Saturday, September 11, 2010

LUNCH TOAD

At first I thought the movement was merely a leaf blown around the corner by an errant breeze.
We were sitting on the side deck where we'd just finished a late lunch. The morning had been spent working on a walkway—digging hard-packed earth, placing stones, shoveling gravel. Now, well-fed and warmed by sunshine sparkling off the nearby water, we were reluctant to give up the comfort of our rockers when giving in to the urge for a siesta seemed the more fitting notion.
That's when the brownish motion caught my eye. I shifted languidly for a better look. Not a leaf, but a toad!
"We have a visitor," I said to Myladylove.
She looked my way, saw I was focused on something not too far beyond her bare right foot…and in true woods-savvy survivalist country-girl mode, bounded from her chair without further ado.
"Whaaaat!" she blurted on the way up.
I grinned and pointed—and before she'd quite resolved onto the target, the toad made a couple of quick hops in her general direction. This naturally prompted an additional evasive reaction on Myladylove's part—a rearward leap that attained both height and distance and was impressive enough that Moon the dog arose groggily from her slumbers, looking to bark or bite as the situation required.
The toad hopped again. "Shoot!," said Myladylove, "It's just a plain ol' toad!" Whereupon she whirled and glared. "Why'd you scare me!"
Eventually, both dog and woman got resettled. The toad continued to hop and sit, working its way along the side of the cottage where the wooden deck meets the building's limestone walls. Obviously it was lunchtime for other riverbankers, as well.
Every so often the toad's hunting paid off. While we watched the lumpish stalker found several ants, a spider, two beetles, and a fat black cricket. The toad would spot a potential target, perhaps cock it's head for a better look, sneak close (yes, sneak—in a sort of scooting, scrunching fumble that couldn't rightly be called a hop) and after a moment's additional scrutiny…zap would go the sticky tongue and whatever it was simply disappeared in a gulp.
"That's really cool!" Myladylove said.
And so I went on a quick bug prowl of my own through the yard, turned over a few stones, and came back with a variety of tasty treats for Mr. Toad—who was more than happy to zap/gulp everything I tossed his way. Myladylove laughed with delight. I told her about the huge toad that lived near the back porch of the house where I grew up, and how on summer evenings I'd catch lightening bugs, stick them on the end of a broomstraw, and feed them one-by-one to the warty-looking fist-sized amphibian.
"Those swallowed fireflies continued to flash, and that ol' toad's belly glowed like a flickering nightlight," I said.
We watched and fed our deckside toad for another half hour. We'd left the door to the cottage open so Moon could trek back and forth to her water bowl as needed…and the toad seemed to feel any interior privileges extended to him, as well. The surprisingly nimble critter hopped onto the raised sill, then over the threshold. At which point, apparently liking what he saw of the great room, he took off for possible post-lunch quarters under the couch or maybe the piano. I nabbed him on the run (hop?) and patiently carried him back outside. After a stern admonition to mind his manners, I deposited the toad on the deck beyond the opened door.
The funny thing is, the first ejection didn't work, and neither did the second. The toad would hop along the wall a foot or two in the direction I'd pointed him, then turn around and hop back to the doorway—where it was again up and over and into the cottage. By the third time of capturing and carrying my uninvited guest back outside, I was beginning to feel like a harried bouncer at a rural bar.
"That's one determined toad," Myladylove said, getting up to take the dishes inside before we resumed our walk-building labors. "Don't you let that toad get in the house," she added, giving me the sort of look which said she fully believed I might actually be capable of such negligence.
This time I deposited the obstinate toad at the far end of the deck, twenty feet from the open door. "Now go your way and sin no more," I told him. "I'm almost sorry I helped gather your lunch." Then I went back to the front door, reached around to the inside corner where I keep a rigged ultralight spinning rod standing at the ready, and quickly made my way down the adjacent steps to the edge of the river, looking to get in a few casts for smallmouth bass before my coworker's return.
I'd managed precious few tosses when Myladylove reappeared. "Where's that toad?" she demanded.
I looked toward the end of the deck. No toad. I looked along the limestone wall beyond. No toad there, either—though the planting bed which extends all the way to the rear of the building is chocked full of of mulch, any brownish-gray lump of which could have been the errant toad.
"Dunno exactly," I said, trying to work out the odds of a half-lie versus admitting the truth. "He was hopping toward the rear of the house last I saw of him."
"Uh-huh," said Myladylove in a tone dripping with disbelief. She picked up a shovel, hefted it as if checking for balance and aerodynamics during a roundhouse swing. "You'd just better hope so, Buster."
Then she tossed me the shovel. "Let's get back to work. You dig."
———————

14 comments:

George said...

This was one funny post, Grizz! I have never seen a toad receive this much attention in my life. The fact that you foraged for the toad's lunch, following your ladylove's abrupt departure, shows that your generosity is matched only by your courage.

I suspect that, like me, you would never sacrifice a perfectly good story by slavish adherence to the facts. Nonetheless, I am compelled to press you on one issue: Is it true that a toad's belly will light up after being fed fireflies? If this is a fact, I have great plans for my grandson, who has a pet toad and loves to catch fireflies on summer evenings.

Sorry that you didn't have time to snare that small-mouthed bass, but heeding the call of a woman with a shovel is always a good idea, especially when there is a prospect that the woman will return to her house later only to discover that toad security has been breached once again as a result of the perceived — and I must stress "perceived' — negligence of her mate.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Seems to me that your Ladylove has got your measure Jim - do hope the toad had gone on his way. Lovely story, beautifully told.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

George…

My friend, I can see that what I'm sure is a sterling formal education, lacks a few points along the practical—and possibly cultural—lines.

