There is, of course, more to the Bud and Jan story but I am not yet of a mind to share it. Not because I wouldn’t share it with you, because this past week has confirmed what I already knew: that there are people who you have never heard their voice or touched their hand and, yet, these people can become your friends. It’s very odd- you write about your day-to-day life and they write about theirs and you read each other’s lives and laugh or sigh or say, “That rings familiar.” And then after a while, when times are tough, they can care about you as much as the friends you have to dinner, the women in your book club, the colleagues you work with and even the family that supports you. They are precisely the sorts of people with whom you want to share your story. And I will, but it is still evolving and still too raw.
Today, I took an afternoon and night to myself here at Wit’s End to spend some quiet time. A respite of sorts before another flurry of activity around the death of my mother. On the drive out here two things crossed my mind that made it hard to keep the yellow line in focus. The first was that I was barely out of the driveway before I reached for my phone to call my parents at Lost Loon Lodge. It is my habit to call them when I am driving because that’s when I do my best on the phone. I don’t really enjoy chatting on the phone so at home it’s strictly necessary calls and so as bad as it is to talk and drive, I call them whenever I’m on a quiet stretch of road. And Bud always answers and he always says, “Momma, it’s Betsy!” and she always says, “BUUUDD! It’s not Betsy!” which he knows full well but he says it to bait me because he is playful and because he knows that Betsy and I have had some bit of sibling rivalry over the years (which has dissipated beyond my wildest expectations this past week and leaves me embarrassed to remember). And so today, I reached for the cell phone and almost pushed their button when I realized they weren’t there and I couldn’t call and see what Emeril Live delicacy was being turned into the soup de jour by Bud for my mother’s tenuous digestive system. Will he ever enjoy cooking again? I don’t know.
The other thing was a tune started playing in my head, the way they do sometimes, and it took me about 4 minutes to put the words to it. The words were: “If you go out in the woods today, you’re in for a big surprise…”
It’s the tail end of winter here at Wit’s End, with just a hint of spring. There are still some small vestiges of ice on the lake, all around the corner where it’s sheltered from the wind and where the best bass hide in the water grass in summer time. I hiked through the woods to that shore of the lake and saw something very sparkle-y and noisy. The last ice was breaking up and being pushed up on shore by the wind and small waves. As I watched, this ice piled up on itself, some of the pieces pushing 6-8 inches on top of each other. And the sun was low in the sky so it was quite a lovely bit of nature in action.
Here is the hint of spring. Before I got to the bench and then watched the ice, I stopped at the bog. You may remember from previous posts that Wit’s End sits on 300 feet of land that front Cedar Lake, a small private lake that is heavily protected by the DEQ because it is the headwater to the Red Cedar River and the Grand River watershed. To our great good fortune, behind us are 137 acres of protected wetland and woods. The wet part is actually only wet briefly each spring. There is an actual bog that exists for part of March and all of April and then it is gone until the next year. But this relatively small bog is the largest migratory area for Ambystoma maculatum in Southeastern Michigan and hence, the wetland is protected and no subdivision or any development, at least for now, can happen in our “100 acre woods.”
Here, in brief, is the story of Ambystoma maculatum. These little yellow spotted salamanders lay their eggs on the undersides of logs or piles of matted fallen leaves at the edge of certain bogs. The next year, as if by magic, precisely after the second major rain where the temperature is above 45 degrees the eggs mature and the first night the temperature rises above 50 degrees- BAM! (Bud calls Emeril Lagasse “that f-ing Portuguese” because of my mother’s fascination with the dishes he cooks and the way she pushed Bud to reproduce them in the far North woods- and then turn them into soup. Things like Beef Wellington Soup with Pureed Maple Sugared Acorn Squash)
Anyway, BAM! They all hatch simultaneously in the water and then they make a mad dash for the surrounding woods. In the woods they live on tiny worms and roly-poly bugs and burrow under leaves and branches and once they migrate you really can’t even find one no matter how hard you look. But on this one night- because they migrate at night- they are all out there scampering for cover. With their bright yellow spots.
Here’s one more thing about Ambystoma maculatum. They taste bad. I don’t know this from personal experience but Sophie has reliably reported it to be true. Three times in her life I have brought her out to Wit’s End on the night of the migration and she has, like a homing pigeon, raced to the bog under cover of night and come scooting back with a present for me. A spotted salamander that tastes very bad. I can tell because even as she tries to hold on to it she is spitting and acking and shaking her head with alarm. It’s true. These little amphibians have a toxin on their skin that makes them repugnant to raccoons and possums and other creatures of the night, like Sophie, when she can escape from the cottage. I didn’t bring her this year.
Today, March 11, marks the one-year anniversary of when I started this weblog. Over 47,000 visits, 474 posts and 3900 comments. Even if I subtract a bunch of the early visits as mine many, many wonderful people have found their way here. How lucky am I? Thank you.