This is the season when every turn in the road produces an “Oh!” and every glance at the garden elicits an “Ah!”—and for the photographer, another click.
We have added a few photo galleries to our website. You can view them from the links below or from the menu at the top of the web page.
My rain gage says we have had more than five inches this weekend. So as you dry out, enjoy some flowers and frogs and other April delights from earlier in the week. And keep your eyes open—there is a beautiful, but unwelcome Tennessee native in the lot.
In the photo, it’s a rainy Monday, and Mona longs to get outside. We did manage a brief foray into the front yard before the rain moved in, but she missed her long walk Sunday, and now she’s shut out by a mini-deluge. This image of her profile at the window is a familiar one, watching for perfidious squirrels and chipmunks and cats. What’s missing is Nancy at her frog-watching post (see tripod and binoculars at left). She’s behind the lens on this shot and cannot be in two places at once.
Xeno and Verdiare back. Nancy recognizes markings from last year. She also notes deepening of some markings as they move into their reproductive phases.
Xeno’s still the bold one. As Nancy was changing the pond filter on Saturday, hands underwater, he pushed off shore heading towards her. Pausing right by her hand, he lingered long enough for her to reach up and touch his toes a few moments. Then he swam off to the other side.
The upland chorus frogs have bred and now are quiet. Some other species (so far not identified) were courting a few days ago and Nancy caught a pair in amplexus.
The green frogs (Xeno and Verdi and friends) are also into their season. We have heard Xeno’s familiar song.
The plant life around the pond is flowering also—figuratively in the case of the bellwort and Solomon’s seal and bleeding heart and just-emerging ferns, literally for the bluet and foam flower and wild geranium and coral bell and twin-leaf.
It looks to be a good year for trillium, which are popping up in clusters, both in our garden and in the woods out back.
The Lenten rose are done with bloom. While the seed heads are still pretty, they will soon spread seeds by the hundreds if I do not quickly remove them.
Bluebirds are nesting, and some chickadees were checking out another bird box last week.
In this photo from a few days ago, Mona is chewing at the hollow log. Apparently she saw a chipmunk go inside. She’s usually ready to come back inside the minute her people disappear, but she stayed at this task for half an hour before giving up.
P.S.—Mona made up for lost walks today (Tuesday). We did our longest loop, four miles.
Was it Luther? Somewhere I read something to the effect that he prayed for an hour each day, except on days he was especially busy—then he prayed for two hours. In that vein, perhaps I can justify taking some time to write.
My life is chaos. It is largely my own fault, and nothing that deserves your great sympathy. My desk is chaos, because of my own habits of procrastination and sloth. My shop is chaos, because (in addition to the aforementioned procrastination and sloth) in the midst of my latest project, my table saw’s blade raising and lowering mechanism failed, and I now have saw parts and tools layered over that project on the workbench and underfoot all over the floor. Our house is chaos because in selling the houses of my mother and Nancy’s parents, we have ended up with more stuff than anyone could possibly use. My “To Do” list is chaos because I have made commitments that I should have not made.
On second thought, as I look at the list, I do not regret any of the voluntary commitments. It is, for the most part, an exciting and life-affirming list. The To-Do’s I dread are involuntary, chief among them being the annual income tax flagellation.
The table saw has been a major setback. After scanning the on-line forums and evaluating my choices, I opted for an epoxy called J-B Weld. I knew that if I screwed up, there’d be hell to pay, but I was careful and as thorough as I knew to be. After applying the epoxy, I tested that the parts that needed to slide against each other would still slide, then laid everything aside for the epoxy to cure overnight. Alas! This morning when I tried to re-assemble, I couldn’t even jam the parts together, much less expect them to slide freely. Does J-B Weld expand on curing? Everything looks just as I had left it last evening, but I have lost a critical few thousandths of an inch in clearance. I will have to remove that from the polished aluminum casting with an abrasive. More delay in getting back to my projects. More tasks I have never done before and must learn on the fly. More opportunity to screw up and ruin what was a pretty good saw.
I need an attitude adjustment. Writing helps. Sitting here helps—sitting in a comfortable chair, watching my dog watching the life just outside our dining room window. Earlier this morning, that life included a flock of goldfinches splashing in the pond. Two days ago, the pond hosted a frenzied flock of robins (and a lone mourning dove) taking a post-winter bath. Bluebirds are nesting in the bluebird house. The upland chorus frogs are looking for love again—they’ve been sounding off for the past two nights. Spring is coming.
