One Loud, Heroic Frog

Of all the (rapidly counting on fingers) seven mailing lists that I belong to, the one I hold in particularly deep and sneaky affection is--brace yourself!--the Eastern Ontario Biodiversity Museum Mailing List. At the moment, it's probably the second-busiest of my seven, after the big Anglican mailing list called St. Sam's--although the Canadian Anglican List got up to a brisk discussion of social policy and restorative justice last week, which I thoroughly enjoyed. St. Sam's is my home, my Christian community. I love it dearly, even when it drives me nuts. But the EOBM list is a whole lot of fun at the moment.

Its members are reporting in on the tiny events of spring: a sighting of deer in a meadow near Spencerville; a Mourning Cloak butterfly in somebody's backyard; queries about overwintering larvae; an unsuccessful search for pickerel spawning upcreek; the sighting of robins. There was one post I particularly loved: "Oxford Station, Co. Rd. 20, 3-500 m east of Smith Road turnoff, small pond on north side of county road. One loud, heroic Chorus frog calling." Now, that's proper appreciation. We don't take anywhere near as much delight as we should in the loud heroism of Chorus Frogs, dammit.

I try to be good and ecologically responsible. At this migratory season, I do my best to avoid those roads that the frogs have to cross to get to their spawning grounds. There's always a frog-massacre along certain stretches of county road when this happens--tiny sickening "thunks" from under the car wheels, dozens of small squashed leg-splayed corpses on the asphalt. But while I try as much as possible to avoid amphibicide, EOBM members are out there actually counting and measuring the poor flattened bodies ("female, tibia 34.5 mm"), checking what they last ate, and mourning the deaths. Frogs *matter*. They worry about the implications for the future: will these species still be with us in 20 years' time?

I keep thinking I love Nature, and I do delve into the world around me for material to write about, but I know real love, and I don't have it for this landscape--merely a certain mild ill-informed affection. The EOBM people are true lovers. That's what makes their posts such a pleasure: all that love percolating through the electrons on my screen. They're out there today in perfectly horrible weather, examining the fields and scrub woods and ditches, looking for things I don't think I could ever begin to notice. They scoop up dead fluff from the banks of creeks, probing for tiny land snails (numbers and types). Their care and knowledge caress the turtles, both painted and snapping. They monitor the redwing blackbirds. They troll the landscape for larvae they can't identify. They map what's turned up, and where. They watch the spread of the new, beautiful, extremely aggressive reeds that now form handsome, predatory stands along the superhighway. They mourn the roadkill. They monitor not just the arrival of the geese --we all do that!--but how many and where they're setting down for the night on their way north. And they keep reporting, and every single report reminds me of love.

I don't know if I'm willing to declare absolutely that "all love creates good in some way" or that "real love is in the small stuff", but that's my experience. Maybe these things are universally true; maybe not. Maybe there are naturalists out there who are simply obsessive-compulsive cranks; if so, I haven't met any yet. Obsessive-compulsive crankiness does not leak from that post reporting that "loud, heroic Chorus frog". I think they do what I do--which is simply to love Creation because Creation is so very lovable--but that they know how to do it properly: in detail, and in knowledge gained out of genuine care and deep interest.

Can Creation feel this love, somehow? I can't imagine how it could, but I know that my imagination often falls far short of possible realities. I gather that at least some of these naturalists don't feel any need to find God in all this, and that's fine with me. But I do believe in a Creator, and I can imagine a Creator who is deeply pleased by the fact that somebody's noticing all those land snails. I too create stuff, and having those creations noticed with pleasure is a wonderful feeling. That's not why I do the creating, of course, but it's one of those side-pleasures, like finding a $20 bill in your raincoat pocket.

I don't think I'd care, honestly, if Creation turns out to be as contingent as some scientists believe--if it's all one big happy accident. Strangely, it wouldn't bother me one bit to be proved wrong about God's action as Creator, because if I'm wrong, there's probably some sort of mystery behind the wrongness and nothing is more fun, more deeply pleasing, than mystery --that great swirling deep blue shot with silver. God can be whatever God damn well pleases, and Creation is as Creation is; and while most of us do believe that God includes Creator, if we're wrong, we'll get over it. In the meantime, there's still Creation, which is well worth loving for its own sake.

But there is a sort of glory in Creation that I'd sooner ascribe to God than to accident. Not a glory in Neiman-Marcus terms; not a matter of Renaissance angels in terribly good taste. You can't live in this landscape, especially in spring Mud Season, without losing any illusions about the niceness and cuteness and prettiness of Creation. After all, this is the only time of year when we can have both snow and very early mosquitos. ("Co. Rd. 18, wh. frame house, S. side of Co. Rd., in downstairs bathroom, 1 Female Mosquito. No characteristic whine. Insect eluded slapping. Note: house has rainwater cistern in basement.")

No, if there's any glory around here, it's in the rich abundance and profound relatedness of all sorts of ecosystems great and small, from the senile pine plantings to the cedar swamps, from abandoned meadows succumbing to alder and sumac to the banks of creeks and rivers. There are a gazillion species out there, each one with its own particular characteristics and its own place in this small part of the world, and that is indeed enough glory for any reasonable human being. Maybe it's all pure accident, mere coincidence, but some of us do tend to believe that coincidence is God staying anonymous. Whatever.

What does hold, though, is that if you want to think of God as Creator, if you want to sink your spiritual toes deep into the richness of Incarnation, then reading a whole lot of e-mail reports from rural naturalists in Eastern Ontario in spring mud season is a very fruitful use of your time. It keeps you humble, for starters; it keeps you rooted (sorry!) It keeps you from lapsing into besotted musings on the Beeyootiful Rrrromance of Nature. It reminds you that we less-than-angels have been much, much less than angelic in our treatment of the world that sustains and upholds us. It nudges you to recollect that however bleak, sodden, and unlovable this world sometimes looks, there are still any number of fascinating hopeful details, if you're willing to take a close look at what's underfoot (*not*, one hopes, a loud, heroic Chorus frog!)

Thanks, guys. Let me know if you see any herons.

(For Fred, Aleta, and Jenny, and the people at EOBM)

Copyright © 2000 Molly Wolf. Originally published Sat, 8 Apr 2000
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