May 27, 2018

My Corner of the Canyon: A Froggy Would A Wooing Go


I worry about them. The creek bed is dry and dusty with dead leaves. How, in that desert-like clime will they ever wake or mate or sing? Will there only be silence under the full moon? If no rain comes will they just continue their hibernation? Will that joyous chorus of croaks cease to cascade through our Topanga nights? Will a bit of magic be lost and the world rendered worse for it?

Then I hear the news. Rain coming! “Rain coming,” I whisper. “Rain coming at last, hold on little guys.” I imagine them deep in the earth, burrowed down, hearts slowed but something, some ancient instinct stirring, waiting wondering, wanting to wake. They don’t need me to tell them. “Rain coming,” something inside of them knows.

When we first considered moving to Topanga I remember my husband, (then only slightly beleaguered), touting the benefit of Riley growing up, “seeing deer and hearing frogs.” And so he did.

Our creek frogs are Pacific Tree Frogs, (Pseudacris regilla). They are only about two inches long and can change color from greens, to brown and tans to golden. Usually in February, the male is attracted to water where he begins his wonderful, siren froggy call to attract a mate. The females are drawn to the song, (who wouldn’t be?) and a mating party begins, loud and raucous. Oh, to be part of it! The eggs are laid and within two weeks hatch into the miraculous creature that is a tadpole. There is just something so joyous about hearing the croaking chorale, so life affirming, so Topanga. With our current drought condition and all the warnings for conservation and the challenges and fire danger alerts for the coming year, it was the frogs that concerned me. I feared they would not make their annual appearance announcing their splendid call of life going on, of seasons changing, of the world turning and all of us being a part of it. It crossed my fevered mind to sneak a long garden hose across the street and water the creek in an effort to assist nature. But in the final week of February the rains came and the creek awoke.

All animals have their totem meanings. Of course, I’m partial to cats whose symbolism denotes astuteness, cleverness and mystery. Likenesses of the owl, familiar of Merlin and Athena, Goddess of Wisdom, seem to be ever multiplying in our house, so I’ve taken note of their meaning: intuition, insight and yes, the journey to the darker realm, (power outage anyone?). I look up “frog” wondering what message they are sending my way. Obviously they represent transformation. “Oh dear,” I think. “That seems like a lot of work.” I am more attracted to their other meaning, “luck.” In the misty day I venture out. Drizzle fills the air and a magic mist surrounds the top of my mountain. The air is fresh and alive with a liquid energy, which moves and vibrates. It is a veritable atmosphere unto itself and I, move through it dreamlike. I imagine its good for my complexion. Maybe I’ll appear younger, perhaps that’s the transformative effect. My mission is to see a frog. I long for a sighting, a close encounter, a meeting between a lumbering two-legged, good hearted human of a certain age, dressed in bright red plaid rubber boots and the humble yet noble, lucky, ancient amphibian. I think Red Rock with its extensive creek will surely yield Pseudacris regilla but I don’t even get that far when directly across the street from where I am walking, from our own Old Canyon creek, comes a croak. Clear and present, singular and powerful calling just to me. “Oh my Froggy Prince, I come.” Although nocturnal, this fellow is awake, perhaps anxious to get a head start, secure a daring daytime date and make up for all that dry creek, down time. A real go-getter. This is my kind of guy. I hear him again. I can sense just where the sound came from. I walk gently through the mud and fallen leaves. I tip toe over twigs and small branches. I stand still and scan the foliage. I listen above the sound of the lovely gurgling water. I look and look. But alas, he is not for human eyes. Am I out of luck?

Two of my heroes are of the family, (three if you count my frog-prince husband). The first is, of course, the marvelous Mr. Toad of Toad Hall, from Kenneth Grahame’s, “Wind in the Willows.” Mr. Toad is not only jovial, genial, gracious, but rich as well, and lest we forget, a poet. Oh what a toad! As he himself has written,

“The world has held great heroes, as history books have showed,

But never a name to go down in fame, as that of Mr. Toad!”

My other hero, about whom, I must admit, I had not recently thought, until checking out a book on Jim Henson, from our own Topanga Library, is beloved, Kermit. How fondly I recall the Muppets and their silly good-natured antics. And in the middle of the Muppet storm is the steady, reliable, dearly gentle, friend to all, Kermit the Frog. Indeed, as of late, to my daughter’s dismay, I have even been trying to channel Kermit’s voice.

Mr. Henson gave that green piece of felt life, just like a god breathing into a piece of clay and creating walking, breathing creatures. Kermit came alive and the magic was in that wonderful, down-to- earth tone and timbre of his voice. It was as appealing as Sinatra, in that upon ­hearing either, Frank or Kermit, there is just something so familiar, so warm, something akin to coming home.

­­­So, when lost, I sing, in my best Kermit impression the lyric from the Muppet Movie’s song, “Rainbow Connection,” “Someday we’ll find it, the Rainbow Connection, the lover, the dreamer and me.” There is a dance at Miranda’s school. She is not interested in attending the dance but she and the nice, tall boyfriend are joining a group from school on a chartered bus after the dance, which will take them to an ice cream parlor and then on to a milkshake place in Hollywood, which at least is better then a bar. It is a rainy night and I worry. I drop them off at her school and watch them walk away through the drizzle to the waiting buses across the wet pavement. As they fade into the crowd the last glimpse I catch is of the froggy backpack slung over my daughter’s shoulder.

“I’ve got a good one for you,” begins my husband calling from the road later that night. Then he tells me about driving home and encountering a strange dark shape on PCH, hardly visible through the rain. He slammed on his brakes to avoid hitting what turned out to be a man in a wheel chair rolling down the middle of the highway. His car was able to brake just in time but unfortunately the car behind him could not stop and hit the rear of Mike’s car. The guy in the wheelchair wheels off crazily into the night and my husband and the other driver get out to assess the damage. It turns out the other driver is from Topanga and is the fine and upstanding Mr. Hamilton. Neither of them are hurt and damage is somewhat minimal, both are insured but the best part is that both are gentlemen. Indeed, if one has to be in an accident with someone, David Hamilton is your man. Miranda arrives home safely. My husband did not kill a guy in a wheelchair who put himself and others at risk one rainy night for reasons we can only guess. We were all lucky. Although I didn’t see the frog, maybe he saw me.

Wait! Just now, as the light fades over the hillside, I hear right outside our open door, a croak!