Posted by: jeannineatkins | April 23, 2009

Looking Down: Scott Jackson on salamanders and such

I’ve been having a little envy of the grackle that recently gave Tracy tracyworld some writing tips, you know, in a grackley way. But she was the one who pointed out I may be looking in the wrong direction, and last night’s amphibian talk by Scott Jackson at our library may get me looking under logs in the woods where I probably belong. Salamanders as muse.

I learned that the definition of amphibian as a creature who lives both on land and in water is too simple – like most definitions — and Scott spelled out, sort of, the difference between frogs and toads. Toads hop. Frogs leap. “So what’s the difference between hopping and leaping?” his wife dryly asked from the back.

“It takes many hops to get somewhere. It’s technical,” he said. And showed us.

Salamanders migrate three times a year, and we were cautioned to watch out on our drives home through the rain. We saw slides of many beautiful frogs, including the very hardy wood frog, which apparently spends winter under old leaves, where 80% of the water in its body freezes. Ouch, I say, but I guess they’re used to it.

So I’ll spend some time looking down, though we do get to gaze out and listen to the spring peepers on warmish nights, and be on alert for other calls, done by the males to encourage mating, mark their territories, announce rain, or say Let-me-go (not a call I’m likely to hear). Scott was excellent at imitating the calls of various frogs and toads, and so was asked if he had to perform these for his thesis committee. No, he said, but he didn’t have a car radio when he was in grad school, so spent a lot of time practicing. Oh these scientists have so much fun!

Now I’m reading posts about people packing for the NESCBWI conference, and realize I’d better get to that, after eating some poppy seed cake leftover from the event. I’m so excited about meeting and reunions — tomorrow!



  1. I get to see you tomorrow! Yay yay yay!

  2. I laughed out loud reading the part about him practicing frog and toad calls in his car. Wouldn’t it be fun to hide in the back seat and listen?
    Don’t forget to pack your salamander muse for your trip!

  3. Oh I love all this wildlife talk!
    And I am going to be thinking of all of you, so many of my friends, at the conference tomorrow.
    I am there with you in spirit.
    If you get to meet my dearest friend Toni Buzzeo, give her a hug for me.

  4. I wish I’d seen that hopping/leaping demo.
    See you soon!

  5. What a wonderful talk! And I’m all for salamanders as muse, too. And maybe toads and frogs, too.
    It takes many hops to get somewhere.
    This sounds rather like my drafts. 🙂
    Can’t wait to meet you in Nashua!

  6. Oh my gosh, it’s less than 24 hours now!!!! Yay!

  7. I have a bad ear and I’m so impressed when people can recognize bird calls — but then to be able to get trills and chirps and croaks in your human mouth. It was very amusing to listen to!

  8. Thanks, Susan. So glad to have you there in spirit — and I’ll definitely give Toni a hug from you!

  9. To be honest, he just did the hopping and leaping with his hands, but I bet if pressed….
    Yes, see you very soon! I’m so excited!

  10. I’m going to have to take my camera out in the woods and roll over logs. To hear Scott speak, the place should be teeming. He said something like the weight of salamanders is greater than the weight of all other wood creatures, which doesn’t seem like it can be quite right. I might need a re-quote on that one!
    Yes, I think we must both be on the toad school of writing. Leaps not quite in my vocab.
    I can’t believe I’ll be in Nashua tomorrow! Can’t wait to meet you! (and now I need to drop the exclamation marks and pack — or at least get to bed…)

  11. I’m the same about bird calls. Yesterday I heard a bird singing but couldn’t get a look at it so had no idea what it was (I’m sure I probably should know it already). Well, I repeated it over and over thinking I’d remember long enough to ask someone but a couple hours later-POOF, it was gone.

  12. Susan, so after I got a hug from Toni, I grabbed her back and said, Now here’s one from Susan. Toni is a good hugger, but that hug was even better, coming with a little scream of missing you.

  13. Thank you, Jeannine! I can so picture the three of us, sipping tea and talking books together.
    Enjoy that conference. Next year I’m going to try to be there with you all.

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