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A DREAM OF TOADS

We have had such a hard, hard winter – not piles and piles of snow, but cold and wet and drearily overcast skies, day after day.

Then, in April, it began to rain. And rain, and rain. My neighbor across the street sold her house as a tear down. It sat and sat, the City Inspector slapped fine after fine on the builder for leaving it standing  until he tore it down, leaving a steel fence, piles of dirt, and a foundation hole with a pool of rain at the bottom.

And now it is May. Every night before bed, I go stand on my lawn to look at the stars, hoping for perspective; if it is (still) overcast, I raise my eyes to the lowering clouds and hope anyway. Last night it was slate gray clouds and a  fine rain but, then, something else as well. A faint, almost undiscernible trilling at first, rising to a fine high melody from somewhere very close by, then fading into a silence more silent for having sounded. And then, again, the rising trill that heralds the thrilling hopefulness of importunate toads.

American Toad

In 1853 Henry David Thoreau, after some “raw, cold and wet weather,” was passing a shallow pool where a new house was being built when  a song “rang through and filled the air” that he recognized as “the dream of the toad.” It was a sound, he reflected, which “most people do not notice at all. It is to them, perchance, a sort of simmering or seething of all nature.” And that’s the problem: “How watchful we must be to keep the crystal well that we were made, clear— that it be not made turbid by our contact with the world, so that it will not reflect objects…Often we are so jarred by chagrins in dealing with the world, that we cannot reflect.” *

Sure enough, a couple of pages later he is lamenting how hard it is to be “serene in a country where both rulers and ruled are without principle. The remembrance of the baseness of politicians spoils my walks.”

I spent the whole winter fiercely composing articles on global warming, when I wasn’t rushing around from meeting to meeting advocating for water affordability bills in our Michigan Legislature and a carbon dividend bill in Congress.

I have been well and truly muddying my crystal well. But May is here, and it seems like a good idea to declare a “Unitarian Summer” for myself just as Thoreau and his friends might have done: I will shorten my to do lists, attend fewer meetings, and cut down on my frantic striving for social justice. Instead, I will get back to nature and take to my river cabin, where I will sit on my dock and do some serious staring at the ripples and even (strange thought for an activist) work as hard as I can at doing nothing.

*The Journal of Henry David Thoreau: 1837-1861 (New York Review of Books Classics)