Monday, June 21, 2010

Toad Hall


A Place for Everything,
and Everything in A Place

What I love about toads is the way they ignore me. They're useful bug-eaters, of course, and I appreciate that. But I love the way they go about their business as if--well, as if I didn't particularly matter to them.

My garden has a toad--a chubby, unflappable, cool cat of a toad--that has made itself at home in a potted mint plant. In my ongoing quest to encourage murder and mayhem in the garden (but only the good kind of murder and mayhem), I've tried to create a toad-friendly habitat. I've provided a "bug bath," a shallow dish filled with pebbles and water at ground level; and I've created toad houses from broken pots and cinder blocks, hoping that the shaded hollows would appeal to a cold-blooded creature during the heat of the day. And instead of these cool, private shelters, "Mr. Jackson" prefers the potted mint that sits in the sunshine on the patio. Every morning while I sip my tea, I watch him hop over from some other part of the garden and clamber awkwardly into the pot. I harvest the mint regularly; he blinks at me. I water it daily; he blinks at me. I occasionally whap him with the hose by accident; he blinks really quickly at me.

It's not even a pretty pot.

In its own mild way, the situation radiates a whole "the best laid plans" thing that I regard with wry amusement. (I'm reminded of how I originally designed my garden around Luther's habits. He always used one area as his privy, so I made a clear pathway to it and left it unplanted. He never went there again. That area is still an odd, empty space that nothing seems to fill properly.) In another way, it's eloquent of the best spirit of gift-giving--that a gift, once given, takes on a new life, new meanings, in the hands of the recipient.

The real gift in this case was water--as good as gold in a region that gets eight inches annual rainfall, and much more interesting to a toad in any case. The "bug bath" is what drew him and what encourages him to stay. One morning when I had forgotten to refill it, I found him looking at it (blinkingly) and watched him stretch out a foot to the basin and rest his chin on one of the dry pebbles. He stayed that way until I had filled the dish with water (he didn't bother to move), and after a good soak he went merrily about his business (which was to climb into the mint pot).

Of course, the water wasn't a real gift if I was hoping to get something out of giving it--a toad at my beck and call, ready to eat ants and flies on demand. I did get a toad, yes, but beck and call? Not noticeably. And I find his complete obliviousness to the choices I had pre-made for him so beautiful that it almost takes my breath away. The sense of interaction--of creative give-and-take with an alien species--fills me with delight, and that is far more wonderful than the smug satisfaction I would have felt had he moved into those concrete blocks. Above all, I can't help wondering now what he will do next, and what pleasure I might have in responding to his new choice.

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