Inspired to learn that paper wasp faces are as different as snowflakes (Sheehan & Tibbets, 2008), Nancy set out to identify the frogs who frequent our pond. The first to be studied, and named, was Xena, who has a distinct little swish on her left upper lip. We first introduced Xena as the bold frog, who allowed close encounters rather than diving for the bottom at the slightest approach. Nancy deemed it a female, based on physical characteristics (the size of the tympanum relative to the size of the eye, and its placement along the dorsal lateral ridge). Bold female, warrior princess, Xena. Nancy observed Xena for months. Quiet. No frog calls.
Then we scrutinized the frog fight. “Xena” and a smaller male. “Xena” definitely in command. Woman on top? Warrior princess? Most unladylike behavior for a frog. Typical frog fights are between males.
Next day, Xena was submissively sitting underneath the loser of yesterday’s battle. Ladylike again.
For a month now, “Xena” has been emitting male mating calls. There are two calls. The first is very elaborate while the second call is more typical.
Male or female? Someone suggested that frogs occasionally change gender. My limited reading does confirm that at least one species has been observed to undergo spontaneous sex change. But I find no reference to that behavior in green frogs. There is evidence that female green frogs emit mating calls, but quietly. Not like this! But there was that long, complicated call. Hmmm.
Do we have two look-alike frogs, one male, one female? If there are two, then both have that bold, I’m-not-afraid-of-you, characteristic. Why do we never see both at the same time?
Nancy has been reviewing her photos and has tentatively concluded that there are two frogs. The identifying mark she has been going on is slightly different between Xena and what’s-his-name. So we need to name the male. Zeno, of paradox fame, comes to mind. (Okay, technically, we are not dealing with paradox here, just mystery. Grant us just a little bit of artistic license.) Or should we forego alliteration and go with Xena’s partner, Hercules?
We were walking the dog, and I was telling Nancy about several ideas recently encountered and bouncing around in my head.
Item: Richard Rohr has been writing about liminality, sacred space. “We have to allow ourselves to be drawn out of ‘business as usual’ and remain patiently on the ‘threshold’ (limen, in Latin) where we are betwixt and between the familiar and the completely unknown. … That’s a good space where genuine newness can begin. Get there often and stay as long as you can by whatever means possible. … The threshold is God’s waiting room. Here we are taught openness and patience as we come to expect an appointment with the divine Doctor.” It dawns on me that the disciplines of The Artist’s Way (see my post on the reading fast), and all the contemplative disciplines, seek to put us into liminal space.
Item: In two recent “Almost-Daily eMo[s] from the Geranium Farm,” Barbara Crafton writes of the creative arts as openings into liminal space (without using the term). In response to the Mary and Martha story (Luke 10:38-42), she recalls that she and her brothers were intense readers, to the point of being called lazy. But she defends them as “honoring their Mary selves. … sitting quietly with our hearts somewhere else.” On another day, she cites the impact of Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, the Walker Evans/James Agee collaboration illuminating the plight of Alabama sharecroppers in the Great Depression. She reports that David Simon, creator of the television series The Wire, writes, “Famous Men is the book that made me ashamed and proud to be a journalist-all in the same instant. Reading it made me grow up. Or at least, it demanded that I begin to grow up.”
Item: I am pondering the role of reading in my life. For all its joys and its capacity to move me into sacred space, my reading fast illuminated for me how I often use reading not as a gateway but as a wall. Even after Nancy has opened for me the world of dragonflies and hummingbirds and frogs outside my dining room window, I am more likely to eat my lunch with a printed page or e-screen before me than to pay attention to the vibrant life just a few feet away. But it is not reading that is my problem. Rather, it is my underdeveloped disciplines of presence and attentiveness. As if to underscore the point, Nancy comments on how long it has been since she has seen “that pond” in operation. “That pond” is in front of the house we are walking past, a house I have walked past several times a week for many years. I have never noticed the pond.
All this and more is rattling around in my head, and I am trying to explain it all to Nancy as we walk.
“So,” I conclude, “I have all these threads and I don’t know what to do with them.”
“Weave,” she replies.
Here I sit with a lap full of threads. Ideas and ideals form the warp. My actions are the woof. I am trying to weave a life.
Prodigal Summer is one of my favorite Barbara Kingsolver novels. Among its many gifts is redeeming that word, prodigal, from its Sunday School connotation of degeneracy and firmly implanting in my mind the second definition, the more positive notion of nature’s extravagant and lavish abundance.
This is indeed a prodigal summer. The bank along our driveway is a riot of bee balm, cone flower, four o’clock, zinnia, black and blue salvia, butterfly bush, black-eyed Susan, and wild bergamot. Despite a month wasted attacking windows and car mirrors, our bluebirds have managed to reproduce. An Eastern box turtle laid eggs behind the house. The daily show of goldfinch and cardinal and house finch and ruby-throated hummingbird and robin and bluebird continues just outside our dining room.
A few days ago, I glanced at the frog pond and saw the most frantic splashing and flailing about—two frogs in belly-to-belly combat.
