This Squirming Pile of Fortune

Spotted salamander

On the road, it is wet and warm and dark, except for some distant lightning. And my flashlight. This kind of night invites amphibians, so I have come. I walk slowly, looking down, to avoid stepping on anyone.

The night is not peaceful. Spring peepers—sweet sweet!—and wood frogs—chuckle chuck—yell into the steady wind, which carries a promise of lower temperatures. It is raining. All around me, there is sex and death, and soft, shiny lives are running out into the open.

Jefferson salamander

I am a hundred paces from our front door. I am the last one out here tonight. Sam and Andrew went first, to check the cylindrical metal traps we have been placing in the wetland’s edge for several days. Every day, we check the traps, squealing together at lively Jefferson salamanders, grape-sized tadpoles, and one newt with a bright yellow belly. We admire the predaceous diving beetles, who carry an air bubble for breathing underwater and pinch your hand faster than you can drop them.

Tonight, knowing it’s a restless night for amphibians, the guys squelch out in tall boots, while I read books to tired Stella in bed. Then, footsteps pound up the wooden stairs, and Sam’s laugh bounces into the hallway. They burst into the bedroom with a new species, a spotted salamander, vibrant with her big yellow spots and tall black eyes. Sam caught her near the wetland. We cheer and admire, then they take her gently back.


Later, with both kids asleep, I walk out alone. Rainy spring nights coax salamanders from the woods across the road to our wetland to mate and lay eggs. Male frogs emerge too, beckoning females. Squashed frog bodies litter the road, and I dart around—as Sam did an hour earlier—scooping up the living and slipping them into the grass.

Seeing no dead salamanders, I wonder. In European mythology, salamanders could walk through fire, even lived in it—an untrue, but stirring image. On our road, are salamanders smarter or faster than frogs? Luckier? Are they fewer in number, and less likely to be hit? Or do they just stick to tires, leaving no evidence? It is always complicated to assign reasons for one group’s apparent fortune in the face of another’s losses.

When we wake the next morning, the grass is green. Wood ducks have splashed down into the wetland. Standing among cattails, the din of frogs surrounds us. Sam yells when he lifts one trap from the water, “It’s a whole family of spotted salamanders!” We grin at each other, thrilled by this squirming pile of fortune.





2 thoughts on “This Squirming Pile of Fortune”

  1. What an exciting time of the year! I can visualize all the activity as you articulate the experiences with graceful writing. The wetlands are alive around me at this moment too as I work at my desk at Merry Lea. The trails and vernal ponds are calling me!

    Thanks for sharing the delight. Luke

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