Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Frogs & Toads

Dandyland doesn't have a yard, exactly. Most of the hill is covered in an old wood - beech, oaks, hickory, maples - gradually opening out into the hay fields and pastures as you near the crest. But there are grassy areas, winding about in mazes between the flower beds, the garden, the house and the studio, and I do mow those - occasionally. There are stories of people turning into deer, or being deer to begin with and appearing as humans for one reason or another, and I suspect that milling about in grass above the ankles plays a role.

There have been a lot of ticks this year. (I just felt one crawling up my leg.) And because they like to climb to the very tip of grass stems and blades I decided today that I'd better mow. The dandyland grass is hardly a monoculture. There's more plantain & white clover than grass. And my mower is not one of the Hummer type, with air conditioning and side-mounted herbicide cannons that help one feel more manly than one's neighbor - no, mine is the Elfland standard model. It runs on air. I'm not sure about the details, but involves pitting the atoms agains each other, like politics perhaps, which makes heat and light and a whirring sound. Not a loud sound, mind you, that pollutes the sonisphere, more of a gentle whoosh. But that's not entirely without a downside, since without the roar of internal combustion you can hear the little screams. Of snakes I mean, and frogs, toads, invertegrats, etc.

So I was being particularily careful to avoid running over things that can scream.

I stopped the mower at one point to usher a grass frog out of the way. (I'll note the exact species in a later post.) As I did I realized, or remembered, that there have been grass frogs, or at least I've seen a grass frog, in that same area, no bigger than a couple of square yards, for over 30 years. And even though the Swedenborgian layers of time in this place get smeared every now and then, surely it could not be the same grass frog and still be able to hop out of the way.

I'll have to look it up, and I will (unless you, gentle reader, might do it for me? And leave it as a comment, for all of us to savor?) - but I'm almost sure that grass frogs, and all the other frogs here in dandyland, such as the bull and green ones, the spring peeper (Hylax) etc., lay their eggs in WATER, and moreover spend their immaturity there, dining on algae. The nearest pool suitable for that sort of nursery is near the base of the hill and that is many thousands of hops away. Why, I ask, do they come back to just this particular little patch, and how on earth do they find it? The mysteries underfoot are staggering around here.

Mysterious in a far more depressing way, if I was the type to be depressed about it, is that there are no toads about. Years ago there were plenty, hopping about of an evening, squatting in that charming way they have, under overhanging fern fronds or in the cave made by the knocked out side of a large geode. They made pleasant companions (the quiet type) when hoeing in the garden, dusted in a way both practical and fashionable to the exact general shade of the soil. Then, suddenly - because not noticing takes longer - there were none.

I blame myself, and my relentless selfish pursuit of artistic effects. You may remember that I mentioned in the previous blog that I am blessed with a primary themed first memory. One consequence of that has been that red, yellow, and blue are reoccuring motifs in my attempts at visual art. Some years back I happened on a set of primary colored glass teacups in an antique or junk mall, and got the not-so-bright-idea-perhaps that black and white photographs of them, with a toad sitting inside each, would, when arranged in a row, make a clever and unusual primary set.

The photographs were made in a friends studio, in a building in the small town not so far from dandyland. A dear friend and collaborator, whose name I shall not reveal to protect his innocence, did the deed for me. I caught the toad, gently and with every intention of returning him or her (will anyone enlighten us on sexing toads?) to the exact spot of capture - but while we fiddled about developing and admiring the photos, the toad took matters into its own hands and escaped. We searched in vain. I can only hope that somehow the very photogenic toad made its way down the stairs and into an overgrown lot somewhere and was united with its urban hop cousins. I fear mummification was more likely.

And I fear that because of my unthinking and hideous toadnapping the oversoul of toads, or even something with a broader range, has quarantined me and I am punished permanently - a pariah in toaddom.

A few years ago I tried to change the situation by stooping even lower, to napping them just as they hopped out of their birth pools, before they'd even lost their tails. I went to a nearby creek in the days of their metamorphosis and caught 100, each little tot small enough to sit, if they would sit, on my little fingernail. I brought them home and released them, hopefully, into my garden. A few lingered on for a week or so, but by the end of summer there were no toads to be seen. The next spring I tried again, but I have nothing positive to report about it. I would say I was sorry, but it's a little late for that, even if I knew how to do it.

At least the grass frog is still here.

Those with an interest in the balladic courtship of frogs might find "The Frog's Courtship", courtesy of 21C Museum Foundation, of interest. Go to dandutton.com then click Image and choose "Ballads of the Barefoot Mind". There's also a website devoted to the same ballad, but I can't remember the url. I think it's highflyingfroggy.com...


shepherdgirl said...

I had to mow the lawn in my Mpls home - a law back then. I hated it becasue I lived near a marsh - very toady! I ran over a toad, and chopped his legs off clean at the knee joint. There was no blood, and the toad was calm. I panicked and took him the house, washed him in the sink, and rubbed ointment on his stubs. Then i realized that was probably stupid, as the sticky ointment would just collect dirt. I put him in the garden, and he hopped off like the toad parapalegic he was [I'm not making fun, I was amazed he just went off] My vet told me they don't bleed. Anyway, I never saw him again - no surprise, I did chop his legs off. After that I was truly traumatized by lawn mowing, and would go out and take a rake and rush through the grass before I mowed. Lawns are stupid, but we agree on that.Perhaps your grass frog was sent by the frog cotillian, to work out some kind of understanding.

Dan Dutton said...

Oh! You're so kind to suggest there's hope. I seem to remember reading somewhere that amphibians can regenerate limbs ~ to a certain extent. Still it's horrid to go about chopping off limbs and whathaveyou. The other day I found a terrapin flattened in the secret driveway below my studio and tried to think back who it might have been - me or which one of my friends who know that way. Rabbits, possums, raccoons run over...
A sheep, even, on a desert highway - driver thy name is death!

Cathy said...

Little Grass Frogs