The brief video clip here does not do justice to the ferocity I first witnessed; by the time Nancy had arrived and switched the camera to video mode, the pair were nearly exhausted.
A day later, the same pair were engaged in amplexus (frog sex). The female, on bottom, Nancy has named Xena. She’s the brave one who does not dive when humans approach, recognizable by a mark on her left jaw—a distinct blip in the green-black boundary. She’s a fierce woman-on-top in the video. From Nancy’s reading, territorial fights are not rare, but would be expected between two males. Why Xena was fighting her future sex partner is a mystery.
The Economist says of the campaigning leading up to the recent Brexit vote, “Knowledge has been scorned … (b)asic facts have fallen by the wayside …,” and that the campaigning has exacerbated “the growing void between cosmopolitan and nativist parts of the country, the diminishing faith in politics, the rise of populism, the inadequacy of the left-right partisan spectrum in an age when open-closed is a more salient divide.” Sound familiar?
A lone gunman kills or wounds more than 100 people in a gay nightclub. Gun sales rise, as do the share prices of gun makers, and both sides in the gun control debate claim the carnage bolsters their arguments. Sound familiar?
The father forgives his wayward younger son and throws a party to celebrate his safe return. Steady, obedient older brother resents the welcome given his sibling. Sound familiar?
Despair comes easily in today’s world. We are beset on all sides by intolerance and tribalism and fear that “the other” is a threat to our livelihoods if not our very existence. Where can we find our antidote to despair? I turn to words: My weekly dose of Parker Palmer and the rest of the On Being crew, local writer Stephanie Piper, and others.
I also try to wrap my scarcity-oriented economist’s brain around the notion of abundance, to meditate on bee balm and bluebirds and the eggs of frogs and turtles, to shake off my older brother righteous indignation and trust the prodigal father’s lavish abundance.
I’m looking out the dining room window. Three green frogs—the regulars—sit in or around the pond, silently watching. Dragonflies flit in the ferns, but there is no egg laying going on today. The low evening sun lights up the hydrangea nearest the street—mophead blooms of mixed blue and pink. The pond and its surroundings are in shade, with just an occasional ray breaking through the tupelo and black cherry canopy to spotlight a fern frond.
Ruby-throated hummingbirds visit the feeder and, occasionally, the hosta flowers. A male goldfinch drinks from the ant moat above the hummingbird feeder, and a robin splashes in the bird bath. House finches come and go. (I mis-identified these as purple finches in my earlier post.)
Nancy is busy elsewhere, and her camera is at hand, so I pick it up and try to capture some of the action. Alas, photography is not in my skill set.
Above is a photo Nancy shot recently of a dragonfly emerging from its nymph stage. (Click on the photo and it enlarges to fill the screen. All the photos in this blog should do this. If you find one that does not, email me so I can reset the parameters.) Two empty nymph skins (exuvia) are behind the new adult, and one of the frogs is in the background. The adult is still deploying its wings; notice that the back pair are not yet perpendicular to its body.
Dragonflies returned to the frog pond today. They were the first we’d seen since last summer. Nancy grabbed her camera as she spotted a female dragonfly, hovering and periodically dipping her tail to deposit eggs on the water. Last year, she’d been watching a similar ballet through the viewfinder when the fly disappeared in a sudden splash, into the maw of frog who’d been watching from underneath.
Today, two frogs were on the surface watching as the female fly performed her dance: hover, dip, hover, dip. Meanwhile, her mate flew above her. Protection? No, waiting until she’d deposited that lot for his turn to fertilize another batch. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a chipmunk approaching the pond from under a fern. Suddenly, one of the frogs leapt for the dragonfly, missing and startling the chipmunk back into hiding.
As the dragonflies continued their work of procreation, we saw another type of insect land on the surface with a light splash. Surely not an intentional move. It would rest for a few seconds, then flutter its waterlogged wings in a desperate attempt to rise and escape, creating tiny ripples and alerting the frogs to another potential dinner. The second frog waited several minutes, apparently preparing for the leap—and missed. How could it miss a helpless drowning insect while in its own habitat? Here is the second, successful, leap.
As if the insect-amphibian drama were not enough, a hummingbird came to the nearby feeder. And then a goldfinch arrived to drink from the ant moat above the feeder. In short order, a male bluebird and a purple finch joined the party. Red, blue, yellow, within inches of each other. Their combined presence was fleeting and the photo attempts failed. But here is a cardinal splashing in the pond just a few minutes later.
