Wed, Apr 16, 2014 ●
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Short Relief: The frog days of summer

Opinion

Short Relief: The frog days of summer

It hasn’t been much of a summer. When it hasn’t been cold, dark and rainy, it’s been stiflingly hot and humid, like D.C. at its worst, only without the omnipresent air-conditioning. We’ve had only a handful of the bright, dry, sunny days and cool nights typical of Maine summer weather at its best.

On the bright side, it’s tadpole city at the frog pond.

I think of our house as "aqua villa." In addition to the small river and vernal pool out back, we have no less than three man-made water features: a little bubbling fountain by the front door, a lions-head fountain on the east side, and a frog pond on the south side.

The frog pond is a source of endless fascination, and a welcome relief from Zimmerman trial attorneys, witnesses, jurors, and experts, not to mention Weiner’s ways. For years, frogs have moved into our pond for the summer.

They are remarkably expressive. In addition to their vocalizing, they strike the most meaningful poses: sitting on a dry rock, thoughtfully surveying the scene; lounging on a submerged rock, with one arm cocked, looking cool and sophisticated; or nuzzling up against the edge of a lily pad, just hanging out. We have exchanged extended chirps and hand signals with more than one of these guests.

Anyway, we have had several couples come and go without producing much for posterity. This year was a big change. Early on, a young pair moved in. But they didn’t seem to stay. And no one else followed. I figured it was going to be an uneventful summer around the pond.

Then, about three weeks ago, the tadpoles appeared. Tons of them.

They started out as tiny little ovals with tails and they have grown steadily. As little fellas, they would congregate on the surface, darting and diving, nosing up against a lily flower that had fallen into the water, pushing it around like a raft. As they have grown they spend less time on the surface, and only swim up to take a gulp of air or nibble. They seemed to be left largely unsupervised, until an adult surfaced one day to check out the commotion caused by my refilling the pond with the hose.

As a child, I would catch frogs in the summer. I particularly liked the little ones that showed up early. The ones that you could easily cup in two hands and look at through a gap in your thumbs for a while.

I recall that beginning in the 1980s, and at times since, experts have sounded the alarm that frogs were going extinct. Their numbers were declining because of changes in their habitat, water pollution, ozone depletion and increased ultraviolet radiation, and because of disease. Frogs were the proverbial canary in the coal mine, warning us of the dangers of our modern, industrial ways.

I don’t know whether the abundance in my backyard is an aberration. I am just happy to have the tadpoles and hopeful that they are a sign of better things to come.