SONG OF THE PEEPER

A Hard Cold Winter
A Hard Cold Winter

Chapter 1

 

"Listen! Do you hear that?"

Stephen looked up at me wide-eyed.

"What is it?" he whispered into the inky darkness.

It had been a long, hard winter. The ice, snow, rain and cold seemed never ending. We battled just to keep the house warm; no matter how hot the fireplace, the cold seeped in and permeated the walls, spreading its icy fingers inside our small abode. We hunkered down, adding log after log and watched our stock of firewood shrink ever lower.

Everywhere I went, there was only one conversation-when would the cold break?-how much longer would winter last?

The first robin appeared, one week before a monstrous storm dumped three more feet of snow. Stupid robin!

Trudging through the icy slush one morning a glint of green caught my eye. Further inspection revealed it was a small clump of snowdrops. A sign of spring…. surely it couldn't be too far away!

The next morning proved that the snowdrops were as confused as the robin. A solid sheet of ice enveloped everything. I sighed as I threw handfuls of salt down on the walkway just to be able to safely make it out to the chicken house.

Later that afternoon a cold steady rain started to fall. The snow and ice melted away into a gray slush. Out in the field, the snowman the neighborhood kids had painstakingly labored on was shrinking----it reminded me of the bad witch in the Wizard of Oz. I could almost hear his screams…."I'm melting!"

Good! Good riddance! I thought as I retreated back inside the house and added another log to the fire. Poking the embers into a satisfying blaze, I sat back on my haunches and glanced out the window. The rain had turned into sleet. “Great!” I muttered under my breath. “Just peachy- here we go again!” Thunder crashed and the lights flickered briefly, then went out. My thoughts immediately turned to the roast in the oven. So much for dinner. I knew from experience that we would be lucky to regain our electricity within 24 hours. Living so far from town had its drawbacks. Out of habit I turned on the kitchen tap for a glass of water. The faucet let a thin stream of water out, then sputtered and went dry. I grimaced. No electricity, no well pump. No well pump, no water.

Now what? I closed my eyes and contemplated my next step. The questions of a friend in the city came to mind as I stood there. “Good grief Lexi, how can you live like that?! I’d go crazy the first time something like that happened!”

I opened my eyes. “Oh well, at least the fireplace works and I won’t freeze.” I said to the faucet. I turned off the oven and gathered the supplies that would be needed when darkness descended. Flashlights, a couple of fat pillar candles, several bottles of water, a blanket and the emergency radio. Then picking up a half finished novel, I situated myself in front of the fireplace, lit a candle, flipped on the radio, and after listening to the storm report for a few minutes, wrapped the blanket around myself and started to read, my big shepherd dog Max curled up asleep next to me.

No worries on MY watch!
No worries on MY watch!

German Shepherds are GREAT companions!

Chapter 2

 

The next morning dawned bright and sunny with wet grass being the only evidence of the storm the night before. Outside, the slush had melted completely away…the only proof of the snowman were the two branches that had been his arms, lying askew in the field.

Seemingly overnight, crocus flowers had sprung up alongside the road and in the flowerbeds around the house. I eyed them disbelievingly. After letting Max out, I went back in and tentatively tried the faucet in the bathroom. The water gushed out. I flipped the light switch, and the room brightened immediately. Bless the power company crews who had given up their sleep the night before!

A hot shower and everything looked even better. Though still cold outside, the sun was working hard to warm things up, and the grass was starting to lose some of its sogginess.

The roast in the oven had actually cooked -on the rare side, but nevertheless, cooked. I made a cold roast beef sandwich for lunch, which ended up being delicious. This would do as a repeat for dinner with a bowl of hot soup- My little cousin Stephen was coming to spend the weekend with me, so I needed to have some kind of game plan.

Stephen….as I tended to the day’s chores, my thoughts turned to the vivacious seven year old. He was a true joy to have around. He made me step back and really look at the world around me- and at myself. Even the bitter winter cold didn’t seem so bad when Stephen was around. Lost in my musings, the slam of a car door brought me back to reality.

“Lexie! Lexie!” Stephen’s cries carried up the walkway. He burst through the front door into the hallway. “Good grief child, you are going to break that door down one of these days!” his mother reprimanded him as she followed along behind, loaded down with his luggage.  He spied me and threw himself into my arms. “Lexie!” I hugged him hard before gently disentangling myself from his embrace. “Lexi, Mom said I get to spend the whole weekend! TWO whole days! Can we go fishing? Can we go up and check for bears? Are the blackberries starting to bloom yet? How many eggs are the chickens laying now? Where’s Max?”

