In Greek, the prefix “amphi” means “both” or “double”. When combined with “bios,” you have the word amphibian. Amphibians, creatures that have both lives, starting life in the water but able to live away from water as they evolve and mature. A most miraculous metamorphosis.
I have been a tad obsessed with frogs, my backyard amphibian companions, since coming to live at Montpelier. They are the first heralds of warmer days to come — the spring peeper chorus resounding through the budding trees. As the days trend longer, and hotter, the green frogs, leopard frogs, and bullfrogs start to gather, or reappear, in the small goldfish pond behind our house.
These sightings are precious in a world where frog populations are on the decline. According to scientific studies, there are approximately 4,740 species of frogs around the entire world. There are currently around 90 species of frogs in the United States, but the trend is on a downward slide. Frogs, and their cousins toad and salamanders, have been winking out of existence, particularly in the last 30 years. I feel helpless in the face of this global extinction event - what can I do in my neck of the swamp?
And my “swamp” is a 4 feet by 4 feet cement hole in the ground that needs constant care. The frogs expect us to keep up the maintenance. They can be bold creatures, and driven by hunger, desire for a mate, or a mad spirit of adventure (who is to say) often traverse the back patio and disappear under bushes or bounce down steps for parts unknown. On one occasion when some 12 women came over for dinner on the patio, the frogs’ voices became so loud and insistent that the volume forced a retreat into the house. Frogs ruled for that brief moment.
So as we trend into summer at Montpelier, I have been thinking again about what we need to do in our part of the swamp. Two hundred years ago James Madison was worrying about the loss of forests and soil depletion. He was not yet worrying about loss of frogs, but I think he would understand my concerns that we do measure the quality of our life sometimes by the small and insistent voices. We should consider, as the chorus of froggie voices arises, that we have a dual responsibility to living our lives but also to ensuring the lives of those other beings surrounding us and dependent on our actions. We can learn from frogs — and we need to figure out how to keep them in our world.