Sunday, April 11, 2010

Wet, Wierd, & Wonderful

Cher-ib-it...cher-ib-it...cher-ib-it rings through the woods - the song of the little Pacific Tree frogs. Their scientific name means “deceptive locust” and I think that fits them well. Less vociferous, but also becoming more active, are Northern Red-legged frogs and several kinds of salamanders. To the curious and observant, fresh water ponds will reveal their wonders. Along shallow edges, among pond weeds and grass stems, clumps of clear jelly-like egg masses appear. The adult animals may or may not stay around, but their eggs and young require water to live and develop. These eggs are interesting to watch because, being clear, it is easy to see the young grow inside. Blending in with their surroundings, they are less likely to be seen and disturbed or destroyed.

The previous owners of our house in Texas had filled a small cement pond with soil and planted giant Elephant Ear plants. When I discovered this, I dug the plants up and moved them, filled the pond with water and enjoyed the new landscaping. Little did I know. One evening, new sounds drew us into the backyard and we discovered an amazing sight. A large crowd of toads perched around the edge of the pond and filled much of it. They had come to mate, filling the air with their songs and the water with strings of crystal eggs. Somehow, from who knows how far away, they had sensed this new source of water and traveled to it. Amazingly, nature always finds a way.

Working in the yard here in the summer, I come upon slug and snail eggs quite often. It took me some time to figure out what these hidden stashes of tiny marbles were that I found under rocks, slabs of bark, etc. At first, I childishly enjoyed popping them in my fingers. Then, I tried putting them in a jar and waiting for them to hatch, which they never did because I couldn’t duplicate the particular conditions they needed. The parent knows where to find these conditions though, and their numbers prove that they are more successful than not. As a gardener, I feel I am always battling slugs, but I have to admit that I have a grudging sort of respect for them. They’re like the Energizer Bunny - they just keep on goin’...

Lurking about are numerous types of garter snakes, which take a bad rap, but are quite harmless. Their young, born alive in August and September, are charmingly earthworm-sized. However, I will never forget the day I heard the most blood-curdling, high-pitched shriek I’ve ever heard. It sounded like a small animal in pain; I tried to picture what it might be as I raced toward it. The sound led me to the pond, where I got the shock of my life. The shriek came from a frog, of all things, that was firmly gripped in the mouth of a snake. I usually believe in letting nature take its course, but the sight was too much for me. Grabbing the snake behind the head, I pulled on the frog until it finally let go. I don’t know whether the frog lived or not, but I felt better.

All of these have lived on this earth far longer than we have, so you know they’re sturdy survivors. They all have a purpose here, even though we may not understand exactly what it is sometimes. As for the snakes - they also eat slugs.

How many are your works, O Lord!
In wisdom you made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures.

When you send your Spirit,
they are created,
and you renew the face of the earth.

Psalm 104:24 & 30

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