Today was one of those days that was awesome in almost every way except one, Hebrews class. This is my second class in a literal crash course in Biblical languages and I could feel the anxiety welling up in my throat as my breaths became shorter and shorter with every unexplained new concept. It hit a crescendo towards the end of class when the teacher called on me and the audio wasn't working to reply so she joking said I was pretending that it did not work to get out of answering the question. Well it was a half truth, my audio did not work but I didn't know the answer anyway. I had to be reminded this would be the second class out of 11 that I have knocked out so only 9 more to go. That is at least a positive way to look at it.
I decided to take my class from home this afternoon because my wife had been fighting off a gnarly cough and just felt drained overall so I wanted to be here for her. As class was wrapping up I felt my throat tighten a bit with a tickling cough as if something was irritating it. Almost as soon as my mouth produced the coughing noise my nose smelled the pungent smell of incense, that hellish smoke designed for non-bathing hippies and new age gurus. Although my wife fits into neither of those categories, she still loves that nasty smelling stuff. This made me crack the window in my office and in a moment of pure bliss I heard my favorite springtime noise.
Almost piercing through the relative silence of the outdoors I heard the sweet sweet sound of Upland Chorus Frogs calling from the marshy area behind our apartment complex. I sprung out of my chair and ran full stride into the living room to where Jess was sitting. "Guess what I heard outside" I said to Jess. Knowing my childlike love and excitement for all things wild she aptly guessed the right answer. I put on my critter getting clothes grabbed a couple big zip log bags, a flash light and my cell phone; and headed out the door. I found an easy path down to my first obstacle, the large creek that runs between me and the swamp, and I crossed it with sloshy ease. Making my way up a steep embankment, right into a thick briar patch, I scratched and unstuck my way to the marsh.
This area is essentially run off from various apartment complexes and to say it was a pristine habitat would be a huge stretch. Actually this is probably one of the most polluted waterways I have ever hunted in but when I get the frog fever nothing really seems to stop me. I strategically walked through the sucking mud towards the sounds of the calling frogs just as my phone began to ring. My father-in-law called me back after I butt dialed him on the way out to the swamp and I abruptly answered and said "hey dude I'm in a swamp, can't talk." Knowing the kind of man his daughter married, my father-in-law chuckled as we hung up our phones.
I decided after several minutes in this spot and an almost run in with a raccoon that I would try to move towards the other volleys of calls I heard. I followed the river and checked every low spot with water and made a few observations. For starters, there seemed to be significantly less biodiversity in these pools than the pristine pools I have studied in years past. There were no copepods, amphipods, egg masses or salamander larvae to be found anywhere. I did see a few tiny wolf and nursery web spiders and one or two small black swimming beetles. I noticed the amount of noise here was significantly greater than pristine spots as police cars, fire trucks and ambulances seemed to scream through the silence every 10 minutes. The one thing I did see en mass was copious amounts of mosquito larvae. It seems that the animals that normally inhabit vernal pools (sometimes called ephemeral wetlands) were unable to survive in such a polluted environment.
It always amazes me to see God's creation working the way it was designed to. God has created everything with such genetic diversity and adaptability that animals can find ways to survive in even the most unlikely habitats. The early breeding amphibians are designed in such a way that, although they are cold blooded, can still manage to successfully reproduce even when their pools are frozen. The conditions typically have to be perfect, the dew point, barometric pressure and temperature have to be just right for the males to start calling. When it is too cold outside the frogs will secrete a glucose substance that is essentially biological anti-freeze. You can't tell me our God is not creative and uncaring. He designed these little frogs with such a complex adaptability so that they can survive and mate even when logic says they will just freeze in place.
As I finished up surveying smaller pools quite a bit away from the main pool I noticed a young boy across the creek and around 100 meters away from me just staring in fear at me. I started to move towards him and he sprung up and jumped on his bike to ride away as he told an older lady of my whereabouts. I called out from the woods that I was just looking for frogs but neither of them really seemed convinced of my intentions. I really didn't think much about it and started making my way back to the loudest volume of frog calls. I stayed in this area for somewhere near an hour just sitting on small logs in the water with my light off. Occasionally the chorus of frogs would start up, peepers peeping in the distance and chorus frogs closer to where I was sitting. It seemed as sporadically as the calling would start it would just abruptly end. I stayed crouched in my watery stakeout waiting to shine my dim light on the closest calling male. I could never pin point one and I convinced myself that they were ventriloquists putting on a show to confuse me. In a final attempt to not admit defeat I decided to look at the base of the tufts of vegetation sticking out of the water where I last heard the calls.
After searching two or three spots I finally found a lone male clinging for dear life just above the water level behind the overhanging grasses. I snatched him up and put him securely into my large ziplock bag and started to make my way back out of the stinking and nasty swamp. Success! Just as I made my way back to somewhat stable ground I saw another flashlight peering at me from the apartment complex behind mine. I was asked to walk closer and as I made my way through the brush I heard the chatter of Police radios. The police officer asked me if I were looking for frogs and I assured him that is exactly what I was doing and thankfully I had a recently caught specimen to prove my claims of innocence. Of course I had no identification on me so I explained what I did and where I lived. I talked to him about my animal ministry and after answering several questions he seemed satisfied with my purposes.
I told him that I would most likely be back in the coming weeks/months as the temperatures began to climb and more frogs began to breed and he seemed ok with it. He advised me to just go home tonight because several people had called the police after seeing me and my flashlight lurking in the swampy woods for the last two hours. He told me that since there weren't any No Trespassing signs and there weren't any laws against looking for frogs that I was cool. I made my way home to Jess covered in slimy mud with a frog in my hand and a huge smile on my face. Today was a good day.