All this action took place within a span of fifteen minutes—an astonishing compression, but just a small part of the life in and around the pond. Two nights ago, I was in the living room, awake in the small hours, when Mona had a fit at the dining room window. A raccoon was visiting the pond, reaching into the water with sweeping upward splashes, apparently trying to bag a frog. I turned on the outdoor light. It was not fazed and continued the hunt. I didn’t want to wake Nancy, who, as it turned out, had been wakened by Mona’s bark and was lying in bed thinking, “Surely Brent will tell me if it’s the raccoon.” Furthermore, I did not remember that her camera stays on the dining table, ready for action around the pond. And so, I failed a photo opportunity that I’ll probably not see again.
Later this afternoon, I chanced to look out our upstairs window and saw a blacksnake moving toward the back of the shop. Nancy was out, so I grabbed her camera and went to investigate. On a ladder suspended underneath the eaves of the shop was a phoebe nest. I watched the snake try to find its way up to the nest, then give up and move back into the woods.
The plant world, too, is booming near the pond and in our yard. The astilbe are gone, but purple coneflowers and black and blue salvia are coming into bloom. After two cold winters froze back the hydrangeas, we finally had a mild winter, and they are in full bloom this year. We have three kinds—mophead, oak leaf, and lace cap (lady-in-red)—and from each of the matures, Nancy has propagated youngsters that this year are finally coming into their own. The lady-in-red are especially showy.
Correction: In The Frog Blog, I claimed the first frog photo was taken without benefit of telephoto. Wrong. I made a last minute substitution of photos and failed to adjust the text. But the one at right was taken at 50mm and is un-cropped.
Nancy recently sent me this photo in an email labeled, “Photo of the Day.” It is a frog in the water feature just outside our dining room. Variously called the frog pond or Nancy’s pond, this miniature stream and pond was purposely constructed to be observable from inside the house. When the stones at the head of the stream are properly “tuned” to “burbling brook,” the water feature can be both heard and seen while seated at the dining table. This is version 2. Its predecessor was a simple tub-in-the-ground kit she won in a raffle, which served mainly to whet her appetite for something more natural-looking, more organic.
The pond is a source of great pleasure for Nancy. Constructing and tending the pond and its surrounding garden and photographing the results are creative outlets. More importantly, I suspect, the pond is often Nancy’s entree into Sabbath rest. Several times a day, she can be found standing or sitting at the picture window, watching and listening. The pond is for her an invitation to put aside doing and bask in being—to be present and attentive and receptive.
One thing we have learned from our two ponds is that if you have a hole filled with water, the frogs will come. The girl in the photos is a green frog. She’s a bold one. The others dive for the depths whenever anyone nears, but she will grant a closer look. The first photo was taken with a regular lens, not the telephoto I used here to show how close she allows Nancy’s approaches. Her suitors sound like this and their calls are punctuated by long silences.
Months ago, in late winter, the pond’s active inhabitants were the upland chorus frogs. They are harder to photograph. And their mating calls are a cacophony impossible to miss.
Based on evidence heard but not seen, our pond has also hosted American toads and Cope’s gray treefrogs.
Showing still more frog photos, Nancy joked that we needed to add “The Frog Blog” to our website. The pond and its surroundings do provide lots of material. For instance, note the sequence at right: deer drinking from pond, then
Mona rushing out and striking the same pose. We believe one or more raccoons also visit the pond and snack on the inhabitants. (Somebody’s knocking things around and pulling the filter off the pump.)
Also, this is the same dining room picture window that is the target of our deranged bluebirds. Yes, they are still at it. I was premature in thinking that Nancy’s mealworm reset had worked. Lately, we see two males and one female cavorting nearby. The female is no longer interested in the window. She’s kept busy otherwise. But one of the males seems more interested in attacking his reflection than in his real-life competition. Perhaps it is safer that way. Consider also that a favored perch of the bluebirds is the adjacent shepherd’s crook upon which Nancy has now hung the hummingbird feeder. Lots of wildlife can be observed here, less than ten feet from our dining table.
We won’t start a second blog. What we have done, however, is to begin classifying our blog entries by adding Categories and Tags. Think of Categories as section titles in a book and Tags as the index. Each blog post is assigned to one of three Categories, but can have many Tags. Most posts are categorized as “The View.” This post, the bluebird one, and future posts that are mostly nature observations around the pond are categorized “Frog Blog.” The few that have introduced our static pages of creative output (accessed from the menu bar) are categorized “The Arts.”
You will find Categories at the bottom of the left sidebar, and a Tag Cloud at the bottom of the right sidebar. Click on a Category or Tag of interest and all posts with that label will be grouped for you. For instance, if you want the full blacksnake saga, click on “blacksnake” in the Tag Cloud. Speaking of which, Nancy spotted one in the back yard just a few days ago. It is a relief to learn that the bird netting did not wipe out all our rodent protection.
So, welcome to The Frog Blog. Enjoy. Good sabbath.