So it is now officially spring, yet the weather is still cold - much colder than is usual. We even had a blizzard a couple of days ago turning the secret valley white once again for several hours. The snow turned to rain and was washed away. At least we have longer hours of daylight to look forward to. On the rare occasions when the weather brightens, the strengthening warmth of the sun on the skin lifts the spirits after months of grey, cold dampness.
It is that time of year when the local frog populations' spirits are also lifted as they emerge from hibernation and crawl out from under the leaf litter and fallen twigs of the old hedgerow above the little stone cottage. Under cover of darkness they cross the lane, all making their way towards the pond two fields away. For some reason they don't take a direct route but detour to our garden door (and if open), march through the sitting room, into the kitchen and out through the back door. If the door is shut the sound of tapping on the glass panels as they attempt to jump through is continuous.
But not this year. There have been no signs of the frogs on the road and no-one has come a-knockin'. The weather seems to have got the better of them: they are as confused and, perhaps as depressed, as we humans after twelve months of cold and wet.
In normal springs the culmination of their journey is celebrated in a frenzied orgy in the calm water of the pond. If you creep up on them, their presence betrayed by a carcophany of croaking, they become still and gaze up at you with a degree of embarrassment. Trying to look innocent they sit willing you to believe that they wouldn't do anything so vulgar (or exciting, depending on your outlook) as sex in public. As soon as they think the coast is clear they return to their shenanigans making the pond look like a whirlpool bathtub.
This year the frogs have returned silently. There is no sign of them in the water or of their frogspawn floating like oil slicks on the surface. In the confusion of the weather, where every surface is as wet as any other, the frogs have spawned on top of the fence posts that protects the pond. The larger posts wear a crown of spawn, the smaller ones cannot hold it and it slides off, dripping to the ground. It is a strange and unsettling sight: something that we have never seen before.
What does this mean for the frogs? The eggs cannot survive and if they do not lay more in the water the population must surely crash. We already miss seeing their heads turn toward us as we walk past; we miss their visits to the cottage even more. It will be sad if that becomes a thing of the past as has the song of the cuckoo and the churr of the nightjar, both summer visitors to the secret valley not so many years ago.