(A note to readers: Arthur and I would often tell stories to each other, or more commonly make up stories together. Most of the time these tales were absurd and silly and reflected the excessive amount of imagination and curiosity that he and I shared. Other times I used them as fatherly lessons in critical thinking and ethical behavior. So dear reader, take these tales as they are, hopefully they will give you a smile and make you think. Should they offend you in some way, that’s okay too; at least these tales are getting you to think a bit. Our exercises in imagination are one of the many things that I miss so much about my son Arthur.)
The Toads – Another Appalachian Animal Allegory
I was greeted by a loud toad voice, “HUMAN, YOU MUST TEACH US THE WAYS OF AMPHIBIOUS WARFARE! I KNOW YOU UNDERSTAND IT!”
“We’ve been through this before, Agamemnon, amphibious warfare has nothing to do with amphibians” I reply.
“YOU”LL WISH YOU COMPLIED WHEN THE MOLOTOVS FLY AND THE CLAWS TURN RED!” he bellows back.
“Toads these days!” I mutter under my breath, in a louder voice I say, “Agamemnon, where’s Bob”.
“NEVER YOU MIND VILE SCROFFULUS PRIMATE!” he replied, as I heard a thump as he fell off his log, followed with some muffled curses. Amazing how Agamemnon can speak in all capitals.
“I’m over here, don’t mind that silly Agamemnon, he’s been talking to the frogs again” said Bob.
“Hi Bob, how’re you guys doing? I know better than to take him seriously.” I say.
It was a warm day and I thought I’d take some live mealworms and go and see how my friend Bob and his pals were doing. Bob and his small colony of toads once lived close to a railroad. Over the years chemicals leached into the stream and small pools that the toads called home. These chemicals, especially the acid from illegally discarded batteries, did all sorts of unseemly things to the toads and caused many deaths, learning disabilities and physical problems. They thought it best to move somewhere else, fast.
I met my friend Bob while I was out in the middle of nowhere being thwarted in my efforts to photograph (as is quite common for me), a pileated woodpecker (those vile scrofulous avians). Bob and I talked for awhile and he told me the story of what had happened to the toads. I was appalled at the disdain and contempt that the railroad had for the wild place it was going through for so many years. Later I went and took a look for myself, large batteries have been tossed with no thought off of the rail right of way into streams and forest along with plenty of other waste.
As I said to Bob, humans often choose the easy way out instead of doing what’s right with absolutely no thought for the consequences of what they have done. I apologized and told Bob not all of us humans are like that, although it seems there really aren’t enough of us to make a big difference at this point. I asked Bob what the toads have done to ease their situation. He said that they had contacted the Toad Council and were given promises of support at first but now the council won’t talk to them. They tried to work through the toad union, Bufo Grub and Fly Eaters, (Local 136), but were told that Bob and his toads were not eligible for any benefits due to their infirmities preventing them from holding jobs.
So they moved into a secluded area in the deep woods with plenty of water and fallen trees (and a good supply of fat juicy grubs) and settled in. They take care of each other and help those of their numbers with physical disabilities but feel their own kind has pushed them into the margins and could care less about what happens to them. Sadly I told him, human tend to be much the same way. I told him that humans often push those that are different away and treat them poorly. That for some reason many humans think that a disability lessens the worth of a person, makes them less worthy of inclusion, or worst of all they think a disability lowers a persons intelligence and need for healthy social interaction.
I also told Bob that humans often do this to those that just think differently, or (heaven forbid!) actually think for themselves and go against popular opinion. Most humans don’t grasp the idea that every life has value and everyone has something to contribute, even if it’s just being a bad example (we have plenty of those). Bob and I understand each other well. I asked Bob what I could do to help and he asked if I could bring them some live meal-worms every now and then, the young ones think that they are a great treat, and should I come across a dead animal drag it close to their area, they need the flies.
So I stop by occasionally with a fresh tub of meal-worms, talk to Bob, Hector, Henry, Odysseus, and the others and we have a good time. The younger toads really get a kick out of silly cat videos on my phone, it’s a great thing to hear their laughter. I did manage to introduce Bob to Princess Yellowspot’s folk and they are negotiating a mutual aid treaty. (And yes, I do occasionally drag a carcass close to their area to up the local fly population.)
