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The country girl and the city boy

I’m a “country girl” married to a “city boy.” Dave grew up in a Boston suburb, blighted by neglect, pollution, high rents, and sprawl. New Hampshire and Maine were places to get away to, to steal a break from the realities of traffic and commerce to swim, inhale pine-scented air, and recreate — but not places to live. I grew up small valley town, where most people have access to the woods, on their own property or within a ten-minute walk. Boston was where people went to really make a living, where “culture” and entertainment lived on every corner, where things happened.

Many of our conversations have been touched off from this difference. Despite sharing a region of origin, our experiences of New England, particularly outdoors, are remarkably divergent. Dave and I notice different things when we travel — he’s focused on the road and watching for danger, while I’m noticing how the shade of green has changed in the canopy since last week and wondering when the blueberries will be out. He can’t imagine favoring a primitive campsite over a hotel room with hot showers and AC, while I can’t fathom how he’s never turned over a rotting log (on purpose) to explore its tiny zoo.

A frog chorus tipped off a dialogue about how our encounters with nature (or avoidance of them) have shaped our lives. The evening was a sensory bouquet of fresh soil, blue skies sprinkled with water-filled clouds waiting to empty, tall grasses touched by fading light. As my awareness opened, the sound of spring peepers — little Hyla crucifer — flooded into it. For me, this sound always evokes excitement, nostalgia, and gratitude.

Dave hadn’t noticed the sound in the slightest. Absorbed in his novel, it wasn’t a blip on his radar. He wasn’t attuned to it. When I interrupted to remark on the beautiful symphony, he listened; he could pick out the song and acknowledged, yes, that is the sound of a small woodland creature. He could see I was having a delightful experience of it — but if the frogs had suddenly gone silent, or there were no tree frogs at all that year, he probably wouldn’t have noticed. We were on the same porch, facing the same woods, at the same time, but we were in different places.

I explained how listening for the peepers’ call was a seasonal ritual for me, that I marked the day as a holiday, the turning point at which summer truly begins. Like many natural rhythms (the sighing crush of ocean waves, the growing and dwindling of the moon) I set my internal clock by it. We both contemplated that our respective senses of time and place are founded on different phenomena - his on digital devices, traffic signals, bank hours, etc., and mine on? tree frogs, apparently. I wondered what implications this temporal attunement to Nature has had for my growth as an environmental thinker and the way I relate to places, people, and even problems. I found it interesting that the word “temporal” refers both to time and to a lobe of the brain (as well as the bone covering it) - and couldn’t miss the metaphor there, that time is “in our heads.”

I turned back to the sound, letting it seep into my brain and soak through my bones, storing it up so when the last tree frog peeps its last peep, signaling the silent death of summer and arrival of fall (which I also love), I can hold onto the hope of its return. I thought about how other people listen (if they listen) to their environments, and wondered if Dave, who’d gone back to his novel, was missing the sounds of traffic and industry that are mostly absent in our Monadnock woods. Then I realized some amount of time had passed since I’d first become aware of the peepers, and reluctantly returned to my work — until the next encounter.

Jess Gerrior is an environmental educator and the sustainability coordinator at Franklin Pierce University. She lives in Antrim with her husband, a Marriage & Family Therapy Master’s student and rabid Bruins fan.

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