I had to look close to be sure I was seeing what I thought I was seeing.

Clinging to a tree root in a mud puddle was a large “clump” of frog eggs . . . on a cold January day, no less.

I’m no herpetologist, but I’m pretty sure there’s at least one frog in a Cumberland Mountains creek bottom whose internal calendar is on the fritz. Even now that we’re in late January, we’re a full month away from when the first frogs begin to sing their nighttime melodies — and even then only when the weather is mild. Contrary to the warm December we experienced here on the northern Cumberland Plateau, January has been rather chilly. I hadn’t even seen a frog since I took a notion to clean out my koi pond in December and found a dozen or so bullfrogs hiding in the muck at the bottom and very upset at the interruption of their mid-winter’s slumber.

Nevertheless, I interpreted the discovery of the frog eggs — left in a shallow puddle along one of Brimstone Recreation’s ATV trails — as a sure sign that spring is on its way.

Sure, we have a ways to go before the calendar flips to spring — March 1 or March 20, depending on whether you’re a meteorologist or a layman — and we’ll probably see plenty of cold weather between now and then. In fact, the weatherman was calling for the coldest air of the season to invade Tennessee earlier this week, with bitter cold driving the thermometer towards single digits.

But when Punxsutawney Phil crawls out of his cage next weekend and gleefully informs us that we have six more weeks of winter ahead of us, I’ll have a message for the old dirt-burrower: I’ve already seen the eggs. And that means winter is at death’s door.

Look, I like winter just fine. Snow and snow cream and snowmen and snowball fights and cold and frostbite and flu and pneumonia and all that. But after a few weeks of being cooped up in the house, I’m more than ready for a change. I’m ready to trade the snow and flu for crappie fishing and turkey hunting. With Christmas in the rearview mirror and after weeks of weather that is either too cold or too wet to enjoy, a mosquito would be a welcome sight.

It’ll be a while before the frogs warm up their vocals for those early spring consonances on the pond banks, and longer still before Mother Nature has finally sorted out her warm-again, cold-again mood swings and decided that warmer weather is here to stay.

But frog eggs in a mud puddle on a cold January afternoon is as sure a sign as any: it won’t be long now.

■ Ben Garrett is editor of the Independent Herald. Contact him at bgarrett@ihoneida.com.