Atop Hawk Mountain, Pa., 2010

Atop Hawk Mountain, Pa., 2010
Photo by R.E. Berg-Andersson

Friday, July 4, 2014

A Visit From Mr. Toad

I had an unexpected visitor today, Independence Day, and he showed up in an unexpected way.

As I wrote last time, once in a while it's a real education to look down instead of up when you are outdoors. There are snakes, dragonflies and, depending on the habitat, frogs and toads. As a birdwatcher, I usually ignore these creatures when I am out hiking, but thanks to MH's enthusiasm and pictures I have been making an effort to study other winged wonders and more terrestrial animals.

Today's lesson was literally in my own backyard.

Over the years MH and I have spooked American toads from the long grass in the backyard as we used the mower, so we know they are around -- at least in those lawns, like ours, where pesticides are not used and the grass is allowed to stay a little longer to protect the roots from summer's heat.

American toad, July 4, 2014 (R.E.Berg-Andersson)
Yes, there is a price to pay for that lush, uniform, green lawn. Chemicals don't discriminate between grubs and beneficial insects or the toads that feed on them. Lawn services, when not cutting the grass down to the nibs whether it needs it or not and disturbing the morning peace with their gas-powered equipment, dump chemicals to kill the weeds and grubs that could mar that uniform appearance. The homeowner then waters - and waters - the grass, only to have the lawn service whack it down again a few days later.

It gives the homeowner something to look at with pride, a vast sea of green -- or a kind of moat that, to some, separates you (at least psychologically) from your neighbors.

But we who keep the grass longer and who let the clippings fall where they may to decay and nourish the lawn, have greener grass and don't need chemicals aside from the occasional dose of grass food. That means bees at the clover, for instance, or the occasional toad in the grass.

And yet, my visitor was not found on the lawn but in my composter.

I'm guessing Mr. Toad -- the name of one of my favorite characters from one of my favorite books, "The Wind in the Willows" --  was looking for a cool, relatively dry place to get out of the heat, humidity and intense thunderstorms that have been plaguing New Jersey this week.

The weather has been so hot, so humid, so abnormal to me that when I could get outside to look at my garden (only early in the day) I discovered mid- and late-summer plants all getting ready to bloom at the same time! Same with my early- and mid-season peppers.

In a life that seems to be getting faster all the time these heightened conditions - this global warming, if you will - is speeding up summer, too.

So if you are a toad and you are faced with heat and too much water to survive, what do you do? You take shelter. And thanks to my having moved what had been in my composter to my corner compost pile for the summer, the composter was lighter than usual and Mr. Toad (I'm guessing) squeezed through the tiny space created by the composter not sitting completely flat on the patio tiles -- all the more remarkable because this was the largest toad I've ever seen, in my yard or in the wild.

So today, doing chores on my day off, I was moving things around on the patio, including the composter. And out popped Mr. Toad.

He was not happy. He hopped into a corner, where MH took his picture. He sat there a long time. Every so often I would come out and he'd be in the same place but had shifted his position. Finally, I came out and he was gone...but not too far. It looked like he was trying to get back under the composter!

I tried to pick him up with my shovel but he hopped away and finally went behind the deer netting and into my back shade garden. He'll be OK there although I doubt he'll stay long. No animal wants to be stuck behind deer netting. His instinct will be to hide beneath the composter again or move back to the yard and be further away from where I might find least until the next time MH or I mow the grass.

Come winter, when I stop walking across the yard to my corner compost pile and use the closer patio composter, I will lift it up first to make sure Mr. Toad has moved on.

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