As I took my leave Agamemnon regained his perch and bellowed,
“CRY HAVOC AND LET FLY THE TOADS OF WAR! ARH! IF I ONLY HAD LASERS FOR EYES THE WORLD WOULD BE A MUCH DIFFERENT PLACE!
“See you later Agamemnon, take care of yourself “ I say.
“Thanks for the meal-worms, the kids do so enjoy them, I’ll see you next time!” he says. “Oh, watch out for the frogs they’re planning something unpleasant, I don’t know how serious they are, but just be careful my friend“.
“Thanks General, see you next time” I reply. (It always makes him happy when I use his title).
Agamemnon may be half mad, talk loud, fall off things, and spout nonsense but he is my friend and I’ll take care of him if I can.
A Note on Toad Names:
Toads pick their own first names, usually from literary sources, Homer is very popular as is Shakespeare, but other sources are used as well. A toads last name is always Toad, Bob tells me that in both toad languages, Common Toad and High Toad there are subtle differences in the last name Toad that have meanings in their society but are too nuanced to make much sense to us humans.
Toads can earn a middle name, if a toad performs some noteworthy deed or act of benefit for the betterment of all toadkind, they are given a middle name by popular acclaim. (As in General Agamemnon Genghis Toad, before his chemically induced mental difficulties Agamemnon was a hero in the battles of the Great Reptile Incursion of ‘92. Bob, by the way, is Bob Churchill Toad, he lead the Toad Council during the Incursion.)
The Underrated Toad
Many folk don’t care for toads very much, they have warts, are not cute and cuddly (as if any wild creature should be considered so), and eat bugs and things. To me toads are delightful fellows, they are supremely adapted for their environment, they have rough hewn good looks, and are mostly quite friendly, at least to me.
There are two toad species that are native to Maryland, the Eastern American toad (Anaxyrus americanus americanus) and the Fowler’s toad (Anaxyrus fowleri). True toads have thick, dry, warty skin and have enlarged, warty glands in the shoulder region called parotoid glands that produce an unpleasant tasting secretion to discourage predators. Unlike frogs, that are famous for their leaping ability, toads escape predators by short hops. Both species live in the same habitats with a slight bias in the Fowler’s toad for sandy soils. Both the Eastern American toad and Fowler’s toads can be found at any time of day but during warm wet nights they will hang around lighted buildings to eat insects. Breeding occurs anyplace that there is standing water, roadside ditches and swampy areas being most common, and the two species can hybridize.
Eastern American toads can be from 2 in. to up to 4 and 3/8 in. long. They are brown to brick red to olive in color and have various patterns in lighter spots with a stripe down the center of the back. They usually have a spotted belly and males tend to have a dark throat.
Fowler’s toads can be from 2 and a 1/2 in. to 5 in. long. They are yellow to brown to green with darker blotches on the back with no spots on the chest and throat.
On a More Serious Note:
The battery shown in the photograph is just one of many that can be found on the CXS Railroad right of way. The area in question (and is but a small sample) is about a mile and a half long between McCoy’s Ferry and Four Locks in Washington County MD. This right of way is sandwiched between the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historic Park on one side of the tracks and undeveloped National Park and private land on the other. The batteries and some other industrial waste were tossed off of the elevated rail bed with no thought for where they would end up or what harm could be done. This area drains into the Potomac River, from there to the Chesapeake Bay, thence into the Atlantic Ocean…
To be fair to the railroad it does not look as if this is a continuing practice, all of this waste looks to be older, but it is there. As I said above this is just a small sample, there are thousands of miles of railroad in this country, mostly going through wilder areas, how big of a problem could this be?
The natural world is a complex balance of forces, we humans (especially the “vile scrofulous primate” types) constantly rearrange this balance in both good and, unfortunately mostly, bad ways. If you care about our environment and nature you must ask yourself what can I do to make this better? You must also really, really think hard about the repercussions of what you choose to do, what may seem to be a good course of action may be detrimental in the long run.
When I think on such subjects I often go back to the writings of John Muir and Theodore Roosevelt, two men that were wiser than I shall ever be, and ask myself what would they think? How would they tell us to fix these problems?
And always remember the Toads are everywhere, and they are watching us…
Trent Carbaugh, March 2019