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Wild Toads In May

Posted by on May 15, 2014
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Bob Ward

Fiction author with a zest for adventure travel. Blogs, tweets, videos, and pins for research and fun. He also hosts Ward's Adventure Travel Research & Trip Journal, a weekly podcast available on EFN, iTunes, Stitcher Radio, and more.

Hog Barn Trail 1400 x 1400

Wild Toads In May

A Present Moment Narrative from the book, “Hiking With Me,” by Bob Ward.

I’m going to hike with you now, and take you along on a journey of discovery into the woods behind Hog Barn Road. We’ll make our way to the end of this two-track stretch of rutted trail, right here, heading west, and go about a mile and a half, moving deliberately but peacefully, and then we’ll hook around a giant hickory that marks the far side of the trail where the woods open up to a clearing, and then we’ll come back. It shouldn’t take but fifteen minutes or so to cover all three miles, given the magic ability of written words. I’ll be clear and concise for the sake of your experience. Most importantly, for you, I want you to try to connect your mind with mine across the unknowable span of time and distance that separates us, quite unfortunately (although perhaps fortunately, for reasons we might otherwise discover), and if you struggle at all in connecting, blame me. Certainly, it’s my task, not yours, to facilitate the art of telepathy.

How am I doing?

Ah, okay. Let’s go now. We have our objective.

First, though–I almost forgot–if you could be so kind as to grab my hiking staff and hand it to me. It’s right there in the bed of my truck. As you grab that, I’ll shoulder my day pack. No, not the collapsible aluminum pole, the wooden staff. The hickory. Yep. That one. Thanks. I have it now. (See how the magic works? Your synapses fired, and the transfer happened.) Be my guest and take the trekking pole for yourself, if you wish. You’ll have to adjust its length to the height you prefer. My staff is 54 inches tall, but my hand grabs it at 44 inches. See, I slip my wrist through the leather loop here, like this. Your loop is nylon, but it works the same, to the same purpose. The heel of the hand presses downward into the loop, adding support and keeping your hand from slipping as you hike. You’ll notice less hand fatigue, too, because your grip can stay looser.

All set? Well, take your time. To hurry defeats the purpose.

I prefer this wooden staff, although I know it’s heavier. I like its sturdy feel. Because it’s hickory, it’s hard, and when I thump down the rubber foot to mother earth, the vibration and hum return through my body with a fuller tone. Its greater heft gives me greater confidence, too, especially since I’m a hiker who likes to lean. You might prefer that lighter one. To each his own. Just don’t lean too heavily on it when we stop for breaks. Please. It might snap. And if you’d rather switch to a staff like mine, to feel the difference, blink three times and make it so. (Magic works that way.) You can test both styles along the trail, and hike with the one you prefer.

Ready?

Okay, we’re off. Westward, ho.

Should I have shouted? Used an exclamation point? I think not. Not here. Not entering the sanctity of these woods. Look how this two-track enters the canopy.  This is nature’s house. This openness you feel out here, this breeze, this vast blue sky holding puffy white clouds…say goodbye to this. In ten more steps, the green world of these woods will swallow us. And you don’t shout exclamations near or within the woods without good cause. In the woods, you speak at respectful volumes. The woods is a place of harmony. It’s a place where the five human senses can bask in total wonderment. But you have to tune in. You have to concentrate on being aware. Loud talking gets in the way.

Five, four, three, two, one.

Stay beside me, friend. No more talking for a while. From this point, I’m sending my observations to you via telepathy alone. My mouth is closed. I’m breathing through my nose. Deep breaths, smelling the forest’s leafy fragrance, the dirt and the grass along the edges of this two-track, tree bark like the smell of a wood pile.

Hello? Listen to me. Can you hear me in your mind? I’m going to tell you something as we hike along, up this rutted rise under the canopy of ancient oaks and elms and hickories, past never-ending multiflora rose bushes that reach to grab with thorny barbs (and if they snag your shirt–which is their secret, mischievous desire–they’ll turn to their cousin once we’ve past and say, “Ha, did you see me snag that tramp?”), over these fallen limbs across the trail, lifting boots high, then stepping back down, raking brown leaves with toes as we go, and thumping staff rhythmically to the hard-packed dirt of the trail beneath…

I’m going to tell you a few secrets. I’m going to hand them to you, one at a time, while you’re seeing the earth-tone colors of these woods in May, hearing the birds overhead (the twittering and tweeting unlike any in the digital world), hearing the pounding of our boots in stride, thumping, the huffing now of breath, and more. Stay beside me on this two-track. Keep up.

