Friday, May 30, 2008


Yesterday evening, in that short spell of quiet buildup that precedes the starry magnificence of night, the silence broken only by occasional finales from the manic warbler, a slight wafting of breeze now and then ruffling the cedar tops, I was cleaning the tools after working in the garden, using in this instance the planting trowel to scrape dirt off the spade. I scraped once and immediately a frog sounded once from beneath the porch. I scraped again. Frog again. I scraped twice. Scrape scrape; frog, frog. I scraped faster, frog frogged faster, I scraped rapidly, frog frogged rapidly; I scraped fast and extendedly, frog emitted a pointed silence. Who did I think I was, anyway.

We were holding a conversation, but my Frog is rudimentary at best, and apparently I had made a froggy faux pas. Did he think me a usurping male? A comely female? Were we talking froggy politics? The latest amphibian news? Tree frog gossip? To change the subject I tried scraping the hoe, and then the rake, to see if the frog appreciated dialect, but there was no response. Didn't like my tone of voice, or the direction the conversation was taking, or perhaps he found such talk too small.

To get back to the original gist I resumed the shovelish tone, and as we conversed, lo and behold another frog joined us from up in a cedar; and then another and another joined in, and before too long I found myself part of a large froggy committee discussing various amphibian topics; I listened for the most part, now and then shoveling in an interjection, and did my best to understand, but they spoke awfully quickly; at one point I ventured to point out in my clumsy croakery that I was not amphibian, but they seemed to think it was ok.

I began to think that perhaps they were conversing with a human via a shovel because they were lonely, dying out so such and all as the scientists were saying; and as soon as I had that thought the more talkative frog asked me how long we humans have been around; I scraped out "a few million years"; the frogs chuckled among themselves, croaked they'd been around a hell of a lot longer than that, and had seen a lot worse, and were far more adaptable than we who are causing the 'frog' problem. We humans hadn't seen the worst yet, though, and are a lot less adaptable than frogs. "Can't even lay eggs in water for goodness sake." Maybe we'd make it, maybe we wouldn't. The frogs would, though.

I asked what they thought our chances were, and an unsettling silence followed. We quickly went on to talk of other things, very earnestly and apparently to great depth, discussing a number of interspecial topics for some time and at various tempos until the shovel was clean, but I have no true idea what we were talking about. Our little gathering reminded me of the UN in many ways, but unlike that august body at the close of session I had at least a clean shovel. I then put the shovel away and went in to dinner and a bath, but we must have started something, because the frogs went on talking all night. If you ever want to talk to one of my amphibian neighbors, I'll let you borrow my shovel.


Chancy said...

I wonder where the frogs got their tiny spades and trowels they used to answer yours?

Anonymous said...

Even traffic noise does not deter the frogs in my neighborhood (a fact for which I'm grateful). They've even marked out territories... Greenhouse frogs in the front yard, Cuban frogs in the back. I recognize their calls, but have yet to find an interpreter.

Alice said...

In the American south where I grew up some people claim that if you sit near a frog pond at dusk during spawning season and sing out "there was a fair maiden..." it will take only seconds for a frog to croak back. Repeat it once more, you'll initiate a whole frog chorus in response, even if your voice isn't that irresistible. Your frog conversation seems very appropriate to me.