Their calls fill the night with a very high pitched peeping that rises loudly in the quiet. They sound a bit like a young chick only a LOT louder. They are tiny, about 1-1.5 inches but they make up for their small size by having powerful voices. These frogs live in the woodlands and wetlands that surround us. Aside from trilling the night away they also do most of their feeding by moonlight. They favor small insects like spiders, ants, beetles and such.
While working as an Environmental Educator and I had a group of ‘at risk’ youth visiting the camp for 4 days. One of the activities on our schedule was to do a short overnight backpacking adventure on the nearby Appalachian Trail. This would require sleeping outdoors! Needless to say, this was a HUGE step for the children that I was working with. All were from the inner city and for the majority of them, this was their first time IN THE WOODS, mind you that was what they said about the cabins!
Introducing kids to nature has been one of the most meaningful things I’ve ever worked at. We got everyone outfitted and began our trek. Aside from the expected complaining about having to carry the packs and why can’t we just take a bus to the top etc. it was a pretty uneventful hike. We arrived at our designated camping area and set to work putting up tents and organizing crews for food prep. There was some free time for swimming and exploring followed by group work. After the meal was served and cleaned up and the sun was creeping ever west, the kids were getting a little antsy. I found it unbelievable that they were troubled by the thought of sleeping “outside” but sure enough they were. (Mind you, I was in my 20’s at the time, so I was less informed about people in general).
Us counselors figured that getting them organized around the fire pit and focused on making a fire would be a good way to dispel fears. Right on! It worked… The kids huddled close to the fire even though it was only dusk. Heads snapped at each and every whoosh of wind, pop of fire, or rustle of brush. The bravado of bear killing tales began and machine guns figured heavily in the theme. Then an amazing thing happened. The Spring peepers began to set up a chorus. At first it was just a peep here and an answer there. The kids were curious, and we discussed all the ins and outs of the tiny frog. Some of them were grossed out thinking there were frogs all over the woods!
The chorus picked up and soon we were surrounded by a cacophony of trilling peepers. It was like Mother Nature’s Surround Sound! I was utterly delighted, and thought the kids would find it equally amazing. Trading sirens and neon for a frog lullaby seemed like a no brainer to me. Oh, was I ever so wrong. The kids started freaking out. And as kids do when uncomfortable in general or feeling scared, they cluster together, even in thought. Now we had a group of kids whining that it was too loud. It really was VERY loud, but too? Nahh. After what seemed like an endless litany of complaints about nature being ‘too noisy’ and ‘smelly’ and ‘nasty’ we decided we’d best send them to their sleeping bags. This lead to more complaints about not being able to sleep because the sound was ‘killing us’, the ground was ‘too hard’ and on and on. Kids are a funny bunch.
After everyone settled (mostly) I took the first watch. I relished in the ear splitting sound. It was perhaps the loudest chorus I’ve ever heard. I closed my eyes and melted into the sound. Then I heard a twig snap. It was one of the younger girls who had wanted to hike with me all day. She was quite a bit more shy than most of the others. When I got up and began to tell her she had to go back to her tent she replied, “I wanna listen.” Something in the froggy fray had touched her soul, and she needed to share it with someone, with me. She sat down very quietly pretty close to me and remained quiet for a long time. After what felt like the appropriate amount of time for her to have her fill, I decided I should escort her back to her tent. I started to get up. Then she said the most peculiar thing to me. “You fat.” I was fit not fat, so I just sort of shrugged it off as another of the strange things kids say.
I did not realize until a couple weeks later while relaying the story to another friend who also taught EE that during the most amazingly loud chorus of peepers I’d yet heard, the one peep that meant so much, I did not really hear. “You Phat” was a sincere compliment, offered to me in the night by a young girl far from home.