Croaking Into the Silence

I came to my thinking spot a few weeks ago for a quick break from my work, a little peek at the view. When I arrived, the frogs were calling me so I went. Down the twisting path where evergreen honeysuckle presses its seasonal advantage against winter-deadened kudzu. Down past the soaring stumps of trees who long ago gave up on resistance.

At the bottom, I frightened a pair of deer, and watched them gallop up the opposite hill, white tails flashing high alert. The mud gave evidence of other visitations—bobcat, maybe, raccoon perhaps—I am no tracker.

And when I arrived at the pond, the frogs said they were not calling for me after all, and gave me a cold silent greeting. But just because the pond is still when we arrive does not mean that it is dead. So I waited.

I have little patience for waiting, much less than my son Eli who at the age of two set his stake in the ground and stood still for the call of frogs long after I had to go traipsing away after his brother.

Fortunately, frogs who know deer and bobcat and not humans do not usually keep a person waiting long. Finally came one loud rasp. Just one frog, croaking three or four times into the silence. Large and brave he sounded, though his body was no longer than two inches. He tried again, but when no one joined in, he stopped, all valor gone out of him.

I want to draw some grand conclusion, sketch some great analogy that will shed light on everything we do. I want to ask if you are one to croak into the silence, or one to wait and yell your piece into the cacophony. Do you croak even when others hesitate? Do you give in to pressure, or sensibly listen to common sense? Maybe I could make some implication that one way is better than another.

The analogy won’t come, though—it somehow refuses to ring true. The note of falseness, forcedness, won’t do. Frogs are not some moral paradigm, with brave solitary frogs croaking greatness into the silence and others merely playing some meaningless tune. Frogs are just frogs. Some croak too soon and get eaten by predators. Others croak too quietly and never find a mate. Most just muddle along as best they can. And never in the history of frogdom has one ever actually called out aloud to a human as I like to imagine they did for me.

Which is what is interesting about humans, if you think about it. We like to imagine, to make meaning out of things. This trait has served us well, obviously. Sometimes too it makes us miserable, the desperate seeking, searching, clinging to meaning. Judging everything that crosses our path, good, bad, nice, mean, stupid, smart…

I like to imagine the frogs doing this. I like to think that when the first frog broke the silence with his croak, he had a partner somewhere whispering, “Not now, George! Don’t be a fool,” and maybe some young frog was thinking, “Wow, I wish I were that brave!” And so he tried a few more times, but in the end the cautious voice prevailed and he lapsed into silence, weary and chagrined.

After I walked away from the pond, the frog song reappeared, grew and expanded and escalated. Even now, I can hear it from my house. Maybe now the frogs are telling stories about the ugly red and white thing that came and tried to eat them. “Did you hear George almost got eaten, but he told that thing what for, he did!” “It almost stepped on me! But I darted out of the way quicker than thought.” “Now children, this is why we don’t play outside the algae!”

Really, though. Frogs don’t do this. Frogs either croak or they don’t. They swim when they feel like it, breed when they can, lay eggs when the weather is warm enough. As far as science can tell, they never wonder whether they should have laid their eggs earlier or later, mated with that frog instead of this one, nor looked up to a hero nor down on an unfortunate.

If there is a lesson from the frogs perhaps it is just this: Whenever you decide to sing, just sing. If you feel like stopping, stop.  Maybe if we worry less about whether we’re “brave” or “right” or “smart” we can focus more on being what we are, and doing what we do.

Or maybe we should stop taking lessons from frogs. It’s rather silly, truly. Which is still just another way of saying the same thing, don’t you think?

7 Comments

  1. I read every word and thoroughly enjoyed your written metaphor and wisdom. I too am an observer of nature and specifically wait each early spring to hear those croaks and by summer the loud bellows. Unfortunately sometimes the neighborhood cats have quite a bit of patience and render the frogs silent. (If you catch my meaning.) But often if I’m particularly still I get to see them afloat on a lily pad in my pond or at the very least hear a loud PLOP to let me know they are still at home here in my pond. Thanks Heather for a break from a dreary Monday.

    • Curiosity Cat says:

      Judging from the size of the egg cluster we found, it would take a lot of kitties to silence this pond. I have always loved frogs… there’s something about them… It was frogs that convinced me to buy this property, as a matter of fact–I was terribly worried about the airport noise and came to the neighborhood one night to listen to the planes. It turned out that between the planes, all I could hear was croaking… I was sold. This winter the frogs haven’t stopped croaking for more than a day or two at a time–this crazy weather we’ve been having. I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who pays attention to them. Thank you for kind comment. :)

  2. Curiosity Cat says:

    I have to add–there are TWO frogs in that last picture. I didn’t see the second one until after I had posted this. Maybe we could learn something about camouflage or discretion or something from that? Um, no, maybe not.

  3. Jaimie says:

    What did I learn from the frogs? A place that seems deserted when you stumble upon it might actually be teeming with life. Don’t give up hope just because you don’t see the fruits of your labor now. It doesn’t mean you haven’t labored or there isn’t something there, ready to sing out at the right moment.

  4. Curiosity Cat says:

    Oh my gosh, Jaimie! Perfect! Thank you for that. It was in there, wasn’t it? But I didn’t see it. You are so right.

  5. Elea Heartway says:

    Hi Sweet Heather….Loved your article and pictures of your frog adventure. I love frogs as well. Do you know what the word Frog stands for? It’s pretty amazing…..
    Forever
    Relying
    On
    God!!
    Perhaps that’s why frogs are so popular…they have a built-in reminder in their name. :)
    Much love to you ~Aunt Elea

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