Tuesday, April 29, 2008

April Showers

After a long spate of unseasonable, gloriously sunny and hot weather, the hills are green again. Unfortunately so was everything else, as yellow-green pollen dusted our world and wafted though our open windows. There had been no rain to speak of this entire month,that is rapidly coming to a close.

The short lived vernal pools that provide an essential but “fleeting” nursery for wood frogs and salamanders were dangerously dry, after being deep in snow earlier in the season. The Spring peepers and their sneezing human neighbors collectively sent up prayers for just a bit of rain to ease the dryness and the allergies.

Our petitions were heard, as April showers have been falling for two days. I slept like a baby as rain pelted the roof all night long, a rhythm I easily fall into. Now the last of the winter’s wood is burning in the woodstove to lessen the wet chill in the air.
And yet, another passage occurs, as canary-yellow goldfinches and the first rose-breasted grosbeaks appear at the feeder and my winter flock of chickadees head back into the woods until the “tourists” leave.They have been such jolly company all winter long!

The woods are alive with frog song and trilling birds as the rain gently falls. I pray the local amphibians will have what they need for this breeding season. Their relations worldwide are in dire straits due to loss of habitat, pesticides, and the rapidly spreading fungus, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis,known as Bd for short.

Frogs are celebrated by cultures around the world as the "bringers of rain". Traditional shamanic societies in North and South America attributed the calling of the rains and control of the weather to frogs. As the rains fertilized the parched earth and cleansed muddy, stagnant waters, the attributes of abundance, fertility and healing were also given to Frog. Ritual objects made of frogs or in their shapes were used in traditional healing as well, especially illnesses brought about by emotional imbalances.

The wonderful metamorphosis that transforms the little tadpole into a handsome frog delights the child in all of us. And clearly displays the power of transformation that this totem animal is also graced with.

In Mexico, especially in the Guerrero region, metal masks in the shape of frogs were worn during ceremonial rain dances. The one depicted here from my collection, features a ruddy-cheeked spirit whose blue eyes also reflect an affinity to water. This wonderful mask of beaten copper was probably created in the early 20th C. It is charmingly painted with multi-colored spots that resemble those of the dapper leopard frogs that will be leaping through these boggy woods soon.

Long may they leap … all over the world…!

For more information on the art of Mexican mask-making, please see: Mexican Masks by Donald Cordry,University of Texas Press

For more information on vernal pools,please go to www.vernalpool.org

For more on the plight of amphibians see: Defenders (of Wildlife) Magazine, Spring 2008, “Slipping Away” by Sara Shipley Hiles.

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