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?