There is a deer. See it ahead? Stop. Don’t talk. Simply hear my thoughts. She’s crossing the trail fast because she’s frightened of our coming. She will not be alone. Watch. See? There is a fawn. Also running. A speckled fawn in the springtime. Just a babe in the woods. Wonderful, too, on shaky legs. A light golden brown color, speckled with dots and coins of white all over. And now two more does, dashing and crashing as well, across the trail ahead, from undergrowth to undergrowth.  That’s the noise that belongs here, as they all run. They run because of us. To flee danger. To keep a safe distance from strange things they see.

If they only knew.

Now they’re gone. Hear the birds again? They had quieted as well. But had you noticed? They seem louder now after the commotion. That always happens, friend. I promise you.

Let’s move on. At the top of this rise is another surprise.

Huff with me, but stay reasonably quiet around this bend and up.

Three, two, one.

Now look.

Where are we?

It’s opened up to a clearing, hasn’t it? I told you about this place, some several minutes ago, as we stood beside my truck. This here, this massive and anciently old hickory tree, is the one we had our minds set on reaching. And we have. We’ve reached it now, so quickly, via my powers of telepathy and telekinesis. I’ve moved us, mind and body both, ahead to the looping point. Yet don’t–please, please don’t–feel cheated by my shortening. I wanted you to see this clearing, this tree, which is our halfway point, and feel a bit of warmth for a spell from the sun that smiles down upon this tall blowing grass in the clearing, and onto us now, too, our faces, as we hike around the left flank of the hickory into the daylight, if we tip our chins to the blue sky with drifting fluffball clouds, so perfect a day and contrasting completely from the green world behind us, the world we’ve just emerged from, only briefly, though, to the blue and white and brightly lit world here and now. This present moment, we are in the sun. I’m telling you it’s warm, but you are the one who needs to feel it. The sun soaking into your cheeks and your forehead. Your whole body warming just a few degrees before we head back in. There’s more to see.

Which way do we hook around the tree? To the left, or to the right? You can choose, but come on. I’ve already started leaving you behind. Speed up. Double time it. Close the distance.

There.

Now let’s hike side by side like this, stepping briskly, again under the green leaves blowing and the birds chirping curiously at times, as we come, chirping between the gusty pauses of the wind in the highest trees, until the trail curves around that fat, rough-barked oak right there, which has always been one of my favorite trees because of where it grows, guarding the bend. This oak, the one we’re approaching, has a neat way of hiding the secrets around the corner.

I have to show you this, if nothing else. Let’s get there. On my count. Okay?

Three, two, one.

Look down.

This rut in the trail has always been so large that it fills up with rainwater and hardly ever dries completely. Its brownish, mucky water, sure, but what’s this on the hard-packed crust around the edges? What manner of creature has made these prints both coming and going to drink this water? Here are deer prints. That’s no surprise. And look at these raccoon prints. Five longish toes on a padded foot that looks surprisingly similar in form to mine. More similar to a human print than a dog’s or a cat’s, for sure. These here are wild turkey prints. Just like a chicken’s. Three forward talons and a small nub on the back, and the prints sunk deep in the mud that has crusted over. It seems to me that the raccoon was here most recently, perhaps last night. The raccoon prints are the freshest in the edges of the mud. All these other tracks are in various stages of drying. In these woods, there are plenty of water slogs like this one where animals can suck or lap a drink.

Discovering prints, though, pales in comparison to what I saw here yesterday. Unfortunately, I don’t see it now. And I had counted on seeing it. It’s what I’ve been planning to show you all along.

Shall we stay here and think a while?

Shall we hike on back without the satisfaction?

I want to be patient. I want to be unhurried, even though my mind has grown tired. Noticeably tired of our brief yet sustained telepathy.

