Living close to nature, I learned long ago there were mysteries as yet unexplained by science or even by the art of farming. Or maybe I just don’t read the right books. Anyway one of those things that science calls a phenomenon occurred again this morning. We have witnessed this occurrence so many times that it can’t be happenstance. When the hummingbirds run out of sugar water in their feeder right outside our kitchen, one of them flies up to the window and gently bumps it. Doesn’t run into it as if by accident, but hovers right at the pane and deliberately bumps it. The hummer seems to be saying: “The feeder is empty, you dolts. Get with it.” And they never bump the window unless the feeder is empty. They know. How do they know?
But a stranger mystery occurred last winter when a frog got into our house. It happened this way. We have a Christmas cactus that as far as we can figure is at least a hundred years old. My grandmother owned it and cussed it. Then one of my aunts owned it and cussed it. Somehow we inherited it. And cuss it. The pot it grows in is almost as big as a bushel basket and that’s why we cuss. Plant plus pot equals at least eighty pounds. All of us being inveterate farmers and gardeners, none of us have had the steel courage to get rid of it. We have tried starving it to death to no avail. It will not die. We time its movements into the house as winter approaches and back out as summer arrives when our son and son-in-law are visiting. Now they cuss it too.
Anyway, the frog evidently burrowed into the the Christmas cactus pot one summer and was still in it when we brought the plant inside. We never did see it— it being a tiny, tan creature that takes up very little space— but its song came loud and clear from the depths of cacti leaves and roots.
Our singer of frog songs was a spring peeper. It gets called a rain frog because its singing is supposed to portend rain within three days. Or as we learned, snow in winter. Since in our forsaken climate, it manages to precipitate, or threaten to precipitate, about every three days except in summer when we need it, there was no chance that the rain frog could be wrong even if it serenaded us every day which is what it often did. Rain or snow was on the way or had just quit, no matter whether the frog sang or not. The weather forecasters have learned this lesson too. You will wait many a week in Ohio for a long range “forecast” that does not mention the possibility of rain about every three days. Except in summer when we need it. Weather reporting would be a whole lot cheaper if we just raised rain frogs in flower pots.
Our frog gave us much to ponder on the subject of communicating with animals. I really wonder why humans are interested. Aren’t we punishing ourselves enough by learning to communicate with each other? Why do we want to communicate with animals too? Perhaps it is because humans have invented every imaginable technology for communicating with each other and have failed, so they want to try their luck with animals. It seems never to occur to science that animals might not want to communicate with humans. Except when the bird feeder is empty.
At any rate, in an effort to be helpful to science, I would like to add my “data” to the growing body of knowledge about communicating with animals. Rain frogs evidently delight in conversing with sweepers. Whenever Carol started sweeping the rug, our frog unlimbered his or her vocal chords and responded with gusto. What the frog was saying to the sweeper would be interesting to know. I imagine it went like this:
Frog: “You are one bad act, Mr. Sweeper. Couldn’t you at least wait until I finished my nap?”
To which Mr. Sweeper might be retorting: “Look, buster, this is what I do for a living. Get some ear plugs if you don’t like it.”
The rain frog definitely preferred some kinds of music over others. It almost always sang along with Beethoven but remained sullenly silent when rock and country filled the airways. Mr. Frog responded best to a sound that I don’t know how to describe delicately. I’ll put it this way. When you are at home alone and perforce must use the bathroom, you are somewhat more careless about trying to cover up the explosions of wind emanating from your nether quarters than you are when there are other humans in the house…. Are you still with me?
Well, our rain frog really dug that noise. He would start singing lustily every time. I am convinced that I am on to something here. I just don’t know what.
Image Credit: Spring Peeper from A Moment On Earth
Gene and Carol Logsdon have a small-scale experimental farm in Wyandot County, Ohio.
Gene is author of The Mother of All Arts: Agrarianism and the Creative Impulse (Culture of the Land), The Last of the Husbandmen: A Novel of Farming Life, and just released: Small-Scale Grain Raising, Second Edition: An Organic Guide to Growing, Processing, and Using Nutritious Whole Grains, for Home Gardeners and Local Farmers.