But first I must correct one small erroneous detail evidenced in your comment. I did not gather a supply of small invertebrates which were subsequently fed to the lunch-seeking toad AFTER Myladylove's departure, but BEFORE; she watched and got a kick seeing the toad eagerly accept my proffered handouts.

Now…while any seasoned raconteur will never be bound by the constriction of factual reporting, the practice of feeding fireflies to toads until they become twinkling nightlights is as old as the hills, and has been embraced by generations of country youngins in days of yore, before Twitter and Facebook and MTV and video games, before micro-chips and computers and TV! Huck and Tom would have know about this little amusement. I learned it from my father who learned it from his father who learned it from his father…and you could probably track it all the way through my direct antecedents of the Civil War soldiers, those who followed Boone down the Appalachians spine and died with his son, Israel at the Battle of Blue Licks, kin who fought in the Revolutionary War, and before that lived on a farm in Virginia near that of the Washingtons, with whose son, George (whom you've probably heard about) my great-grandfather-X-8, played…and no doubt the two fed fireflies to hungry toads.

I can't speak for it efficacy with all species of toads, but on plain old American toads, Bufo americanus, their belly skin is thin and translucent enough that you you can indeed see the lightning bug's flashes.

Your grandson will be delighted.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Weaver…

I hope so, too—but I'll confess that I'm not entirely certain. That first night, I even took a long look around by flashlight sometime in the wee hours, while my Mydaylove blissfully slept. That I didn't find a skulking toad was encouraging, but no proof…as it's the sort of negative that's near-impossible to prove.

I suppose only time will tell…

George said...

I apologize, Grizz, for the factual mix-up. My ability to get the facts straight was undoubtedly compromised by my laughter.

I want to thank you, nonetheless, for filling what was apparently a very large gap in my cultural education. As I've said before, I come to your site to learn something new, as well as to laugh. The real beneficiary of the lesson, however, will be my grandson.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

George…

It is never too late to begin one's higher education. :-D

(And if I've discerned anything of your nature and personality via these blogs and comments, it's that you'll enjoy the twinkling toad experiment as much as your grandson.)

Rusty said...

Great - now you do't need a flashlight, just look for a glow-in-the-dark toad. Love the idea. I still remember my gradmother placing a second dish of oatmeal every morning - one plate for her cat, and one for the toad that came up on the gallery every morning.

Sad to say I have not seen any toads or frogs in the area of the retreat for years. We used to have all sorts of them - but perhaps the proximity of a big airport has something to do with it. There always seems to be a very tiny amount of unburned jet fuel floating down. Though very small amounts over the years it can't be good.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Rusty…

Now that's the first time I ever heard of a toad eating oatmeal—though I imagine they will eat anything that suits their fancy. I wonder how your grandmother discovered this—or whether it could be something lots of folks knew about and practiced. Sp much of the old ways, old skills, old knowledge disappears with each passing generation…

I don't think jet fuel—small amounts of not—can possibly be a do thing for local wildlife, particularly amphibians who absorb them directly. I do have lots of toads around here, though—and always enjoy seeing them as I putter about the yard. (Not going to enjoy it too much if my wife finds one in the living room, however.)

Bernie said...

I enjoyed reading about your day Grizz.....and at my house there would be a sign at the door saying "no toads allowed".
Hope your back is okay after your hard work, have a great weekend.
....:-) Hugs

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Bernie…

Well, in spite of that toad's desires to move in, our house was no place for him. Under the deck, alongside the planting beds, any other place on this acre of riverbank property—yes…but not inside the house.

Thank you for asking…and I'm happy to report that for whatever reason, our several days of working on the walk—digging, moving gravel, placing stones—did not leave me near-incapacitated with back pain. In fact, I had not a hint of soreness afterwards, though my hands were a bit swollen and stiff.

Tramp said...

Griz
Having heard what you have to say about what happened I wonder how others in this tale view events. You give us enough information to guess that yourladylove, the toad and Moon the dog could provide us with different explanations... but you got there first!

Does the consumption of fireflies constitute a light snack?

...Tramp

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Tramp…

I expect the toad was a bit frustrated about not being able to explore—and possibly settle in—the great room…but doubtless happy about how quickly he caught a couple dozen tasty lunch bugs.

Moon the dog is 12 years old, and like most seniors, would rather laze and snooze in the sun than get too actively involved in domestic dramas.

And Myladylove…well, she spent several years living on an island in Alaska where both black and grizzly bears were a daily consideration, plus she's put up with me and my redneck ways for some time—so while toad feeding was new to her, I don't believe she ever felt incapable of handling the situation, if it came to that, by removing the invading toad, punishing the negligent husband, and soothing the disturbed dog.

I love the "light lunch" line re. feeding toads fireflies and watching their bellies twinkle! And I plan on stealing and using it should I write about this small bit of old-time rural mischief again.

Hope the back is improving…

Rusty said...

The toad that loved oatmeal was at my grandparents place, deep in the Laurentians. One day I watched this big toad hop up on the gallery and head right for the cats breakfast. I told my grandmother and she came out to watch this event - the cat was also sitting back watching his breakfast vanish. My grandmother told me she had been wondering why the cat was always asking for more oatmeal. From then on she put two dishes of oatmeal out. This toad returned for the next three summers- then vanished without a trace.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Rusty…

That's a wonderful memory and unique story, and I thank you so much for sharing it here. I'd love to have witnessed such a near-magical thing myself. By the way, I've only been though them a few times, but I love the Laurentians—they are quite lovely and intriguing, and I keep hoping to get back there one of these days and actually spend some time rambling about the area.