A WALK IN THE WOODS

 

            I wake in a comfortable country cottage in the English countryside. I get up, the kid gets up, and we decide to go for a walk in the woods before breakfast. Walking, walking, walking we go, sometimes skipping and running, always looking at things: the birds, the flowers, the trees. We love the trees. They’re so big and so green. And the smells. We smell the freshness in the air. We smell the trees and the hint of fragrance from the not too distant gardens in full bloom. We see birds and squirrels and butterflies and moths and caterpillars and spiders and bugs we don’t know the names of. We spot a deer deep in the woods who stands still as a statue and watches us from a distance, seemingly safe and secure. We see hills in the distance, rolling off into never-neverland. They go on forever, coated in green with patches of trees and bushes. We jump for joy to see the woodpeckers, hearing them first and then following the sound of the work being done.

            Where is that special place? That place where we can sit quietly and watch the nest of little blue robin eggs being tended to by their mother. There it is. We are so close to them. We have to be very, very quiet to watch.

            We creep off and walk some more. It is so quiet yet there is so much to listen to. The birds. The slight breeze slipping through branches and leaves. It feels so good to be out in the cool air with the sun warming us.

            We come to the lake, hidden from most views. There is a stillness. It is a small lake. I can throw a stone to the other side, and when I do, I hear a rustling over there. At the edge of the lake there are a couple of big bullfrogs making their big sounds. One hops into the water right away. The other waits as we stop and listen. The frog begins to perform for us.

            Then all of a sudden he bursts into a wonderful full tenor voice. Operatic. He is singing an aria. It’s “Che Gelida Manina” from “La Boheme.” he’s singing it to another frog we hadn’t noticed. He has a beautiful voice: big and clear and expressive, and sings with much clarity and feeling. The frog sings his heart out and the object of his desire seems enchanted, listening and reacting attentively.

            His singing attracts a crowd: more frogs, a rabbit, and yes, there’s a squirrel. They come closer and watch and seem to be transfixed by his singing. Soon a robin, then a sparrow, then a blue jay, cardinal, and crow land nearby and watch. He responds to their attentiveness with even more impassioned crooning, which draws more and more of an audience: deer, more rabbits, a turtle emerging out of the water. Even some fish seem to suspend themselves at the lake’s edge to listen. There’s a long garter snake keeping his distance but slowly slithering closer to get a better view.

            The whole area seems enchanted with this beautiful song and when the frog reaches that final delicate passage and ends in a humble bow with eyes closed, there is first absolute silence.  I’d never heard silence in the forest before. And then an eruption of noise. All the animals doing what they could to acknowledge the frog’s moving performance. The snake lifting his head as high as he can, darting his tongue in and out as quickly as possible. The fish jumping out of the water, making the biggest splashes they can. The rabbits beating their paws together while hopping high and doing somersaults. The squirrels wagging their tails and cracking nuts. The turtle craning his neck and swinging his head around in a big circle. The birds - all of them singing and chirping, some flapping their wings in appreciation. And the deer gently stomping their front hooves on the ground of leaves and pine needles. We join in with hoots and hollers and ‘Bravos.’

            The sight and sound of all this is certainly unusual but somehow seems completely normal. The frog keeps his eyes closed for a long time while this barrage of appreciation and gratitude goes on. When he opens them, everyone quiets down and slowly goes on their ways, back into the water, the grass, the woods, the trees, the sky, and the ground. The two frogs are quickly left alone with each other. They look fondly into each other’s eyes, and hop off together, ribbiting away as only frogs can.

            Thoroughly delighted by this unexpected spectacle, we decide it’s time to head back to the house. What more could we expect on our early morning walk? We make our way back to the main path and start back with a little hesitation, quickly overcome by the thought of breakfast. We know the forest will be here later in the day and tomorrow morning, and who knows what will await us then? What wonderful sites will we stumble upon?

            We pick a few purple and yellow wildflowers for the table, and skip a bit on the way back, arriving home awake, alive, happy, and looking forward to a big breakfast of blueberry pancakes.