Monday, July 9, 2012

Frogs Redux

The morning after the frog serenade found me on the path once more. I felt somehow compelled to return to the site to experience the amphibious aria again.

Splashes accompanied me as I walked along the pond. Unlike other local wetland areas, the turtles here seem skittish and retreat to the water as I come near. The area laid still and quiet. The morning was more humid than I had expected and the mugginess seemed to repress activity.

I passed the place where I had picked up a handful of molted Canada Goose feathers the day before. Then up a rise and I heard it begin – the distant tones blurted in rapid succession from hundreds of throats. Unlike yesterday, I did not just smile – I actually laughed out loud at the sound.

As the volume increased, so did the activity around the pond. This morning, frogs were hopping around unconcerned and it was now the turtles’ turn to sit still in observation. Unlike before, I could see little green heads popped up all over the surface of the water, the sun picking out each singer clearly in the algae-laden pond.

Motion drew my eyes upward. I saw a Loon swoop past, and just seconds later a graceful white Egret flew in the opposite direction. I hardly had the chance to appreciate those views before an even larger figure attracted my attention yet higher. Overhead, there it was, the B-52 of birds – a Bald Eagle. I had seen examples at the Pittsburgh Aviary, but never in flight. The massive wingspan seemed to dwarf the surroundings.

Once the majestic bird left my sight, I returned my attention toward the never ending din from my frog friends. I saw movement in the leaves just a few feet below where I stood. I moved carefully around, but could not pinpoint the cause of the unnatural shaking. I moved to the other side of the tree trunk before me and stooped to see a muskrat busily munching away, clearly oblivious to my presence.

All the while, the frogs continued their racket. They sounded like a crowd of old men laughing at a dirty joke that I could not understand. I began to wonder if these other animals were attracted to the site just as I had been. Could this gigantic noise coming from such tiny creatures actually lure other animals?

I suppose the answer lies in whether or not one believes that animals do things for reasons beyond satisfying basic needs – food, shelter, procreation. Of course, that raises the question, “What qualifies as a basic need?”

I know that laughter qualifies for me. No matter how good things get, I must have fun. Is it so unreasonable to imagine that animals find each other funny? When you think about it, if anything, the frog orchestra should chase other animals away. Predators could sneak up more easily under cover of the croaking. And the noise would certainly attract attention from far around.

I believe that dogs and cats clearly show pleasure when scratched just right, or when snuggling with us on the sofa (especially if they are not supposed to be there). So, why can’t other mammals, birds, and turtles have the same emotions? Humanity certainly does not own a monopoly on feelings.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Concert on a Summer Morning

After many days of sweltering heat, the morning was glorious. I veered off the main trail onto a side loop past Wood Duck Pond. As I walked past smaller inlets toward the larger body of water, I heard occasional movement through the trees. The sound resembled something larger moving through the dense brush, like a deer. So, I stopped frequently, peering through the leaves.

Seeing nothing, I suddenly heard a remarkably loud noise ahead on the trail. I walked toward the sound, growing ever louder. Honking? I had heard a similar cacophony when geese were fighting over ownership of a particular spot. The volume increased with each step.

I crested a small rise and could now see the pond stretching into the distance. I realized that the voices I now heard were not birds, but a vast chorus of frogs. Their range was somewhat limited, but I could still pick out dozens of croaks ranging from second alto to perhaps baritone in pitch.

I walked carefully, not wanting to interrupt the performance. But, my presence seemed to affect the singers little. I approached the edge of the path, which then dropped a dozen feet or so quickly into the water. The overgrowth, however, kept me from seeing my crooners.

In my mind, these frogs could only be massive. The local acoustics were certainly not conducive, and yet they belted out their notes clearly. I envisioned soccer ball-sized amphibians crouched along the shore, with perhaps a conductor perched on a convenient lily pad.

A splash. Then another. Finally, I managed to follow one into the water and spotted his head. Why, these creatures were surprisingly small, no larger than the palm of my hand. Once I got the knack of spotting them, I saw them everywhere. Heads popping up out the water all around, with bellowing cheeks puffing up. Absolutely amazing how so much sound can come from such a tiny body.

I don’t know why, but I felt giddily joyous and could not repress a smile. Listening to this ensemble brought me true glee as I listened. The sound overwhelmed everything and I become lost in the music. The sound dominated the area, almost assuming a physical presence.

In the last years of his far too short life, jazz musician John Coltrane worked on a concept called a “wall of sound.” The intent was for the music to come together literally into a solid wall, so that the listener no longer distinguished individual notes. Some of the best examples seem, to ears unaccustomed to this music, almost noise. But, Coltrane had experienced a spiritual awakening and was pursuing what he considered cosmic music.

The din of my little green frog concerto brought me close to that sound. And when you hear that cosmic wall of sound, only joy results.

(please forgive the poor quality of the video - I didn't even realize my phone took videos until I tried this morning)


video