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Saturday, April 13, 2013

Peeping Frog…

Zinnia frogWe had a peeping Tom out back several years ago. When you move to the country onto one slim acre, you don’t think much about being peeped at. Isn’t that the sort of thing that happens mainly in town where the houses crowd together and those of the peeping persuasion have a good deal more subject matter to peep at? We assumed what little peeping that might occur from outside in the dark would be done by four-legged critters on their nocturnal rounds and happened to cast a random glance or two at the lighted household as they loped or sidled by.

Our peeper was a spring peeper and his peeping might have continued undetected had I not discovered a “trail” of evidence in the freshly tilled garden the next day. I had gone out that morning to check the garden’s progress when I noticed footprints in the newly turned earth. The shoe prints were accompanied by dog tracks (a clue that narrowed the suspects considerably). I backtracked the trail to the edge of the property until I lost it in the grass. Whoever it was had come from the west…and now I was sure I knew who owned the shoes that made those imprints. As if this weren’t disturbing enough, the ground where the night watcher had stood was compacted; he had been there long enough for his shifting stance to pack the soil. A small mound of what I first thought were coffee grounds turned out to be expectorated  “chew”; whoever the peeper, he was leisurely enjoying some nicotine stimulation while watching our movements inside the house. When I stood on the packed ground that morning and faced the house to see how much a peeper could see from this prospect, I shuddered: the plate glass windows, the dining room glass sliding door and kitchen window were in full view; in the dark anything and anyone illuminated from within would be clearly visible.

Being spied upon raises an interesting question: which is creepier, catching a peeper in the act and running him off? Or discovering the next day that you and your movements were being clandestinely ogled, leaving you to wonder just what activities you were performing for your audience and how long you had been entertaining him. Knowing someone was out there in the darkness of a country night, standing a scant fifty feet away, watching your every movement as you went about your evening routine, seemed plenty creepy to us. We were careful to pull the shades at dusk from that time on. I’m certain I knew who “Tom” was but couldn’t prove it and for this reason did not call the authorities. Things have a way of resolving themselves, this time in the form of a falling out between the man and his landlord. The evicted Mr. Peeper left the Valley to spy on others elsewhere and took his best friend with him.

Brekekekex koax koax! a fairly true rendering of the racket that disturbed my reading one afternoon last fall. The rasping sound was so clear and close I first thought it might be coming from inside the house. I crept to the rear deck sliding door, but before I could ease the slider open, the noise abruptly stopped. After I stood motionless for a moment or two, the creaky brekekekex koax koax resumed. The sound was so close it seemed to be coming from beneath my feet and I nearly jumped back in fright. A check of the doorjamb and the backsides of a couple indoor plants failed to locate the noisemaker. Whenever I would move, the noise would cease, but as soon as I paused a few seconds, the hoarse refrain resumed. This seems an appropriate time to attribute the source for my phonetic rendering of the sound to classical Greek comedy: Aristophanes’ play Frogs in which frogs play the part of the chorus. What I have included here is the English translation of the frog actors’ repetitive refrain, and although I’m not sure of the original Greek, the noise I heard that afternoon could have been one of the cast rehearsing for the role. Of course I recognized the sound as soon as I heard it, but it was the proximity of the creature that startled me. Although I searched the immediate area thoroughly, I never did locate the little croaker.

From time to time throughout the fall the little chorister would break into song from somewhere on the deck—never from quite the same place—but always from the deck. For that reason, in a flash of brilliant inspiration, my wife named the little fellow “Deckster.” And thus it was Deckster became a part of the fabric of fall.Deckster

The Pacific Chorus frog, an apt name for Deckster and his kin, happens to be our official Washington State frog. Most are small enough to squat on a two-bit piece (one I discovered on an okra leaf could have perched upon a Jefferson nickel and still not smothered our third president). We seem to have an abundance of chorus frogs here on the place and it’s always a delight to discover one. I’ve relocated several to the hedge borders whenever they’re threatened by the tiller or mower.They spring out of the grass, leaves or weeds, and I have to stop the machinery to rescue them. I suspect the little amphibians are capable of protective coloration and like chameleons have camouflage capability.color change

The little fellows show up in the most unlikely places. You’ll be out and about the place doing this and that, and all of a sudden you’ll see something out of place, take a second look—what’s wrong with this picture—and you’ll be face to face with a Pacific Chorus frog. He may be green; he may be brown; he may be mottled; but he’s always a surprise.Cuke croaker









Hangin' out









Peeking frog









hose frog








Fall gave way to winter, and Deckster’s brekekekek koax koax went on hiatus (or dormant). A few weeks ago, prompted by the entire cast of frogs chorusing from Old Barn Pond across the road, Deckster began his spring rehearsals. I used to think he and his relatives were “rain frogs”; their brekekeking presaged impending rain (like singing in the showers), but in our drippy Valley, I hold little store in amphibian prognostication: Deckster would sound off whenever he brimmed with song.

The other night I was typing away on the computer when all of a sudden I felt I was being watched, spied upon, peeped at. I glanced over my shoulder at the sliding door and saw the belly of a frog glued against the glass like a decal. Deckster had clambered halfway up the glass and stuck there to get a better view of the household activities. I don’t know how long he’d been watching; I don’t know what he saw from his vantage point; and I don’t much care. There’s nothing goes on this household I’d be afraid to put on display for a frog.Peeping frog

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