i slept about 3 hours last night before waking up early this morning to meet up with my father who was coming to pick me up so i could drive with him to the cafe where i could then borrow the car for the day. i was going to broadmoor, the audubon sanctuary in natick, for a vernal pool exploration class i signed up for a few weeks ago. at this point i've all but given up hope to see a spotted salamander for the rest of the season; i missed the annual mass migration, and the nobody from the salamander hotline at blue hills bothered to call me back even though i left 3 separate messages. however, maybe spending the day with a vernal pool expert would shed some more light on the habit of these elusive salamanders so i could better prepare for next spring.

i was the last person to arrive, even though 2 more were supposed to come (they decided not to or simply forgot). the other participants were 2 elderly women and an older man who's a fellow instructor at broadmoor as well. our teacher began by telling us she wasn't really a vernal pool expert. we watched a slideshow and then stopped for a lunch break. when i asked our instructor what was the biggest spotted salamander she'd ever seen, so confessed she'd never seen a live one before, same as me. that news didn't leave me with a lot of confidence, but once we were out at our first vernal pool and examining the pond water with our field microscopes, she earned her stripes.

mosquito pupa ("tumbler")


pregnant daphnia


planaria (flatworm)

cocepod with
egg sacs

when i took biology my freshman year of high school, the thing that always excited me was being able to play around with the microscope and examine miscroscopic creatures. nearly 2 decades later, i was re-experiencing the best part of high school biology. you'd never know it but there's a lot of small critters that live in the vernal pool, besides, wood frogs, salamanders, and fairy shrimps. we saw a lot of wiggly things that turned out to be mosquito pupae (as opened to mosquito larvae), commonly known as "tumblers" due to the way they thrash about. seeing tumblers meant that soon adult mosquitoes would be emerging in the forest. we saw a bloodworm, stained red from active hemoglobins. we saw a pregnant daphnia with baby daphnias plainly visible inside her transparent body. we watched a planaria flatworm undulate about almost like a leech. we observed cocepods heavy with egg sacs that looked like rabbit ears.

at our second vernal pool we found a spring peeper (identified by the telltale "x" mark on its back) and discovered a hidden cranberry bog. a large garter snake was sunning itself on the path; one of our group members chased it from the other side and the snake slithered between our legs.

at the third and last pool i finally got a chance to wear my rubber boots. i spotted eggs for the group and we decided that it was probably wood frog eggs since they didn't have the characteristic jelly mass of salamander eggs. these frog eggs resembled the tapioca balls you'd find in a bubble ice tea, each one containing an undeveloped frog embyro inside. these must've been recently laid because looking inside each egg, you couldn't tell what animal it was yet. here at this third pool we also saw something strange but beautiful: the surface of the water looked like it was covered in tree pollen, but it was still too early in the season for any pollen to be produced. our instructor told us it was a naturally occuring event, the leaching of a particular element (magnesium?) from the water. whatever it was, with the afternoon sunlight hitting the water just right, it cast an iridescent magical glow on our vernal pool.

at 4:30pm i headed back into town. i returned to my parents' place in belmont (nobody was home yet). the first thing i did was to take a shower, which also allowed me to inspect my body for ticks (i didn't find any). later everyone came home and while my mother and sister made dinner, my father was outside raking a pile of dead lawn grass. talking to my mother, i involuntarily stuck my hand down the back of my pants, a rude habit for sure, but one that saved me today: i felt something that seemed like a scab on my upper thigh but feared the worse. because i couldn't really see it, i went into the bathroom and came back out in my boxers, and asked my sister if she could see a tick on my ass. she screamed. with that answer, i grabbed a hand mirror and a pair of tweezers and yanked the tick off my body. it had already drawn blood, but hopefully not enough to give me lyme disease.

for dinner we had jumbo shrimps and clam linguine. afterwards i returned to cambridge via motorcycle. by then it was already 40 degrees, the lowest temperature i've ever biked in. factoring in a wind speed of 30mph (the speed that i was traveling), that meant a wind chill temperature of less than 28 degrees. my father insisted i wear his large winter jacket and a pair of fleece gloves; i'm glad i did because it was seriously cold. for the most part my upper torso was very well insulated, just my legs were freezing cold. not enough to make my teeth chatter (i've had that happen before on the bike, i wasn't wearing enough warm clothes), but i could literally feel my "boys" crawling back inside me and my face felt chapped from the cold wind.