Pam and I exchanged an amused look as she plopped his duffle bag down in the corner. “Why don’t’ you see if you can go find Max?” she suggested. Stephen didn’t need a second prompting- He was out the door in a flash, calling for the big dog.

“Coffee?” I asked, as I pulled out the coffee can, filters and pot. She nodded, and I put the pot on to brew.

An hour later, after catching up, peppered with several interruptions from Stephen with Max in tow, Pam hugged him goodbye and departed reminding him on her way out the door to be “On your best behavior or Lexi may not let you come back”. “See ya Monday morning Cuz. Call me if he gets too rowdy.” I nodded and winked at her.

Stephen looked up and grinned at me as her car disappeared from sight. “You’d never tell me not to come back, would you Lexi?” I reached out and tousled his hair. “Not on your life kiddo- you know I’d be lost without you!” His grin widened. “You ready for an early dinner? I thought we’d walk up and check out the pond and see if there are any fish there for our fishing expedition tomorrow.” His eyes widened and he nodded briskly. “OK then, you go to the pantry and pick out what kind of soup you want to eat while I get the sandwiches started. “While you’re in there get Max’s dinner dish too.” He disappeared into the pantry while I pulled the leftover roast out of the fridge and proceeded to slice off thick slabs of meat for our sandwiches. I laid some scraps off to the side for a treat for Max. Stephen returned with a can of tomato soup in one hand and Max’s dish in the other. He handed me the can. “Can I go feed Max?” I nodded and tossed the meat scraps into the dish containing the dog kibble Stephen had filled it with. He disappeared out the door calling for Max.

After dinner we headed up to the pond, Stephen and Max leading the way. Stephen insisted upon investigating every inch of the waterline, and Max was only too happy to oblige. I lagged behind, keeping a watchful eye on the two of them. I was glad the pond was fairly small- by the time they were satisfied it was nearly dusk. “OK you two- time to head back to the house!” They turned from their inspection of a large pile of pond scum that had floated up to the edge of the water and rejoined me on the path to the house.

After returning to the house and getting Stephen settled in his bed, I pulled out the dog-eared storybook. “Ready?” He nodded and snuggled further under the down comforter.

“Let’s see, where were we?” Stephen opened his mouth but I spoke before he could get the words out. “Ahhh yes, I remember…” I picked up where I had left off two weeks before. Two pages later, as I listened to Stephens deep, even breathing, I softly closed the book. Max eyed me from the rug next to the bed. “You want to sleep in here tonight?” I whispered. He thumped his tail lightly a couple of times but didn’t move. “Ok, you watch over him then.” Max gave me a withering look that seemed to say “You REALLY don’t think I’d let anything happen to him on MY watch, DO you?” I reached for the bedside light and clicked it off.

Chapter 3

 

I woke to Stephen’s insistent pulling on my covers. “Lexi, come ON! It’s MORNING, we’ve got to go get fish for dinner!” I groaned. “Just five minutes more…”

“Lexi, you ALWAYS want five minutes more, the fish’ll be GONE…” I groaned again and swung my legs over the side of the bed. Sitting on the edge, I glared at Max who was sitting in the doorway with one ear askew, happily thumping his tail. “How can you be that happy this early in the morning?” I demanded of the big shepherd. He thumped his tail harder and cocked his head. “Come on Lexi!” Stephen was hopping up and down in his anticipation of the days events. I looked him up and down. “You’re not even dressed!” I exclaimed. “And did you brush your teeth yet?” He stopped hopping, turned, and disappeared into the bathroom. As I passed the bathroom door I reminded him in a loud voice “Don’t forget to brush the back ones!” He groaned, and I chuckled as I headed into the kitchen to make breakfast and pack a picnic lunch for us.

After breakfast, while Stephen went to the chicken house to feed the hens and check for eggs, I quickly dressed, loaded our lunch and fishing supplies into a couple of backpacks, and rigged the poles. He returned with a full egg basket and a couple of feathers for his growing collection. I shook my head as he went to pack them carefully into his duffle bag. Ever since he had been visiting, he always managed to find some treasure to take back with him.

He returned and picked up his backpack. “Ready?” he asked. I nodded. “Yep. Let’s go- Stay with Max though ok?” “OK, I will”, he promised. “And YOU watch over HIM!” I admonished the dog as we all went out the door.

The fishing was fairly brisk, and we had enough trout for dinner by early afternoon. Leaving the fish on a stringer in the cool water of the pond, we explored the surrounding woods and within an hour and a half, had picked a nice supply of morel mushrooms to go with them. We returned to the pond, gathered our gear and the fish, and headed for the house and a well deserved nap.

