When the Frogs Begin to Sing
“As we enter the path of transformation, the most valuable thing we have working in our favor is our yearning.”
― Cynthia Bourgeault
We hear the song long before we reach the pond itself ― the rolling, rhythmic voices rising up from among the grasses all around us as if we have entered the halls of some vast monastery during evening prayer. The thrum washes over us in the darkness.
We step carefully, sweeping the red-cellophane-filtered beams of our flashlights back and forth across the path. Somewhere in the darkness nearby, a duck splashes gracelessly into a bed of reeds, seeking shelter for the night. A barred owl calls overhead. The kids are tense with eager excitement for the hunt, whispering questions at each unfamiliar noise, flicking their flashlights over every stray stone or lump in the grass hoping to catch a glimpse of movement ― the flexing muscular limbs or the bulging throat of a frog.
But there are too many of us. By the time we’ve reached the water’s edge, the low chanting voices have dropped away and the whole place has fallen into silence. The kids are growing increasingly anxious now. Without the meditative hum of frog song to captivate us, the cold, damp air of this foggy March night seems harder to bear. I wonder for a moment at the foolhardiness of coming out at all. How strange and awkward we must look, a troop of lumbering giants bundled in our coats, rustling noisily in our raingear, tramping through the mud in so many thick-soled boots.
As we strain to listen, the silence seems to lengthen into an accusation. I feel every bit the unwelcome intruder in this wild place.
But we are determined. We have come this far, tracking the song through the darkness along wooded trails. We flip off our flashlights and settle in to wait a little while longer. To calm the restless kids, someone suggests a story, and another begins in a low whisper to tell a tale from the indigenous peoples who have lived here since long before the Europeans arrived.
The story is of the last snow of winter: when the families had been gathered together in their longhouses for many long, chilly weeks, and the elders had told the children all the stories they knew several times over until they were hoarse with the telling. Everyone was restless for the spring to come. Then one day, the last snow of winter fell, and as each snowflake touched the ground, the delicate crystals melted, transforming themselves into tiny frogs, one for each human soul. That night after sunset, a rich chorus filled the darkness. It was then that the people knew the land was again beginning to wake.
As the story gently unfolds into the quiet surrounding us, the children grow still. They crouch down among the grasses along the muddy bank of the pond like so many little froglets themselves, legs akimbo, arms hugged close.
Just as the story ends, a hesitant croak drifts towards us from across the water. We turn our heads towards the sound, gesturing at each other in excited silence to stay quiet and hold still.
We can’t keep our smiles hidden when we hear the second croak, much closer this time. Then another, and another, gathering momentum, stumbling tentatively over one another as each brave frog sounds his call into the dark. All in a moment, we are drenched in a cascade of thrumming, wild tones. The night around us is transformed, now pulsing with a living rhythm that tingles on our skin, moves within our blood, reaches into the very core of our being. The rush of the waking land is on us.
Unable to hold back our own exclamations of surprise and awe, we flinch at our noise-making ― but the song continues, rolling over us, drowning out our clumsiness. Soon, we lose our fear of speaking altogether, raising our voices in wonder at the roar of the wilderness that surrounds us.
Still, the frogs sing on.
We are all of us, kids and adults alike, wide eyes and amazed grins. I see the little girl next to me is whispering something to herself under her breath over and over, and I lean down closer to hear.
“They came back,” she is saying, as if grappling with some kind of miracle. “We were quiet, and they came back, they came back…”
And I realize that I’m crying.
• “Untitled,” by Minette Layne (CC) [source]