Why Toads Sing


"Only listen to the voice of pines and cedars
 when no wind stirs."
 - Ryonen (of the Burnt Face)

Thursday night as dusk was falling there was a yellow in the air and pink, grey and blue spots in the sky as storms rolled through and the light would come and go. Sometimes you’d think the dusk had fallen only for the light to emerge after a cloud passed. My head was mostly down watching the spinning tines tear into the sod of the front yard converting a 30 foot by 15 foot rectangle to more garden. The rain came lightly and still I kept going. I don’t mind the rain a whit, I thought to myself. Then it started coming down harder and I felt a little crazy tilling in the rain at the bottom of the yard next to the road. What do normal Americans do on a Thursday night, I wondered. Do they still watch Seinfeld on the television?

Friday I remembered grafting. It had been 11 months since I’d made the cuts. First, in the morning, it was out on the autumn olive bushes converting about 10 of them to Carmine goumi. Whip and tounge. Bark graft. With my cell phone I called back to the house and asked my son to bring me down some Elmer’s glue to seal the top of the goumi scion wood. He rode down with the glue in his bike basket and said he was happy to make the ride, that it was a fun trip down and call again if I had any more errands to run.

So I called him later to bring the frog net for a nice green frog I’d seen. He came with it. I told him to creep up from the back while watched. Get lower, I said, and step carefully. “Point your net out,” I told him then, “move it to the right.” So he knew where the frog was just over the bank even though he couldn’t see it. But he had seen it earlier from the other side. He lunged around the edge of the elderberry and caught the frog beautifully and she was a very nice frog and I held her in my hand and she didn’t try to jump away at all but just looked at her reflection in the camera lens and looked at my face.

In the afternoon, I continued grafting through a light drizzle at work on plums. I had forgotten that with top working there is much sitting in the weeds and standing still concentrating on cuts and wrapping. So I got cold in the rain as soaked my clothes and had to go back to the house and change them. I’d forgotten how long it takes to graft and somehow not remembered that one stick, 12 inches, yields usually 4 grafts. I don’t know how many sticks I’d ordered, maybe 50, maybe 100. Regardless, there is a tremendous amount of work to do. Everything is in the fridge and I’m just going first things first. A lot of the packages of scion wood I haven’t even opened, just stuck them in the garage fridge as they arrived.

I’ve decided to blog again, partly as penance for poetry. Problem remains that I don’t have much time to do it. But I changed the name to more accurately reflect what’s happening in this space. It comes from a line out of Abbey’s Desert Solitaire where he is talking about one of the reasons why the frogs sing. Who knows if the new blog title will stick? “J’ai changé cent fois de nom.” And who knows if I’ll continue at writing? Sometimes you climb the ladder only to find it was against the wrong wall. I do know that the bob white started calling a week ago and while I was out there grafting I found myself whistling response to him. Again and again, I’d answer him. For the joy of the common life.

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8 thoughts on “Why Toads Sing”

  1. So glad to read your words again. Prose or poetry, I enjoy them both. Sounds like an enjoyable and productive couple of days. I too have been enjoying the increase in birdsong. I can even identify a couple by call alone, which is new for me. I caught the attention, at least for a second, of a passing heron by calling back to it. That made me smile.
    Good work on the garden, and good luck growing food! We feel frazzled and unprofessional at gardening, especially after an hours-long downpour made a royal mess of things. We have the same goal, of quitting the grocery.
    I like the new blog name. Best to you…

    1. 🙂 Herrons have a funny sound. At least the great blue ones… Almost sounds like a grunt to me… I’d like to hear your reproduction of the call 🙂 Maybe you’re talking about a diff kind of herron…

      1. Usually they’re noiseless crossing our farm several times a day. Once in a while they squawk while flying 100-200 feet up, sounds like more quack-like than grunt to me. It took me a couple attempts to get the tone right (ish). I started with a duck quack and made it more forceful.
        I’ve never heard their calls while taking flight: they sometimes try to land on my neighbor’s pond (very close to us) but my dang dogs always chase them off. All I can hear is barking.
        I think they’re great blue. I downloaded the Audubon Birds app for the phone and it is quite extensive and thorough. It’s helped me with visual ID and calls. (also, the Virginia Tech Tree ID app is awesome)

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