May, as a month and a word, is so full of possibilities.
When March snows retreat, aspiring greenery emerges, heralded by trumpet-shaped daffodils and kettledrum crocus. April showers catalyze the process as a retinue of re-acquaintances begins to brighten our days. Tulips and forsythia strike poses and are followed by May redbuds and viburnum, who don their dresses creating richly-hued runways on which we walk our paunchy Labrador or simply admire out the window over coffee.
Now upon us, May is a month of promise—a last buffer for all the summer plans we’ve made for raising food on our blossoming farm or traveling to play in crystal Ozark streams. This month of Maia, named so by the Romans who associated her with fertility, displays and encourages growth of all the earthly Kingdoms. While swatches of brilliance from a vegetative color palette dazzle the eyes, I am besotted with amphibian songs during Maia’s reign.
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The intrepid spring peeper advances first, this year in March even before our crocus flowered. I drive down my street on early spring nights, slowing in the areas where fields turn marshy and wooded lots are wet. By these areas where the land dips to hold water I roll down the windows to hear them—“Peep! Peeep! Pee-peep!” A quicker cure for March’s matte of gray there will never be. As I watch the advance of houses I sometimes worry about people’s now familiar cries of, “Property rights!” and I hope they won’t drown out existing owners’ sweet tweets.
Then, April manifests—wet in good years with see-saw temperatures—the trickster month. From “aperire,” April “opens” as a fool teasing us with bright sun and almost enough warmth some days while on others it descends into frozen mornings and I huddle in my barn coat. April is coquettish with its capricious moods and shades of gray, blue, green and pops of purple, a month when peepers clear tinkling calls give way to the trilling of toads—“Brddddddddddddddd!”
Toads seem to sing without a breath, too long for me to contemplate. I gaze out to the neighbor’s pond, a receptacle for retired, tired Christmas trees that create an underwater suburbia for fish he stocked. This year in later April, but sometimes earlier, toads traveled to the water when it warmed. Unlike their more primly built brethren, Bufo americanus trill away with heavy, bumpy visages hidden by the water’s edge. They lay their eggs in ropey strings of miniature, black pearls. All our amphibian neighbors utilize r-rated strategies which mean such copious production that even if the eggs on top submit to frosts, their brethren below are safe from cold—though not from farm fish and bulldozers.
“Lay more,” I breathe.
The spring peepers and toads of March and April are the opening sonata. The symphony would be incomplete without them. For the adagio I must wear a sweatshirt and knitted hat while I listen to their music, but as April turns to May my shirt sleeves suffice and I hear the Western chorus frogs join the ensemble. Like a thumbnail running across a comb, the chorus frog welcomes all, from the dogwood’s blossom to a horse cropping new grass nearby. The sounds of mowers sometimes cover their calls, so I wait for dark to hear, “Creeed-d-d-d-d-dk Creeeeeed-d-d-d-d-dk!”
When lettuce leafs and sweet peas climb the vine cage, the warmth of May solidifies. Now, Blanchard’s Cricket and Gray tree frogs warm up with their “Cricking” and short bursts of trilling each in turn. Arriving almost together, they seem common here and yet, my northern neighbors no longer hear Blanchard’s small voice. Loss of habitat and growth of pollutants seem to be the cause for the fading northern symphony.
Here too in May, we hear construction start again. I live at the epidermis of the city next to the endodermic “ring road” highway. Even at the city’s rim, I’m part of the larger urban body and I grow food for urban tables. These frogs and toads aren’t just musicians; they help us feed our city neighbors by protecting crops. Perhaps more importantly they work as a team with fellow animals, plants and other organisms to maintain natural cycles across the ecosystem—a balanced world. But how long can they continue, even here, with us battering down their homes?
“Property rights!” I call on their and our behalf.
Amphibian extirpation has advanced most rapidly in the last two decades and I cannot help but wonder about future springs. If we do not value them for their songs or their simple rights to be, can we value them for protecting our food supply? Can individuals bent on maximizing cities—owning or selling their own piece of countryside—understand this link? Can they see the possibilities of May?