The weather was different that morning. It was warmer and just the start of the fall season. It was early morning and I was comfortable walking the dogs with just an old sweatshirt to keep the occasional cool breeze off my skin. It was dark, very little moonlight and a patchy cloud covered sky. You often really can’t tell cloud cover at night, but you know when it is thick because things seem darker than normal and the LED lights on the headlamp seem to struggle to light the ground. But that morning, the light moved more freely and it reflected off the moisture of the rocks in the road.
I have traveled this road many times before, over a thousand times perhaps. That morning things were moving along as normal until my light glistened off a dark object near the edge of the road.
I approached the object slowly, mainly concerned that it might be something that I didn’t want the dogs to eat. As I got closer, my eyes focused in on the object. It was slightly rounded and presented the classic crescent shape of a resting salamander. Yet it was larger than most salamanders I have seen, and much larger than the Red Efts I see on many spring mornings. I quickly realized that I was looking at a medium size Spotted Salamander.
A Spotter Salamander photo borrowed from Maine Audobon
A Spotted Salamander (Ambystoma maculatum) can grow up to nine inches long, but this was seemed closer to six inches long. Its bluish black body had several yellow spots irregularly spaced on its back which provided great contrast in the reflection of my headlamp. The Spotted Salamander is the largest of Vermont’s salamanders and spends most of its time living underground in mole holes or mouse tunnels. This was truly quite a treat to see this creature in the wild. The Spotted Salamander is an elusive animal and I have spent several early spring evenings searching for migrating salamanders in the wetland and woods around my house with no success. Unfortunately, my excitement was short lived as I began to suspect this Salamander was dead.
I kneeled down on the side of the road. The Spotted Salamander became circled in a beam of light from my headlamp. I slowly reached down and touched him. He was cold, moist, and made no attempt to move. I picked him up and he showed the distinct indications that it had been run over by a car. I held him for a moment before I moved him off to the side of the road. I placed the Salamander in the tall grass on the side of the road as I felt like this was the best way to show respect to this beautiful and mysterious creature. I took a moment to let the mixed emotions of this event pass over me before I got up and continued on my walk a little more aware of the fragility of life.
Red Eft picture borrowed from National Geographic
On Monday afternoon I was driving north on I-89. I was heading back toward Stowe from a meeting in the southern part of the State. It was a clear day, probably about 70 degrees, and the start of fall foliage season. My cruise control was set at 68 mph and my radio was tuned to the independent radio station. They were playing a song from the 1980s. It was that title track from the movie The Breakfast Club, Simple Minds’ Don’t You (Forget About Me). As the song played and I could almost see Judd Nelson strutting off over the football field behind the school after getting the prom queen’s earring, thrusting his arm into the air in a hormone filled victory. Classic.
As the song began to fade out and the DJ came back on the radio, the monotony of the road and the weather report began to take its effect. My mind drifted back to 1985 as the radio slipped into 10 minutes of commercials.
I was probably about 12 when I first saw the Breakfast Club. At that time I really connected with the movie. My teenage angst was emerging and their story was my story. The characters were so real and the actor’s lived as I could only imagine. As I grew older, my angst increased and my anger grew. When I was 16 or 17 I had my first Saturday detention, but it was nothing like theirs. There was no smoking pot in the library and I never did get to kiss the prom queen. But at that time I was still alive with emotion, optimism, and self-righteousness.
Twenty years later, here I am driving 68 mph in my economical Honda, cruise control set to keep the speed down. No more detentions or speeding tickets for that matter. As the more daring and reckless drivers passed me by, I wondered where did my angst go? What happened to that edge of anger that surged through me as a young adult? When did I slip into the world of the professional human services worker wearing the khakis and button down shirt every day?
In the 1980s I felt alive; in 2013 I am searching for what it means to be human. When I was 16 it was so simple and the world was new and exciting. Now that I am pushing 40, I question the meaning behind everything and strive to find the simplicity that will bring life back into the
And sometimes, as I am filling out paperwork at my desk, looking at budgets and running numbers for grant reports, I sigh as I realize the passion has slipped from my life.
It is 5:30 in the morning and I am out with my dogs. It is a normal morning. Dark, not that cold, and quiet. Me and the two dogs meander up the hill to the road crossing. I was pleasantly caught up in my own internal rantings.
“Why do I always have to walk these dogs?”
“Why is it always dark when I come out here?”
“Its Saturday, why is it that I have to go to work again?”
“Why can’t I live a life that isn’t filled with with all this crap?”
As we reach the flats, before T in the road, there was a light breeze. This breeze was unseasonably warm. The air disrupted my thoughts and brought my attention back.
I noticed the sun breaking into the darkness. The dogs were diving into the smells on the side of the road that were left over from the animals that wandered the night. I heard a few small chirps from a unknown bird signalling the beginning of the morning chorus.
Then, just as quickly as my mind was drawn to the present, it retreat to the past.
I remembered sitting in the desert with a gun by my side, praying the patrols went alright, watching a similar sunrise, and wishing for the song of a unknown bird to break silence.