When the mistral wind from North Africa blows up into the south of France, the summers are hot and dry and cloudless. I forget the year, but I was around 9 or 10; the rest of the situation was unforgettable.

Things got so dry that some of the springs in the village dried up. That had not happened in my memory, but I was a kid. The farmers were worried because their sheep and cows needed water, but I was worried about something else: the tadpoles in the watering-trough. There was a community watering-trough at the edge of the village where the water table was lower, and the cows and sheep drank it dry; there was only a bit left at the bottom and it was a writhing mass of tadpoles dying against the drying stone.

I was horrified and ran to dad to ask for help. That was when he explained to me that sometimes things were inevitable and the tadpoles were probably already fatally injured from the partial dehydration. What was I going to do, scoop them out with my hands and carry them somewhere? I asked if I did that, whether he’d give me a ride in the car to the river (about 4 miles) and that’s how that went. I’m sure my dad was right, and they died, but we made the effort. As we drove back, he said, “You can never save them all. There are going to be other places, elsewhere.” Obviously, it was an unforgettable lesson. I had dreams about the tadpoles for weeks afterward.

As I write this, I’m dealing with some unexpected headaches. The water company called me and said “you’re 12,000 gallons above your normal consumption; maybe you need to get your pipe checked…?” Oh boy. I immediately thought that maybe one of the construction trucks had clobbered a standpipe or something like that. So I went out and walked the line across the fields and into the woods. I don’t see anyplace where 12,000 gallons of water might be hiding but the damn stuff goes down because the earth here is very good and soft. I’ve got calls in for help but I am not sure what to do and it’s still running. But that’s not what this story is about. This is about walking the pipe-run looking for signs of a fountain.

There are some natural springs in the woods, where the water oozes up and under the driveway and down eventually to Deer Creek. There was no sign of additional water upwelling (as if I’d know) or silt in the water. But I noticed:

Way to plant your genetic legacy Ms Toad. Then I realized that puddle isn’t going to last into next week. That’s melt-off from the snow and rain; it’ll be dry soon.

I’m sure dad would have come along if I’d asked him to, but he’s 86 and he’s 4 hours away. So I walked back to the house and got the truck and a scooper. Let the childhood trauma drive, we’ve been short on toads the last few years, so if I can boost the population I’m all in.

high end calphalon copper/stainless ride!

I can’t tell what they are, really. They might be salamanders or something else. I don’t really care. I know they’re going to probably hatch and eat eachother. I know that birds and bugs and bacteria will feast on them. Maybe one of them will survive. It doesn’t take much to try to help, even if the help isn’t going to work in the long run – the point is that it says more about my childhood traumas than about whether toads have some kind of right to live or not. I think tadpoles and salamanders are super cool and they eat mosquitoes (not many of those around here, actually) so they are welcome.

Welcome home.

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“Obviously it was an unforgettable lesson” – I remember when I read The Silence of the Lambs I flashed back to that moment, as I thought about how such lessons can inhabit our nightmares for a lifetime.


  1. lumipuna says

    Looks like common frog spawn, though presumably not the same species we have here. Our toads and salamanders also wouldn’t spawn in such puddles.

    Ironically, since frogs and toads are protected species here, merely transplanting their spawn from a drying puddle might constitute illegal harassment.

  2. says

    You are somewhat mistaken in the winds, as the mistral is usually a cold wind blowing down the Rhone valley
    I know because my mistral memory is only a few years old when we drove back from Spain. I can tell you, driving a car with caravan at an angle to the Rhone valley (we usually meet the Rhone in Lyon) is no fun. The next day my arms hurt because I needed to grip the steering wheel firmly all the time as sudden gusts could tear it right out of your hands if you weren’t careful. During the lunch break the kids refused to leave the car.
    I still hope your amphibians made it.

  3. says

    You are somewhat mistaken in the winds, as the mistral is usually a cold wind blowing down the Rhone valley

    You’re right. I believe it’s called a “Sirocco” – except I distinctly remember “mistral” is what the farmers in the south of France called it. Maybe they just used the term for any ill wind (as Americans seem to use “El nino”) [Edit: I have no idea how one would pronounce “Scirocco” in patois; perhaps the wrong word was employed as an alternative]

    Ironically, since frogs and toads are protected species here, merely transplanting their spawn from a drying puddle might constitute illegal harassment.

    Sometimes the law is an ass.

  4. says

    Here it’s the time of people collectively picking up toads and carrying them across the road.
    Seriously, we’re putting up low fences the toads can’t jump and then in the early morning people come and pick up the toads so they can hop off to their lakes and pools

  5. Jazzlet says

    If I remember correctly toads here lay strings of eggs and frogs lay clumps of eggs, I can’t remember what newts do, and I don’t think we have salamaders. I also seem to remember that some of both lay their eggs in seasonal pools, because there are no big fish to eat the tadpoles, it’s obviously a gamble that pays off enough years for the behaviour to be retained. Good luck little whatevers!

  6. Jazzlet says

    Oh disturbing spawn is also illegal here, though I don’t think it’s often enforced.

  7. kestrel says

    A great story and hooray for more toads/frogs/salamanders/whatever.

    Yeah, here, pretty much most of the ponds or even creeks run dry for at least part of the year so the eggs have to survive being dry for a while. Some creatures like the fairy shrimp actually have to have the egg (cyst in their case) dry out at least once (and possibly even freeze) before it will hatch when once again in a pond or puddle.

    I love it when there is finally rain because frogs suddenly appear and start creaking and chirping.

  8. Reginald Selkirk says

    You are somewhat mistaken in the winds, as the mistral is usually a cold wind blowing down the Rhone valley

    You are both wrong. They call the wind Mariah.

  9. says

    You are both wrong. They call the wind Mariah.

    I’m not sure if you’re making a joke I don’t get or trying to correct something that is absolutely correct as the Mistral is a cold wind blowing down the Rhone valley…

  10. voyager says

    I’m pretty sure that rescuing frogs (or toads or salamanders) is good for your karma.

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