Finding the Gifts in the In-Betweens

Finding the Gifts in the In-Betweens

Sue Wasserman

Photos by Sue Wasserman

Frost in the morning, wood frogs chortling in the afternoon. This in-between time of year never fails to intrigue me.

There are countless mornings the Smokies seem unwilling to release their grip on winter, gloating while painting early mornings in crystalized white. Bundled in layers, though, I’m relatively unbothered by the chill, as I check out winter’s effects on wildflowers like Queen Anne’s lace and goldenrod. While both are particularly glorious when in early and mid-bloom, I enjoy seeing them in their entirety by paying attention in the off-season. The only minor inconvenience is having to remove two layers of gloves so I can take a picture. One of these days, I will find a single pair I deem warm enough, one that will also allow me to snap pictures without subjecting my poor fingers to the chill.

frosted plants

I imagine many of you have friends like me, who, from the moment winter appears, spend their days wishing for spring. I don’t judge. All I can say is I’m someone who doesn’t like to wish away the moments and the impromptu gifts that accompany them.

Time flies, of course, whether you’re enjoying the season or not. I was surprised when a recent frost-covered morning gave way to drunken, hoarse, chicken-like sounds in a nearby vernal “puddle” that afternoon. My recently transplanted walking partner wondered if we were hearing geese, but I was confident wood frogs were responsible for the crazy croaking.

frozen frog eggs

Sure enough, the puddle was clearly hosting wood frog chorus practice. Hearing us approach, they quickly burrowed into the mud before growing deafeningly silent. As we scoured the water for signs of movement, our eyes stumbled upon a gelatinous sac of eggs.

Given frigid morning temperatures, that puddle had been frozen, even just a few days earlier. A little digging helped me discover that wood frogs create their own anti-freeze that allows them to survive in their ice-covered home. While River and I joked about them being frogsicles, it turns out that’s exactly what they become until the time is right for them to thaw, mate, and drop their eggs.

As I researched more, I also learned that the jelly that encases the eggs freezes first and pulls water from the egg, dehydrating them. This mind-blowing process not only allows these critters-in-training to survive the low temperatures of late winter and early spring—it also keeps me from worrying about them on these continued frigid mornings.

The more I think about it, the more I appreciate how nature provides this fascinating seasonal intersection, which, at the same time, serves as a segue into her coming attractions. It feels like a terrific twofer, and one I’m extremely happy to accept.

Smokies LIVE

Sue Wasserman is the author of A Moment’s Notice and Walk with Me: Exploring Nature’s Wisdom. She has also written for the New York Times and Southern Living. She currently lives in North Carolina.

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