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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

In the season of the peeper and the crocus

Published: March 17, 2006
Section: Arts, Etc.

There comes an indescribable sense of liberation when Winters grip finally breaks;

a feeling of freedom that perhaps only people in cold climates can appreciate. The first hint of this great deliverance is some hearty chestful of outdoor air breathed in at just the right moment: A rush of earth, moss, decaying leaves, fungi, and dew, mixed in perfect proportion and aged. Yes, thats it! Its coming…

In the swamp near the house where I grew up, I looked forward as a kid to two yearly events, two magical harbingers of Spring. One was the opening of the crocuses, the tiny, cup-shaped flowers that were always first to show their colorful faces. It didnt matter if they got snowed under;

theyd always pull through.

The other wondrous event in my little world was the Spring peeper, that marvelous, tiny frog that hatches each March in low-lying wetlands to chirp its haunting mating call at night. The wet evenings, although still chilly, take on a tropical sound as thousands of the creatures peep incessantly. This soothing loveliness punctuated my childhood at dependable, yearly intervals. To this day, its the most enchanting sound I know.

This week near campus, out across the fields by the railroad tracks, the first peepers hatched. Make keen your senses now and be transformed.

I grew up here in Massachusetts. Throughout the Commonwealths history, its quirky, standalone attitude has attracted independent souls: The pensive ones, the visionaries, the naturalists, the writers, and the poets. As my mother has always loved poetry, notably New England poets like Emerson, Frost, and Longfellow, it should come as no surprise that I was raised on their verse and nourished by it. At this time each year, one poem in particular retains a certain power to elicit tears

Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun,
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;

And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each…
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of out-door game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, Good fences make good neighbors.
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
Why do they make good neighbors? Isn't it
Where there are cows?
But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That wants it down.

I see him there,
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me~
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father's saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, Good fences make good neighbors.

From Mending Wall, by Robert Frost

Was the cryptic neighbor ignorant or wise? Perhaps to Frost, the wall in the woods was the meeting-place between ourselves and others. We often speak metaphorically of walls as barriers;

I wonder whether Frost saw the stone fence rather as a point of contact between people, wherein working together fosters a mutual respect. I wonder too whether the neighbors words mean he understood

Lately, Ive been thinking more about a different wall that needs mending. It runs between ourselves and the modern worlds intrusions. I used to have inside me a stronger wall: Once, somewhere in an otherwise-unhappy childhood, was a little world where I could go at this time each year to be stirred by that frogs enchanting sound, and the little flower with a sweet pollen perfume. At those rare times, worries couldnt follow me. Perhaps for each of us, its time now to return to the woods to mend the wall

Spring in New England, friends. Its upon us, and Ill be out there to drink some of it in. Make keen your senses now and join me;

Ill be wherever the crocuses are in bloom. At night, just look for me down by the reeds where the peepers chirp. Youll find me there.

Its time to feel good again.