Let’s breathe. Let’s inhale the spirit of the woods. Smell the earthy, woody smell. Smell the foliage and the air sifting through the tree tops and falling around us. Inspiration. Hear the wind. Hear birds up there. See them. The breath is everything. You know that as well as I.

This connection is getting fuzzy, isn’t it? The waves are strange. The signal muddled.

I can feel your mind is strong. That’s good. You are smarter than I am. You are taking the reins now somewhat, aren’t you? Your powers of telepathy have grown, my friend. Are you aware of that?

I am sensing your thoughts. And I will oblige. You do not want to hike on back without the satisfaction.

Fine. So I am blinking my eyes three times. There. I’ve done it.

Now you do it.

The magic works like this…

Look down at the trail now. Look down at the rut full of mucky brown water.

In the water now, four large toads sit humped with their dark green backs exposed to the woodland air. The rest of their bodies are under the water. Their feet are planted in the silty, slippery mud that we can’t see. The water is cool and brown, the way toads like water to be. I’ll take my walking staff and nudge one of the toads. You do the same. Choose one of the toads and nudge its bony, warty green side. Take care not to hurt it. It will hop lazily sideways as your poker touches it, but it is too heavy to jump out. See? They are very fat toads. They are, in fact, bigger than the ones I saw here yesterday.  Have you ever picked up a toad? I highly recommend you do it sometime, if you’ve never done it before. They feel like a bony mass of bumpy, rubbery flesh, fairly solid, but with gooey sides and bellies. Their legs kick and their heads butt back against your closed grip, and they keep wiggling forward to drag themselves free of your collared thumb and forefinger. You have to hold them pretty tight or else they’ll get away.

But stop. You can’t pick up these particular toads. Not today. Not here with me. 

Look closer at the humped backs of these toads.

Closer.

Zoom in on the eyes. Beady black eyes with lids closing, opening.

There are two eyes in their proper place. Well and good. But there is another set of eyes on the back of each toad, and that makes four eyes per toad, which isn’t right.

Look closer at their backs. Do you see now that each toad is carrying another toad? You should. I’ve told you so. What’s happening here, at this little party cove in the woods behind Hog Barn Road, is wild toad copulation. Until yesterday, I’d never seen toads doing nature’s business. Perhaps, you’ve never seen it until now.

But now you ARE seeing it. You see the toads stacked two up and holding tight for dear life, holding tight enough that my hiking staff cannot separate them with a gentle nudge. Nor can yours, if you tried to nudged them again. Go ahead. See? And this time, isn’t it clear that they seem quite annoyed by your pestering and prodding wiggle stick? If toads could speak, they’d tell us to go away. The mounted males on top of their claims might even croak the profanity of toads. Poke them again, still gently though, and look at their eyes when you do. The males seem really grumpy for that, don’t they? And the females…well, they just seem kind of nervous, kind of confused.  This one female here, this one on the right, I’d say she looks rather grumpy, too.

It’s probably best that we leave them alone.

I’ve actually began hiking again, on back toward the truck, eastward.

Come with me. Or stay. It’s up to you. The toads are neat, I know. But I’m tuckered now of trail thoughts–the telepathy and magic mainly. So if we hike on back together–if you decide to come–try projecting your thoughts at me, across distance and time, or simply across the two-track’s untrod middle, where I am, hiking stalwartly, and think for us both awhile–about wild toads in May, or about the pleasant sounds and smells and sights of the woods, or about the breeze filtering through the undergrowth, or about whatever fantastic observations you come to as we go.

Will you try it?

I’m here now, hiking … hiking and waiting to receive.

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2 Responses to Wild Toads In May

  1. Dorothy Ward

    Bobby that was a wonderful experience! I feel refreshed, exhilarated, and very awe struck at your talent! I was so moved by your ability to transport the reader to the clearing beyond the oak tree that I began to tear up so bad it made it difficult for me to read! I am immensely proud of you and all that you have accomplished and I thank God that I had the priviledge of birthing and nurturing you during your childhood! I pray God blesses you with a long healthy and prosperous life because you have so much talent to share with the world!

    • Bob Ward

      Thanks, Mom! I’ll never forget your positive comments and encouragements!

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