Salamander Crossing

So it’s weird moving from managing a high-profile political community to managing a local information site. One minute you’re spinning your way into the front page of the Washington Post or Wall Street Journal, and the next you’re talking about salamander crossings.

But there is a point here, trust me.

Salamander migrations occur here in New Hampshire every year, and a local organization helps get them across the road on the big nights they move. There are known migration paths, and hundreds of volunteers sign up to assist gathering them up and taking them across the road.

When you start digging into this locally, you find almost everybody has heard of this.

Here’s the point — there’s varying degrees of success, mostly depending on the weather. The right rainy weather forces a big migration that can be managed– less than that, a trickle. How it works out is news.

One of the crossing coordinators posted a beautiful comment on Citizen Keene last night, right after the attempt to help, and I think it’s a great example of what local information can be: legitimate up-to-the-minute news, but passionate and personal at the same time.

I’m really curious to hear how the salamander crossing went tonight at all of our sites….at my site on Route 63 in Spofford, the rain mysteriously ceased from 8 until almost midnight — prime crossing time — so we had a frustratingly slow night. A big disappointment, since the weather forecast fooled me into thinking we’d have a Big Night on our hands. Still, the seven of us crossed 19 spotties, 20 peepers, 8 wood frogs, and 2 red efts. On the way home, I decided to take it real slow, stopping to cross every living amphibian that wandered across my path down Route 63 and over on 119, on my way back to my farmhouse apartment in Ashuelot. What would have been a twenty-minute drive turned into nearly two hours; I moved 10 more spotties, 6 additional wood frogs, 7 peepers, and one wayward toad, several only moments before a vehicle would likely have struck them. Several folks stopped to see if I needed help after seeing my hazards flashing, which was awfully nice: when I explained what I was doing to a Hinsdale police officer on 63, he told me that his wife crosses spotted salamanders too (!)

The carnage, of course, was sobering; nothing will make you HATE automobiles like hearing the “pop” of a wood frog being crushed under a tire, or seeing a spotted salamander with its crushed back cemented to the pavement.

I killed a woodfrog on my drive home, too. It leaped in front of my tire before I could swerve to avoid it; when I got out of the car to see if it had survived the encounter, I almost burst into tears. Then I heard the quacking of chorusing woodfrogs nearby, and discovered a vernal pool almost immediately adjacent to the road. I wandered down to the pool’s edge with my flashlight, and witnessed the merriment in full force: wood frogs EVERYWHERE, a riot of quacking and swimming, a few couples already in amplexus, and a spottie (the odd one out!) swimming around too. SO MUCH LIFE! SO riotously beautiful….and a small comfort, I suppose, that the wood frog I had hit was heading away from the party, eggs already laid perhaps?

There’s a lot different between running Blue Hampshire and Citizen Keene, but one thing remains the same: the key is to get people to participate — and to discuss things that might otherwise have gone unrecorded. In the weeks to come I’ll probably be droning on about why Ning is better than Soapblox, WPMU, phpBB and Zope for running a local information site — but the key here is always participation and quality of discourse — and if you’re dithering on your own local information site because you can’t decide on platform — well, don’t. Just get going with it. Life’s just too short for us to miss these stories.

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