The Secret Breeding ground of the Newts was peaceful—classic Oregon. We were heading out to help our friend Mark Meyer move an old, free, plastic, one piece greenhouse about a quarter of a mile down the road to his new house when I realized that the newts would be congregating in the old quarry just up the road from his place, so after the move and lunch, we turned the Ark uphill. As we climbed, the mist became a drizzle and the fir covered hills disappeared into the clouds. We are native enough now that a drizzle, even without raincoats, doesn’t deter us, but we were grateful for our wooly hats.
The quarry itself is about a quarter of a mile down an old logging road, used now by dog and child walkers, cross country runners, and mountain bikers—it’s a pretty popular entrance to miles of trails and roads, partly because it is not muddy in the winter. There’s a pile of logs, some cut into fireplace length, on the way. One day, when it was slushing out, someone had lit a fire there and others, walking by, tended it. Today, nothing.
The newts, however, were out in force. Newt watching is a trick, as their brown or grey skins blend into the rotting leaves and gravel on the bottoms of the local ponds and the reflection of the sky can make it difficult to see into the water. You have to look beyond the surface and watch for movement. Once your eyes adjust, though, there they are. Some hang in the water, tails down, noses breaking the surface. Some lurk under the pond grasses or logs. Others shift slightly and meander along. Then one moves—long tail sways from side to side, feet tuck close to the body, like a seal lion under water. It wiggles, dives—the feet reach out as brakes and he slows down. Another newt looks over. Several converge on one, like a dog pile. The orange undersides of their tails show, bright in the dark water. They meet, sniff, move away. It’s mesmerizing.
All around is quiet. The mist collects, drips off the rocks above, patters softly on my head. A breeze shakes the drops off of the Doug firs. A quarry stone is dislodged and drops into the pond. Far way, a barred owl calls. An excited dog barks on the trail above, maybe a bicycle brake squeals. Something plops in the pond further out. The newts move on, unaware.