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Celebrating the Year of the Salamander, Part III

September 14, 2014   |   Brett Amy Thelen
A spotted salamander peers into the depths of your soul. (photo © Brian Gratwicke)

2014 is the Year of the Salamander

Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (PARC) — a national coalition of biologists, land managers, and individuals dedicated to the conservation of amphibians, reptiles, and their habitats — has designated 2014 as the Year of the Salamander, a time to illuminate, educate, and celebrate all things salamander. In salute, here’s a story from the Harris Center’s salamander files.

Salamanders Can Help You Get Into a Good College

Every year, we train volunteers to serve on Salamander Crossing Brigades at amphibian road crossings throughout the Monadnock Region. These heroic volunteers count migrating amphibians and safely usher the animals across roads during one or more “Big Nights” each spring.

Sarah and Emily Wilson – a mother-daughter team from Keene – first joined the Salamander Brigades when Emily was in fourth grade, nearly a decade ago. Sarah recalls, “I still remember our first night out, when we got out of the car and a wood frog was hopping across the road right in front of us!”

A spotted salamander, in the hands of a Crossing Brigade volunteer. (photo © Mary Kate Sheridan)

A spotted salamander, in the hands of a Crossing Brigade volunteer. (photo © Mary Kate Sheridan)

Sarah & Emily Wilson

Sarah & Emily Wilson

A prized find on Big Night at North Lincoln Street in Keene. (photo © Sarah Wilson)

A prized find on Big Night at North Lincoln Street in Keene. (photo © Sarah Wilson)

It quickly became a springtime tradition:

“Emily and I would go out even when we weren’t ‘called.’ If it was maybe just a little rainy, or the temperature wasn’t just right, we would go out anyway. And those were wonderful nights. Often we were the only ones out, and we would talk as we walked back and forth on the road, and listen to the peepers and wood frogs that had already made it safely across the street to their vernal pools….It gave us some wonderful mom-daughter time.”

As the coordinator of this project, I’ve had the pleasure of watching Emily grow up with the Salamander Brigades, one rainy evening at a time. On school nights, her mother would insist on leaving the crossing site early enough to get a good night’s rest, but Emily was always reluctant to go, ever on the lookout for salamanders.

And I’ll never forget the year when Emily showed up behind the wheel of the family station wagon – logging hours towards her driver’s permit while transporting her mother to the amphibian crossing. Suddenly, she was no longer a kid!

When the time came to apply to college, Emily wrote her application essay on her salamandering, and it did the trick! This year thus saw the advent of a new twist on the Wilsons’ springtime tradition: instead of walking side by side, Sarah and Emily texted back and forth about the first spotted salamander of the season. Sarah was at North Lincoln Street in Keene, as always, but Emily was at Smith College in western Massachusetts, where her passion for salamanders helped open the door to a whole new adventure.