Toads at Dawn habitat American Toads trilling at dawn. 5:15am, 12 May 2016. Finger Lakes National Forest . © Lang Elliott. Please wear headphones. And on’t play to loudly … adjust the volume so that the toad trills fall soft on one’s ear.

American Toad photo © Lang ElliottCool weather over the last two weeks has put a damper on the breeding activities of American Toads. I’ve been hard-pressed to get a good recording of their trilling, or rather “dreaming” (see Thoreau quote below). But last week I finally had success when I came upon a small cluster of toads sounding off at the break of dawn against a pleasant backdrop of springtime bird songs.

Toad dreams are quite musical to the ear, at least when heard from a distance. My ear seems specially tuned to hear them … I often detect their trilling from a great distance, long before my companions notice it. It’s not that my hearing is more sensitive, but rather has to do with the tuning of my mind. Every spring I anticipate their calling. I listen carefully for it (though effortlessly), poised to catch even the weakest glimmer-of-a-trill, riding on the wave of a light breeze.

Henry David Thoreau was also well-tuned to hear the dream of the toads, as the following entry from his diary demonstrates:

Henry David ThoreauOctober 26, 1853

I well remember the time this year when I first heard the dream of the toads. I was laying out house-lots on Little River in Haverhill. We had had some raw, cold and wet weather. But this day was remarkably warm and pleasant, and I had thrown off my outside coat. I was going home to dinner, past a shallow pool, which was green with springing grass, and where a new house was about being erected, when it occurred to me that I heard the dream of the toad. It rang through and filled all the air, though I had not heard it once.

And I turned my companion’s attention to it, but he did not appear to perceive it as a new sound in the air. Loud and prevailing as it is, most men do not notice it at all. It is to them, perchance, a sort of simmering or seething of all nature. That afternoon the dream of the toads rang through the elms by Little River and affected the thoughts of men, though they were not conscious that they heard it.

How watchful we must be to keep the crystal well that we were made, clear!

I particularly love Thoreau’s reference to “the crystal well that we were made.” This is deeply meaningful to me. In today’s frantic world, our receptors (= our “crystal wells”) are so easily clouded by the noisiness of both our minds and our machines. I am always striving to keep my well as clear as possible, so that I remain able to hear the first toad trill of the season, as it floats softly across the natural landscape. “Listen … do you hear the dream of the toads?”

As always, I would love to hear your thoughts about this wonderful music of nature.

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