In the spring, just after the last snow has melted away from the shadows of the forest, a loud chorus of spring peepers can often be heard in pools of meltwater. But if their pool is approached by a human visitor, these wary tree frogs quickly stop their peeping and hide.
Once, frustrated that I was never able to see them up close, I sat motionless next to their pool waiting to see and hear them again. After what seemed to be an eternity, one appeared and started calling, followed slowly by others. Soon the pool was again in blaring chorus in front of me. Then, as I, the imaginary conductor, stood up to take a bow for their performance, the pool immediately fell silent and clear again. Chuckling to myself, I felt a sense of victory and accomplishment. I had learned that sitting quietly and still—simmering down—is often a way to witness the most amazing wild things. As Ralph Waldo Emerson put it, "… adopt the pace of nature. Her secret is patience."
How much simmering-down time is needed depends on many factors, but I have found that 20 minutes is about the minimum. It takes that much time for wildlife to ignore my presence, and for my human senses to focus and acclimate to surroundings, enabling me to notice and hear small details. From my hunting experience I've learned that squirrels or birds usually move first, signaling that the coast is clear to other wildlife that appear to follow their cue. I once saw a fisher emerge next to break the silence, hopping past me in zigzags. I knew then I had achieved my goal of blending into the forest background.
I am sometimes tempted to use my cell phone to pass the time waiting, but this is as serious an impairment to witnessing wild things as it is to driving a car. If I multitask, I miss the precious details of nature around me, such as the shrew visible for only a second or two scampering between fallen logs.
In my impatient youth, simmering down was sometimes difficult. It is much easier now because I perceive time as moving much faster with age, and because I realize the rewards of patience.
I began to understand this early in my career. My first job out of college was working for a ruffed grouse biologist. I located and recorded the spring activity of grouse on their drumming logs. On average the birds drum about every four minutes, so with patience and timing I could locate and slowly approach their drumming logs. Once, as I watched a grouse drum, it suddenly stopped, jumped off its log, hunkered down, and walked into thicker brush nearby. Looking around, I spied the reason: A goshawk had landed near us. The raptor jumped among tree branches above the log, bobbing its head, trying to locate the grouse to no avail. The goshawk left after a few minutes, and the grouse quickly appeared again, jumping back on its log to resume drumming. I was awestruck to witness the hunting behavior of this secretive forest hawk.
Today I continue to simmer down occasionally by taking a seat on a stump, a log, or cool earth with a backrest of oak. In the fall it is sometimes a ground blind or a tree stand. I am rarely disappointed in the story that unfolds in front of me, including the time when a white weasel suddenly appeared without fear at my feet. This time I was the one to break the silence as I just as suddenly jumped off the ground.