An exuberant racket rises, croaks, and clatters from the swamp. While doves nuzzle on overhanging limbs, offering a chorus of coos, their soft voices are bellowed to the background by the wood frogs’ song of seduction. It is raucous and joyful, and in my relief and gratitude at the demise of this hard winter, I wish I, too, had an annual spring welcome to add to this swelling orchestra of Nature’s voices.
Our fellow creatures have crept from hiding, out from under the porch floorboards, out from hollows in trees, out from clefts in the rocky ledge in the woods, and out from the sucking mud of the swamp. To tide them over in this month still barren of food, many have turned to the bird feeder at the end of our yard. Chipmunks, a portly raccoon, three deer, a coyote, a turkey, and a ground hog have sampled seeds shaken loose by greedy squirrels.
In my glee at these appearances, I remember snuggling with Casey and Tucker, reading Stephen Kellogg’s Tally Ho Pinkerton or Come Play with Me by Marie Hall Ets. While over-brash hunters or impulsive little girls unsuccessfully sought elusive foxes or fawns, vigilant young readers could spot the animals hiding in the pictures. “Where is the owl?” or “Can you see a cardinal?” I’d ask. While scanning the illustrations and hooting a triumphant “There it is!” the kids learned to identify the creatures, and love them.
Dave, however, is muted in his enthusiasm at some of these wildlife sightings. When lily and tulip shoots are sheared low by foraging animals at the hint of a bud, he growls, every year, his intention to get a BB gun. This threat becomes a litany when we glimpse the groundhog’s annual litter of three soaking up sun on the large flat rock in the yard. I beam and murmur, “they are too cute,” while Dave grumbles that it’s time for target practice. No worries. I know he’d never do it…although those seed-thieving squirrels might push him too far.
Rainy April nights present a particular challenge as the warm, wet roads compel swamp dwellers to creep forth onto asphalt with perilous results. A drive home through roads cut through local bogs is a sad and frustrating obstacle course as one strives to swerve around tiny hopping bodies, some so small it’s hard to distinguish which are rain drops and which are frogs.
The other night, Dave drove and I acted as frog spotter as we neared home after dinner in Fairfield. Dave did his best to dodge and weave as I winced at close calls and barked, “Watch it! Careful! There’s another one!” In the path of the three-point back-up into our parking area, two frogs squatted, unmoving. We waited a mite, hoping the bulge-eyed suitors would continue their pilgrimage to the sultry ladies in the pond across the street, but no. So I climbed from the car, assuming a slight nudge would urge them along. Again, no.
When I was a child, I did plenty of friendly frog hunting. In our neighborhood, there were woods and ponds to explore, and my sisters and I loved to tip toe through tickly reeds to pause, hands cupped and poised, ready to pounce on unsuspecting frogs. Often, while swimming underwater in my aunt’s frigid spring-fed pool, we’d notice frogs swimming beside us, their bodies stretched long and sleek, thrust forward by those powerful hind legs and webbed toes. When we returned home from these forays with muddied hands and sloshing buckets, frogs, salamanders, or earthworms generally accompanied us, although their stay was brief, as Mom sent us out to free them as soon as she was aware of their presence.
But that was decades ago and I’ve not held a frog in years. When these two travelers blocked the car and refused to budge, I slipped my hands gently under their soft bellies, one by one, and carried them to safety. To a degree that surprised me, I was moved by the weight of those small lives, and the pulse of their heartbeats against my palms.
How often, I wonder, do children gently hold frogs now? Like so many other woods, those I roamed with my sisters as a child have since been bulldozed for homes and a ramp to the highway; many kids don’t have the easy exposure I did. Phones and video games have replaced frogs in children’s hands, and I worry about the loss of connection and reverence for nature, without that sense of small bodies and the pulse of a heartbeat in one’s palm.