Salamander Brigade Essay Wins Writing Award

June 25, 2012
A gorgeous spotted salamander, with goldrenrod spots, rests on the leaf litter. (photo © John Clare)

Longtime Salamander Crossing Brigade volunteer Emily Wilson recently won Honorable Mention in the Andrea E. Walker Nature Writing Award contest at Keene High School for her essay on the Salamander Brigades (reprinted below, with permission). Emily and her mother Sarah have been dedicated Salamander Crossing Brigadiers at the North Lincoln Street and Jordan Road crossings in Keene since the early days, and we think she captured the experience perfectly. Congratulations, Emily!

Goldenrod Spots

by Emily Wilson

We had checked the weather report. It forecasted steady rain throughout the day and into the night. Tonight was the night. Gathered in a blue bucket located in our basement was an assortment of reflective gear, flashlights and a little yellow sand shovel. Darkness fell and our excitement rose. Blue bucket in-hand, clad in raincoats, rain boots, and reflective vests, we drove off to North Lincoln St, our favorite crossing site.

We could already see others meandering along the shiny pavement, swaying their flashlights in a controlled manner, scanning for anything that caught their eyes. One of the figures was wearing a small, blinking red light upon her chest, signaling authority. We headed onto the road, mimicking the actions of the others, hoping to be the first to spot something.

It was springtime and with that time of year came the migration of amphibians. They emerged from their winter hiding spots underground on wooded hills on rainy nights, with temperatures higher than 45˚F, and would make their way towards a vernal pool, where they would mate. Unfortunately, many roads had been built in prime migratory paths of these creatures and something needed to be done to ensure these little creatures’ safety.

This is where we come in. We are trained amphibian crossing guards, out for the first migration night of the season.

Suddenly, a voice rang out into the night, from one of the citizen scientists down the road a stretch.

“I found a Spotty!” The voice proclaimed joyously.

The various glows of flashlights started drifting towards the direction from which the voice had come. We followed.

We formed a small group on the edge of the pavement, careful not to be in the way of any passing cars. In the woman’s hand perched a Spotted Salamander. Black as the night, but dotted along both edges with little yellow spots, its skin was wet with rain. Its sides expanded and contracted slightly as it breathed its little breaths. Its toes were petite with slight balls at the end of each one, gripping onto the woman’s hand. It was beautiful.

Careful not to hurt its fragile figure, the woman who had called out into the night slowly lowered the creature across the road onto a sodden patch of leaves, and bid it a safe journey.

The group gradually broke apart, as each person went in a different direction, returning to a familiar rhythm of flashlight movement, in search of the next creature.

The night consisted mostly of crossing Peepers and Wood Frogs, but that lone Spotted Salamander, with its little toes, wide eyes and beautiful goldenrod spots, would never be forgotten.