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Magnetic North: Jeepers creepers! Have you heard those peepers?!

FinalCut_MagNorth_20110521.mp35.62 MB

Welcome back to Magnetic North, where getting a decent night’s sleep can be tough if you live within earshot of a lake, pond or big puddle. I refer, of course, to this year’s spring peeper invasion. Locals in my neighborhood swear they’ve never heard the little songsters so loud. I’d Google the purported reason why Cook County has the distinction of being peeper Woodstock for year 2011, but frankly I’m too sleepy to care. Maybe one of our resident frog listeners can tell me.

And yes, there are such folk. They do this in the interest of science, as the numbers and species of frogs are of concern. Surely peepers are of no concern at all, unless it is to prepare for more hearing loss among humans in the future.

We don’t often see our frog listeners, as they drive around in the dark of night, then park in someone’s driveway—motor and headlights off—and just sit listening intently. Dangerous business in some parts of this county. I’ve told a friend of mine who does this that if he must do it he needs to think up a better excuse than “I’m just listening for frogs,” when and if he is confronted by law enforcement or alarmed citizens.

But back to those raucous peepers! They set up their cacophonous concert a month ago. Beginning well before dusk, the peeps reach a crescendo—think the shower scene from Psycho—about 9 p.m. Then, the volume backs off and a chord resembling fingernails on a blackboard for the next, oh, I don’t know, eight or nine hours, takes over.

Small wonder we haven’t had any ducks or geese nest on the pond this year! They land and swim around for a while, but after the first hour of peeper song, the poor things take off.

Now, I know that many of you judge me harshly for this attitude. You love the sound of spring peepers. You could listen to it nonstop and year round. OK. I get it. There was a time when I felt the same. Now, after a month of fitful sleep and dashed dreams of new ducklings on the pond, I am over them. Possibly forever. Too bad. But, there are so many other sounds of the season that still delight.

The aspens woke up this week. Their new leaves rustle soft and blend with the whooshing, mumbling roar of the intermittent streams that surround our meadow. Beautiful sound even if it didn’t absorb much of the peeper cacophony. But it does do that, Hooray!

Speaking of beauty, I sure hope nobody missed that big, orange full-moon rising Wednesday night. It was so spectacular that I dragged Paul out of his favorite chair and away from his favorite TV show to see it. Sure enough, he said he had never seen one like that before. Everyone I know who saw it says the same. Another sign that this spring is truly special.

It hasn’t all been music and moonbeams at the farm. I made a mistake that cost a beloved rooster his life early this week. Buster, my black and white Delaware rooster was four-years-old and huge. He put up with a new rooster, Winston Junior, all winter, drawing blood only a month ago when the young cock apparently asked for it.

I put the new rooster in the barn, hoping to merge him with some retired hens out there, but day by day the handsome youngun’ got meaner and meaner, running at me, our dog and even visitors with hackles out and fire in each eye. Disgusted, I offered him up to a friend to butcher and eat.

Alas, two days before Winston’s last day he got another shot at Buster. My fault. I let the cooped birds out of their run so that they might feel the soft green grass between their toes and eat their fill of grubs. Inside of five minutes, Buster and Winston were sparring. But mainly, they were just menacing each other without actually making contact.

I felt a twinge of concern—a message I should have heeded—when I saw Buster turn tail and run into the woods just before I walked down the driveway to get the mail. Upon returning, Winston was crowing and Buster was missing. I found his body under a tree deep in the woods. Big isn’t any match for young, I guess.

And mean isn’t forever, either. Once competition was gone, Winston’s better angel came out. He doesn’t confront anyone. He simply crows, mates and runs around pointing out morsels for his girls. So much for my chicken wisdom.

The chickens are inside their big old run again, though. Just after Buster bit the dust, Paul spotted a Goshawk and two ravens jumping up and down, flapping their wings and making a huge fuss down by the pond. By the time I got there, the only clue to their frenzy were two duck feet and two wings. A wild female mallard got unlucky. And I got THIS message loud and clear: predators are hunting to feed their hatchlings, so coop up the chickens.

As lovely as green grass feels between the toes and as succulent as a tender slug may be, neither is worth a hen’s life. But then, not being a chicken, I COULD be wrong there too.

Airdate: May 23, 2011

Photo courtesy of David Allen via Flickr.