I believe everyone loves spring. Some love it because it signals the end of winter, others because it signals the beginning of the end of another school year. Some like it for the sounds, others the smells, and still others simply like the way the air feels. Even people who love a brisk winter and hate the stifling heat of summer enjoy the change of seasons.
There is disagreement, however, on exactly when spring starts. Some people say that the first really warm, sunny day signifies the end of winter; others say that the last frost signifies the first of spring. The calendar can't even say for sure; some years, it's March 21, and other years it's the twentieth or twenty-second.
I let the frogs tell me.
I have always liked frogs. Some of my earliest and best memories are of frog-hunting at Lake Martin. All of us youngsters loved frog-hunting, even the girls, and trying to catch as many as possible was a nightly ritual.
The frogs would begin to call just before dark. The first long, drawn-out nasal “waaah” was a siren to us. When that alarm went off, all previous priorities fell behind the new number one -- being the first to get a flashlight.
The flashlights were kept on a bookcase shelf, but unlike the books, they never got the chance to gather dust. Instead this sacred spot became the scene of nightly chaos as a mass of children's arms and legs stuck out wildly from a ball of young humanity that scrambled and wriggled towards the precious frog-finders. I always got one, not because I was the biggest, strongest or oldest, (in fact, I was the smallest, weakest and youngest) but because my parents owned the cabin. Rank has its privileges and vice versa.
I always got involved in the scramble, though, because it was excitement incarnate, and because I had to make sure that my best friend Jimbo got a flashlight too. Otherwise, some of the girls might catch more frogs than him. Besides, I didn't want to have to share, which was always a possibility if you didn't grab one in time.
Once armed, we began our assault. The search began first as a group, but grew more competitive as each went on their own, straying further and further from the cabin, in search of new frogs to conquer. We always had our best results, however, in “Frog City” -- the thirty foot flagstone path that led from the cabin to the lake.
We occasionally caught a late-night stray, but we were usually through within an hour and the group would then reassemble. Our new friends, unharmed through it all, would be placed in a large Styrofoam ice chest. We would decorate the ice chest with sand and pine straw, and a dish of water in one corner. All the comforts of home in two square feet of man-made convenience.
The frogs, however, seemed more interested in the cabin, and the larger ones would hop out of their froggy condo for a look around. One good leap and they were loose in the living room, hopping under chairs, tables and sofas, with a posse of young frog hunters in hot pursuit, spurred on by the irritated shouts of grown-ups too old to fully appreciate the finer things in life.
Once corralled, the frogs were returned to their Styrofoam home, this time with the lid firmly in place, and the weary frog-hunters would eat dinner. Herb Alpert and his Tijuana Brass provided the background music, but his trumpet was no match for the hollow thuds of the frogs hurling themselves against the walls, and sometimes the ceiling, of their padded cell.
After dinner we would play with our prisoners. I liked to study their faces -- their wide drooping mouths and tiny nostrils. They would have been pug-nosed if, in fact, they had noses.
I especially liked their wide, buggy eyes. Large and black, with a sprinkling of gold speckles, they looked at me as if to say, “Okay kid, you've had your fun. Now let me go so you can catch me again another day.”
Most of my friends said frogs always looked bored, but I didn't think so. I thought they looked like they trusted me. I liked that.
Today, I'm older, wiser and more “mature,” but I still love frogs. I have learned that the frogs we used to catch are really Fowler's Toads; “Bufo woodhousei fowleri” to the purist. However, I am not a pedantic purist, and unless I'm around one, they're still frogs to me.
My froggy horizons have broadened to include more than my old friends, the Fowler's Toads. I have grown particularly fond of tree frogs. They have the same look that toads have: the same droopy mouth combines with the same speckled eyes to give the same bored, or trusting, look.
Tree frogs possess some traits that toads do not. Toads, for instance, don't stick to things. Tree frogs do. Their toes are tiny suction cups, enabling them to stick to or climb almost anything. If placed on a wall, they will scale it. When the mood strikes, they will leap into the air, soaring through space until they come in contact with whatever they were aiming at -- a tree limb, a lampshade, or a face. They are tiny super-heroes. They climb like Spiderman and fly like Superman, complete with outstretched arms. If they could talk they would surely say, in a froggy voice, “Up, up, and away!”
Of course, they can't talk, but they make up for it by singing. A chorus of tree frogs is enough to make me stop whatever I'm doing and just listen. Whether it's the musical whistling of the Bird-voiced Tree Frog or the “boonk” of the Barking Tree Frog, it is some of nature's most beautiful music.
But my favorite frog-call is the flat, toneless “waaaah” of the Fowler's Toad. It is still like a siren to me, calling out to the deepest part of my soul and drawing me to it. It may not be the prettiest sound in the world, but to me it says, “Everything's all right. We're still here and always will be.”
I can't wait to hear it for the first time each spring. It means the toads have made it through another winter and so have I.
I have always loved frogs and always will. I know that as long as I can hear the frogs, I'll never grow old.
Though Bailey Jones (firstname.lastname@example.org) no longer lives at Lake Martin, AL, he wishes he still did. This story is from his book "Growing Up: Tales About Life on the Lake, Volume I" which is available from his website: www.baileyjones.com.
© 2003, Bailey Jones, All Rights Reserved