Tiny peeper frogs give pep talk

Tiny peeper frogs sing songs of hope.

I was hiking through a remote marshy area one recent late afternoon, seeking escape from the constant dismal drumbeat of bad news and calamity, when a reassuring voice suddenly sounded from the darkening swamp.

It said, “Take heart. This too shall pass.”

At least that was my interpretation. The “voice” was a skittering, high-pitched chirr. It was the sound of a spring peeper, a tiny little frog that could perch on the tip of your finger with room to spare.

The little fellow can make a big noise, especially when hundreds, perhaps thousands, of the congregation join the choir.

Within minutes the marsh was ringing with their sundown serenade.

Scientists claim peepers have been singing for about 250 million years — back to the Carboniferous Period, or, as we bad spellers call it, the Age of Amphibians.

I can vouch for only the last seventy or so.

I recall hearing my first peeper frogs as a toddler, snuggled in my mom’s lap as she read Little Golden Books to me in the glow of a coal-oil lamp.

Peepers sang in a nearby pond, and I remember my dad saying that meant spring was finally, thankfully, here. The peepers signaled the end to another hard winter on the mountain. They were the sound of survival.

My teenage buddies and I spent most of our free time in the outdoors. When we heard the peepers, that meant it was time to get our fishing tackle ready. The bluegill would soon be biting.

In college I met a pretty brown-eyed coed and we often went for walks on warm spring evenings. Back in the dorm Bobby Vinton sang Blue Velvet, but out where we were, the peepers provided the mood music.

I returned from war in early spring, and at night my bride and I sat on the porch of our old farm house and listed to distant peepers. They assured me it wasn’t a cruel rice-paddy dream — I had, indeed, made it home.

I enjoy the sounds of frogs in general, from the bass-boom of big green bullfrogs to the grumpy croak of warty, gray garden toads.

I confess to occasionally hunting frogs — those big bullfrogs with the delicious chicken-meat legs. But I also admit to feeling a tad guilty every time I gig one.

I stopped using frogs for fish bait long ago. I had read in an outdoor magazine about what great bass-bait live frogs make, so one summer I caught a couple, put them in a bucket, and headed to the local farm pond.

I corralled one of the struggling little frogs and hooked it through the lip, as Outdoor Life instructed. It promptly grasped my finger and held on — for dear life, you could say. I unhooked it and turned it loose.

I had the same squeamish experience with a salamander. If minnows and nightcrawlers could do that, I’d have to quit fishing with live bait.

Back to the faithful little creeper frogs: every spring they emerge to sing their cheerful, nostalgic songs of hope and revival.

This spring they are particularly welcome. Amid the chaos, we need a reassuring chorus.

Larry Woody is The Democrat’s outdoors writer. Email him at larrywoody@gmail.com.

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