The vernal (also called ephemeral) pools were boiling with American toads in flagrante. The one near the duck pond I've named Plato's Retreat, 1970 after a New York swingers club. "We were degenerates, but we were good people." How often have I said as much about my youth?
There is much to be learned. "Be like the frog," said Suzuki, the famous Zen teacher.
Full-grown adults are usually chubby. I like that line so much. It's like toads have permission to go to flab in middle age. Also, when "chubby" is used as a descriptor in a field guide, an angel gets its wings. Field guides as a genre are known for being dry and meticulous. Nothing they describe can ever be engorged.
Males sing. [Hear them singing.] It is a long pleasant trill. It has a soporific effect. I was going to pull my sunhat down over my eyes and go to sleep on the mossy bank while the toads were having the time of their short amphibious lives. Voyeurism exhausts me. I peter out. When I told her that I had observed everything that could be observed about the Chesapeake rockfish, my college marine biology professor said, "Go back and look at that fish for another hour."
It wasn't that pornographic, although we joked. We were embarassed. Watching toads mating was bringing up things that we didn't want to talk about. It had happened before: when we came across foxes doing it. They gave us a forlorn look of the consequences.
They were stuck together. The male fox cannot pull out. The female can't run. It would rip their bodies. So they did a shameful, ineffective sideways lope for the treeline. "Can't we save them, Mom?" my daughter had cried. She thought they needed saving. "No," I said. We drove away, the foxes getting smaller in the rearview mirror until they became one fuzzy reddish spot.
Our son, 11, said, "Hey look Mom, Dad, this frog is mating with a cattail. How come it doesn't know it's mating with a cattail?" Good question. How do you know your partner is not a cattail?
"Any port in the storm," I said.
My husband and I looked at each other. We might have to go back and look at each other for another hour, the long-married being rockfish, and foxes, and toads.