It is a summer night, late in August. September and autumn are knocking at the door. The day was hot– the last gasp of a 3H summer day. And then, at night, come the thunderstorms. Downpours of rain hit hot asphalt and steam rises in the moonlit roads. The air cools down by 10, maybe 15 degrees.
We are going out to pick up a pizza for dinner and we hit the road in the middle of what must be called “Frog Frenzy.” Frogs are everywhere, every kind and every size. Hopping here and there. We drive in a hopscotch pattern to avoid running them over. We are hoping no one is watching our car stop and start and swerve left and right. The frogs look silvery in the headlights. Perhaps it is the last mating call of the season. Perhaps the frogs know something we don’t– perhaps this is the last warm day and thunderstorm of a dying summer.
There are long-legged frogs leaping across the road, teeny frogs skimming the asphalt, and giant frogs that cross the road in two to three jumps. Mating can be the only incentive for this frenzy of activity. Driven by desire, they are mating without concern for their welfare. More likely they are not aware of the danger that lurks in the road. Like all animals, we assume frogs live in the present moment, perhaps as we humans do in our twenties, driven by biology to seek a mate in a frantic orgy of activity.
My husband and I on our pizza run, which is no run but a crawl, are uplifted by this affirmation of life. We, who in our 20s, did not think we could die, are afraid of taking what would seem like even moderate risks now. We take delight in the frenetic frog activity as we get our pizza.
But it is a different landscape we drive through on the way home only a quarter of an hour later. The frogs are gone– completely vanished having hopped to wherever they were seeking to go. We only see some frogs who did not make it. A large truck pulled out from the road just as we turned in. Not the type to play hopscotch while driving.
We feel privileged to have witnessed this “Frog Frenzy,” this affirmation of life– this ten minute window of activity that shut down as abruptly as it opened. But the next morning, walking the road, we see mangled frogs everywhere. We can’t blame the one truck we saw for this massacre.
This is not an isolated incident. In the Summer 2008 Defenders, the Conservation Magazine of Defenders of Wildlife, a study by Purdue University is cited in which the number of road kill in a suburb of Indiana were counted over a 17 month period. The number was an astounding 10,500 dead animals and 95 percent of those were frogs and other amphibians. Many of the other amphibians were eastern tiger salamanders making their way to breeding grounds to lay 500 to 1,200 eggs. Obviously this could affect future populations. Sy Montgomery, in her “The Wild Out Your Window: Exploring Nature Near at Hand,” tells us that during the “salamander rains,” as she calls them, so many salamanders are killed by cars, that in Amherst they built special tunnels so the salamanders would be safe from the road, and in Lenox and Framingham they close the roads during the migration. Are a few towns in Massachusetts the only enlightened guardians of this amphibian ritual? Why are there not more precautions taken on our roads all across the country’s wetlands? Why aren’t the fading wetlands being preserved with the reverence they deserve as they serve earth?
We don’t know how long the “Frog Frenzy” lasted but, judging from the number of bodies in the road the next day, we caught only the tail end of it. The unlucky ones, who did not make it, lie in waiting for crows and other carrion-eating birds to come feast in this other, inevitable aspect of nature, the dead frog banquet. This time our hearts are heavy. We mourn the frogs who jumped so wildly to their death in their state of excitation. The “Night of the Frogs– just another sampling of man’s abject inhumanity to those he deems inferior, and, with whom he shares this mystery called “earth.”
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