open, on the ground, on dry pavement. Gray Tree Frogs are relatively small frogs, usually about two inches long when fully grown. They can range in color from very pale gray to nearly black. They can also be quite green. Their skin has a dry lumpy texture making them look like a toad to most people. During winter, these amazing little creatures keep alive by chemically keeping their organs ice free while allowing the rest of their bodies to freeze. They exist as frogsicles until the warmth of spring resuscitates them.

Gray Tree Frogs have pads on each toe that allows them to climb vertical surfaces. Even glass.

I strode over and immediately picked up not one Gray Tree Frog but two. They were side by side. Placing them in one hand I went back to the house to get my camera and a box to hold the frogs until I was ready to photograph them. The frogs were totally immobile in my hand. No effort to escape, no effort to reposition. So as I walked into the house I was quite unprepared for their escape attempt. Clearly having worked out a cunning plan between them, they both leaped simultaneously but in different directions. One frog landed on the kitchen floor and the other stuck to the kitchen wall. They are not called “Tree” Frogs for nothing. Each of their toes have little pads that allow them to stick to vertical surfaces. Like kitchen walls. I picked the one on the floor up and pealed the other off the wall, plopped both into a sandwich container, grabbed my camera, and went back outside.

Probably a male based on the dark throat

There is a young tree by the front door. It would do nicely as a place to photograph the frogs. So dropping to my knees, I placed each frog on the trunk a few feet off the ground, and stepped back to get my camera. Like a popping popcorn kernel, one of the frogs flew off the tree and landed on my leg. Camera in hand I replaced it on the tree and began to photograph the two. This went on for several minutes, with one frog slowly ascending the tree trunk, until I noticed someone a few yards away silently watching me. I took a few more shots and then relented to the silent question that was written all over the watcher’s face. “What the heck are you doing dude?”

Looking like tree bark is a good thing for a Tree Frog, n'est-ce pas?

The watcher’s name was Kevin. He was a neighbor I had yet to meet. Kevin is a thin man with long graying hair pulled back in a ponytail. He was wearing a tee-shirt, shorts, and sandals with socks. A can of beer in a foam sleeve was clutched in one hand. In answer to the quizzical expression he had been wearing I explained I was photographing Tree Frogs. To this information he answered “Ohhhhhhh…,” and it sounded to me that he was expelling all his interest in Tree Frogs in that one breath. I seemed correct in this assessment as he then quickly went on to talk about his job at the nearby casino. Somehow (I honestly forget now how he made the transition) his conversation wound round to Cheech and Chong skits. This fit with his appearance and age, and I couldn’t help but wonder if ever in the history of our planet had someone photographed Tree Frogs while discussing Cheech and Chong. The surreality of the moment was further heightened when one of the frogs shot off the tree like a warty missile and passed between us at belt level while Kevin remained blissfully unaware, his revelry of marijuana based comedy uninterrupted. I realized I rather liked Kevin.

Now here is a a Tree-hugger

After an enjoyable talk, I left Kevin and the frogs in the night and retreated into the house. That microbrew still awaited my attention. Having liberated it from its cold dark prison, I sat down in the living room feeling rather satisfied with my evening. I had finally caught the night triller. I had slain my white whale. You needn't call me Ishmael.