Verner column: March Madness springs forth again
March Madness has descended upon us once more, which means things are really hopping around the Verner household.
You know how it is: The feverish chants, the startling leaps, the puffed-out chests, the whistling calls and, of course, the pool.
Actually, in our case, it’s more of a puddle. It’s the puddle that makes all the rest possible ó the puddle my son and I hacked out of the backyard a few years ago.
This particular edition of March Madness has nothing to do with basketball. It denotes the annual eruption of amphibian procreative energy that, on mild nights this time of year, transforms our backyard into a cacophonous medley combining the sounds of an Amazon rain forest with the lubricity of ladies night out on Bourbon Street.
Love, as they say, is a many splendored thing, especially when conducted amid swamp water and mossy rocks.
When we first put in the puddle, it was not with the goal of providing a honeymoon suite for amorous frogs. Actually, I’ve forgotten what did prompt me to decide we needed a little pond in the back yard. What happened, I suspect, is that I awoke one morning in a particularly manly mood and looked around for a tree to chop down. Seeing no likely tree candidates (and lacking a sharp axe), I then went to the second highest option on the list of manly endeavors: Large-scale excavation.
“Son,” I said, “we need to dig us a hole in the ground. A big hole. A big hole that we will strategically position in the most hard-pan, root-infested, rock-embedded part of the yard. And we will dig said hole on a 100-degree day in July, when the humidity is so fierce even the cat is dusting herself with talcum powder.”
After my wife nixed the dynamite and canceled the back-hoe rental, the boy and I set to work with shovel and pick. Within a few moments, I was wheezing and drenched in sweat ó which tells you how back-breakingly difficult it is to supervise the labors of a teenage boy, even when you’re sitting on the deck under an umbrella and drinking a frosty beverage.
“Dig faster, son,” I urged him. “We need to finish before the first hard freeze.”
Were the frogs watching even then, anticipating what was to follow?
I suspect so, because within a couple of days after we positioned the liner, filled the pool and set the water to splashing with a small pump, we had our first frogs. They announced their arrival around dusk with a sudden outburst of ratchety clicks and throaty trills, like a bevy of old aunts tuning up for the Christmas cantata. The next evening, the numbers sounded as if they had doubled ó with some alarmingly loud squeaks and chugs now joining the clicks and trills.
Within another night or two, we were treated to the full frog monty ó a bleating, peeping, chugging, squeaking, ribbitting, croaking reverberation of sound. It created the impression that I had somehow vectored out of my suburban backyard into one of those exotic wildlife documentaries where a monotonous narrator delivers the play-by-play as a python swallows a pig.
Fortunately, our frogs are small and capable of swallowing nothing larger than the mosquitoes and flies that stray within range of their little zapping tongues.
Yet while the frogs are small, the sounds that emerge from their bulging throats are quite large. And listening to them on a mild spring night, I find their vocalizations quite entrancing. They transport me back to my childhood and all the magical spring and summer evenings when I sat on the banks of a pond, fishing pole in hand, immersed in the sonorous chant of bullfrogs.
But I suspect there’s something deeper and more primordial at work here. As a biological order, frogs predate humans by millions of years. So for most of the human species’ relatively brief span on the planet, these amphibian cadences formed the background noise of life ó until we cocooned ourselves away into our double-paned, triple-insulated, hermetically sealed pods. If we pause to listen, the frogs’ song strikes us not only as a vibration in the air but a resonant connection to the deeper rhythms and pulses of creation itself.
So it has been now, every spring and summer since the puddle took form. Each fall, the frogs fall silent and burrow into their boggy dream holes. We endure the frosty quiet of long nights, wake to the gray glaze of ice on the water’s surface. The dead hand of winter tightens its grip. Then comes a hint of warmer weather and that first springlike evening when our ears are suddenly alert to a familiar sound, both ancient and new. The peeps and trills begin, tentatively at first, then mounting to their full glorious force.
Frog love is in the air. March Madness has arrived once again.
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Chris Verner is editorial page editor of the Salisbury Post. E-mail cverner@ salisburypost.com or call 704-797-4262.