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Chorus frogs


Listen, can you hear them?  It’s the chorus frogs—

Those intrepid little percussionists

Have waked to open Michigan’s rite of spring.

They’re the first frozen sirens to be thawed

In our melting wetlands near the mid of March—

Though true, their first rumors of winter’s death

Many a blizzard has pronounced premature.

But the pocket-comb harping we know them by,

That’s just the merest skeleton of a song—

A song with no flesh on the bones at all:

It can bring to mind a sonic scaffolding

These dauntless stagehands of the springtime raise

For all our singers and their songs of spring to come.


First to be heard; last, if ever, to be seen.

For you can lurk about till the hardwoods leaf

And never glimpse a calling chorus frog

As you can a wood frog or a peeper

When their choirs command the marshland air.

Where two alternate across a woodlot pool—

A duet or a duel it’s hard to say—

A chorus frog will lead you by the eardrum

To a tussock of wintering marsh grass

That eerily radiates his tympani,

While the timpanist—he’s nowhere to be found.

Is he a ventriloquist, you’ll wonder—

Or can songs awaken before their singers?

No, he’s tucked down deep in that dormant grass,

All inch or so of this clamorous mite,

Ballooning his throat as he serenades

In the flamy stripes of black on cinder gray

You’ll spy in summer, when he’s seen not heard,

In his silent wanderlust of the forest floor.


Though now and then on heavy summer days

When thundershowers have puddled the woodlands,

You’ll hear the lonely-sounding pizzicato

Of a single inspired chorus frog.

Fresh water for a few more tadpoles here,

Is, I suppose, his rain-call’s appeal—

If he’s not just clearing his rusty pipes.

But as in April, betray your presence

With a careless step near his secret stage

And he’s quick to schedule an intermission

To the performance you weren’t invited to.

Spring, when his rivals cut off one call later,

You can feel the whole chorus listening

Clannishly for your decent departure.

(All we love to hear in the natural world

We overhear: no one is singing for us.)

And that is one peeve of the chorus frogs:

They simply won’t suffer an eavesdropper.



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