Archive for the ‘amphibians’ Category

Encounters with Newts

Red-bellied Newt at Montgomery Woods State Reserve

Now that our rains have finally started, the newts have come out of hiding. Last week I spent a couple of days at Green Gulch Farm, a Zen Buddhist retreat center and organic vegetable farm near San Francisco. California Newts were all over the paths. Their brown skin smooth, their underbellies a brilliant golden yellow, they were marching to the streams where they breed.

This morning we had to step around another California Newt on a path at the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens, a little one in its rough-skinned terrestrial phase. It was reluctant to move, since it was busy consuming a large earthworm; the last half-inch of the worm still hung from its mouth.

These encounters reminded me of visiting Montgomery Woods some years ago, when their close relatives the Red-bellied Newts were everywhere. I  became fascinated with the story of their breeding migrations and wrote this poem, which was published in my 2007 chapbook, Quickening.

 

Red-Bellied Newt (Taricha rivularis)

 

What stirs, with the rain, that urge to return?

Some years she ignores the tingle in her nose,

the scent of that particular section of stream

where under a stone she hatched into a nymph,

then played for a year in the rippling water

before crawling transformed up the bank.

 

Summers she hides. Home is a secret hollow

under gnarled redwood roots in the ancient grove.

Some winters too. But once in a while, when the rains begin,

she emerges to make the journey to her breeding place.

Purposeful, she crawls, the red of her feet and belly

bright against the redwood duff,

 

navigating by smell to the rocky stream a mile away,

not home exactly, but the place she came from,

that pulls her back as it pulled her mother back.

Here she will mate, immersed in the water that gave her life,

deposit the fruits of her procreation under a stone,

then wander off to find good forage for the summer.

 

For thousands of years, as the giants grew overhead,

her kind have made this journey, secure in their faith

that the stream will still flow clear and fast over rocks.

They raise a question: what pulls us humans,

and to what deep places, and what is it we deposit,

like fertile newt eggs on the undersides of stones?

 

 

Joyful for Salamanders

A Sunday afternoon walk with friends up Fern Canyon in Van Damme State Park. The creek is running fast and high, the trail is squelchy. Signs of early spring growth: stream violets, trilliums and redwood sorrel in flower, green tips to the elderberry and salmonberry. Downed wood from last week’s storm.

Wendy and I, who have lagged behind,  notice a young woman squatting by a log at the side of the trail. She rolls it over.

“Found anything interesting?” Wendy asks.

“Salamanders,” says a young man at my elbow. “Six different species so far.” He holds out a cupped hand. “Ensatina eschsoltzi.” His voice floods with love for the bulbous creature on his palm, shiny gray-brown above, with pale orange underparts.

“Here’s a lovely big Slender,” calls a girl at another chunk of log. Everyone crowds around to admire her tightly curled prize.

The quartet of young people are biology students from UC Davis. “Only I had to stop out,” says the young man. “Funding ran out. But I’ll be back by summer.”

The Fern Canyon trail is blocked a mile or two up by downed trees not yet cleared. The trailhead restrooms are closed for lack of state funding. We could feel discouraged and depressed about California’s economic chaos. But the enthusiasm of these young people we met, their joy in their quest for knowledge, gives reason for hope.

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