Dinner was delightful, after which, Stephen beat me soundly at two games of Monopoly. As he snuggled under the comforter once again, he whispered with eyelids drooping, “That was so much fun, can we do it again tomorrow?” “We’ll see” I replied. “Now go to sleep- sweet dreams!” Before the words were out of my mouth, he was sound asleep. I looked at Max, in his usual spot on the rug next to the bed, tail thumping softly. “G’Night Max. Keep an eye on him.” I clicked off the light and headed for a hot shower and my own bed.

The next morning was a repeat of the one before, albeit thankfully a bit later. “Five minutes!” I protested to no avail. Prying myself out of the warm, soft bed, I eyed Stephen who grinned wildly at me pointing at his teeth. “See? All brushed! Even the back ones!” I shook my head. “But you’re not dressed!” I exclaimed. His grin disappeared and he dashed out the door and into his room. Pulling my own clothes on, I headed for the kitchen to repeat yesterday’s routine again.

Fishing at the pond...
Fishing at the pond...

Chapter 4

 

The sun was high in the sky by the time we had reached the pond, and I raised my face to it appreciatively. Stephen and Max had found another pile of pond scum and Stephen was poking into it with a stick he had found while Max ran back and forth waiting to play fetch. I dropped our gear under a nearby tree and rigged the poles with bait. Casting out, I sat down upon one of the large rocks that peppered the edges of the pond and watched the fetch game now in full play between the boy and dog. Turning the game into ‘keep away’, Max was having the time of his life as he darted this way and that with the stick, Stephen close behind him but just out of reach. Eventually, with both tired and panting, Stephen threw himself down into the soft grass beside my rock chair, while Max retired to a shady cool spot next to our gear under the tree.

 

“Fish aren’t as active today” I commented. He sat up and I handed him his pole. He stepped back and executed a perfect cast out into the middle of the pond. I marveled at how much he had learned and matured over the past year. His father Dave had recently been promoted, and the new position allowed him more freedom and time off, which he chose wisely to spend with his son. The time spent had paid off- Stephen was turning into a wonderful young man. I turned my attention back to my pole which was slowly bending up and down. I reeled up slowly, testing the line, then gave a short jerk. The pole bent nearly double. Stephen jumped to his feet. “Lexi- Wow! You’ve got something BIG!” I grunted noncommittally as I played the fish, taking care not to let it snap or snag the line. Slowly, the reel filled up and we could just start to make out a large outline of something under the water. Stephen paced back and forth on the small pebble beach, trying to get a clear glimpse of the fish as the sun glanced off the water. A large silvery nose appeared at the surface, then, ‘POP’! the line snapped and my pole went straight.

“Aww Lexi, darn it!” Stephen stared at the water, hoping for one last look. “Yep. There went dinner.” I replied. “Oh well, it was fun while it lasted!” I grinned at Stephen and he returned my smile half-heartedly. “Hey kiddo, you can’t catch ‘em all, you know that!” “I know”, he said, “but I REALLY woulda liked to have at least SEEN it!”

I chuckled. “You an’ me BOTH. That was the biggest fish I think I’ve even caught in this pond.” After lunch, I re-rigged my pole and we spent several more hours casting and reeling, with no luck. The shadows lengthened, dusk crept upon us, and soon the sun disappeared completely behind the trees. It was nearly dark as we reeled in, gathered our supplies, and prepared to return to the house. As the light faded away, a strange sound filled the stillness of the cool night air. Stephen froze at my side.

A PEEPER!
A PEEPER!

Epilogue

 

"Listen! Do you hear that?"

Stephen looked up at me wide-eyed.

"What is it?" he whispered into the inky darkness.

I laughed. “It’s peepers.” I responded, matter-of-factly. His voice floated up out of the dark. “Peepers?” I felt him reach for my hand. “Lexi, WHAT is a PEEPER?!” I started to giggle. “Oh Stephen, it’s Ok, there’s nothing to worry about.” I dropped my pack onto the ground in front of me and rummaged around inside for the flashlight I always carried inside of it. Locating it, I pulled it out and switched it on, shining it near the edge of the pond. “A peeper is a little frog.” I explained. “See? Look there!” As the light played over the waterline, it revealed the tiny creatures, their throats expanding and contracting as they joined in the song with the others nearby.

Stephen let out a sigh of relief in the shadows. “Peepers!” he exclaimed. “Wait until Mom hears about THIS!”

I swung my pack back onto my shoulder and reached for his hand as we made our way back to the house, Max dancing in and out of the beam of the flashlight in front of us.

The peepers were singing- spring had finally arrived!!!

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