Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Dream of the Toads

May 3, 2013
Moreau Lake State Park

I well remember the time this year
when I first heard the dream of the toads.

   HDT,  Letter dated October 26, 1853

Friday morning, I had some business to attend to down at Moreau Lake. It was time to refresh the Wildflower Poster at the Nature Center.
After that, I had perhaps an hour to wander along the lakeshore.

It being a fine sunny day, 

I headed for the Back Bay, thinking perhaps to see some newly-hatched dragonflies.
Instead I had a visit from a Mayfly. He landed on my watch, as if to check the time,
to make the most of his all-too-short life as a winged adult.

I followed a loud, trilling noise coming from a corner of the Bay.
It was the “dream” of the toads ! 

[Thoreau was interested in the history of words, and having studied with care the Old English poets, often used their robust vocabulary. He used the word “dream” in its old meaning of “joy, mirth noisy merriment.”]

Here was a glimpse of the 2013 Toad Prom.
These creatures-- usually so dusty and warty in appearance --looked a little less homely,
as they plashed about in the water, and did their best to charm each other.

At first, the toads went silent as I approached the scene.
All but one lept back into the safety of the water.

You have to stay low and still – don’t stand towering over them like a giant blue heron !
If you crouch,  and wait patiently,  they start up again.

I spent my golden hour hunkered down at the water’s edge – although, unlike Thoreau, I kept my shoes on.  It was a treat to see them.
Only after finding this Journal entry
did I realize that we had each been out a-watching toads
on very same day of the year.
So here are my photos, and Henry’s words.

May 3, 1857
In another pool, in Warren’s meadow, I hear the ring of toads
and the peep of hylodes,
and, taking off my stockings and shoes,
at length stand in their midst.
There are a hundred toads close around me,
copulating or preparing to.
These look at a little distance precisely like the last,
but no one utters that peculiar rough belching croak,
only their common musical ring,
and occasionally a short, fainter, interrupted, quivering note,
as of alarm. 

They are continually swimming to and leaping upon each other

 I see many large reddish-brown ones, probably females,
with small grayish ones lying flat on their backs, the fore feet clasped around them. 

These commonly lie flat on the bottom, often as if dead,
but from time [to time] the under one rises with its load
to the surface,
puts its nose out and then sinks again.

The single ones leap upon these double ones
and roll them over in vain like the rest.
It is the single ones that ring and are so active.
They make great gray, yellowish, greenish, or whitish bubbles
(different specimens being thus various), as big as their heads.

One that rings within a foot of me seems to make the earth vibrate,
and I feel it and am thrilled to my very spine,
it is so terrene a sound. 

It reminds me of many a summer night on the river.
A bubbling ring, which is continuous about a minute,
and then its bag must be inflated again.
When I move suddenly, it is the single ones chiefly that conceal themselves. 

The others are not so easily disturbed.
You would hardly believe that toads could be so excited and active.
When that nearest ringer sounded, the very sod by my feet
(whose spires rose above water)
seemed to tremble, and the earth itself,
 and I was thrilled to my spine and vibrated to it. 

They like a rest for their toes when they ring.

It is a sound as crowded with protuberant bubbles
as the rind of an orange.
A clear, ringing note with a bubbling trill.
It takes complete possession of you,
for you vibrate to it,
and can hear nothing else


  1. Amazing! You have such patience and quietness, to get such shots.

  2. well a zoom lens also helps ... and they were very preoccupied !