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."