On the third week of coronavirus my true love gave to me, 500 frogs a croaking, four [dozen] calling birds, three rich fens, two mourning doves, and a partridge in the Great Plains.
It is Saturday, which means two days of rest away from video conferences, working remotely, homeschooling, and tending home. So, we run away and hide in the woods. Though the sun is shining, the thermometer has barely cracked 30°. To improvise, my son heads back to the car, grabs a spare pair of pants and wraps them around his neck like a scarf.
We’ve got our bag packed with all of the essentials – water, trail mix, peanut butter crackers, and Kleenex. For entertainment, I’ve also brought a camera, binoculars, two nature journals, and a box of colored pencils. We have nowhere to go, nothing to do, and no intention of returning home before the sun begins to set.
The further we walk, the easier it is to imagine that the modern world never actually existed. There are no roads, no cars, no phones and no computers. Instead of planes overhead, we hear the warbled cries of sandhill cranes in flight. We find an old wooden pole growing out of the base of a tree like an extra trunk. Was there a house here long ago? Address number 760 on a long forgotten road?
The skunk cabbage down near the river smells fabulously putrid. Up on the ridge, 500 frogs-a-croaking are singing as if this is the very first day that has ever been created.
Approximately half of all frogs and one-third of all salamander species in North America lay their eggs in ephemeral wetlands, which usually exist only in the spring or after heavy rains. The upper Midwest is dotted with prairie potholes that formed when glaciers retreated thousands of years ago, leaving behind a pockmarked landscape. These areas also provide habitat for migrating birds and insects such as dragonflies.
As we stand beside one such wetland, we can hear at least three different kinds of frogs. The wood frogs sound like an army of angry ducks. Their squawks intensify every time my son approaches the edge of the water. In the midst of the commotion, we can also hear high-pitched spring peepers and raspy ribbitting chorus frogs. My son pokes the water with a cattail frond and finds gelatinous blobs filled with thousands of eggs. More frogs will soon appear.
Here on this remote tract of public land, the frogs have hopped happily for hundreds of years. Out in the real world, however, it’s not always easy being green. Amphibians are vulnerable to pollution from fertilizers and pesticides because they have porous skin that can absorb chemicals in water. These chemicals are especially deadly in the spring and early summer when frogs are laying eggs and tadpoles are hatching. Like other wildlife, frogs also battle the relentless spread of agriculture and development.
If you live near a lake or wetland, you can help to create healthier habitat for frogs by leaving an unmowed buffer of vegetation around the edges of soggy woods and seasonal wetlands. Limit the amount of chemicals you use on your lawn and gardens and consider planting native plants along the water’s edge. Good plants for lake and wetland edges include sedges, blue flag iris, swamp milkweed, joe-pye weed, cardinal flower, black-eyed susans, and ferns. It’s also nice to leave a few fallen trees and logs in the water to provide shelter for the frogs, as well as a place to bask in the sun.
By late afternoon, the sun is high in the sky and its rays are luxuriously warm. I lay my pack on the ground and my body on the warm, yellow prairie. The dog and child are happily chasing frogs and teasing cattails. I close my eyes and steal just a few more minutes of this peaceful wild.