Rain is an event here in Austin. We tweet about it, talk about it, marvel at it, and sometimes dance in it. At times, we get more than we need, as happened during the terrible Memorial Day weekend floods earlier this year. But more often than not, we go so long without rain that its presence is cause for celebration.
And it’s not just the humans that celebrate.
One of my favorite things about the rain is how it brings the frogs back. On nights after the city has been washed clean by thundershowers, my husband and I take the dog out for a walk at dusk and play the game of who-will-spot-the-frog-first? It’s not always easy, in the dark, to distinguish between frog and leaf. You can’t tell for sure until it hops.
Things get really exciting when our lab-mix sees one before we do. Then the frog is hopping and the dog is hopping and we’re tugging at the leash saying, “No, Uno! No!” and laughing all at once. Luckily, there have yet to be any casualties in this game.
[If you’re thinking, Isn’t this supposed to be a poetry post?, scroll down. The poem is at the end.]
The most amazing thing to me is how many frogs suddenly appear. (After this week’s rain, we ran into seven on one walk.) It’s hard to imagine that they’re here, all the time, burrowed down into the ground, waiting out the summer heat. It reminds me of one of my favorite parts of Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli:
In the Sonoran Desert there are ponds. You could be standing in the middle of one and not know it, because the ponds are usually dry. Nor would you know that inches below your feet, frogs are sleeping, their heartbeats down to once or twice per minute. They lie dormant and waiting, these mud frogs, for without water their lives are incomplete, they are not fully themselves. For many months they sleep like this within the earth. And then the rain comes. And a hundred pairs of eyes pop out of the mud, and at night a hundred voices call across the moonlit water.
It was wonderful to see, wonderful to be in the middle of: we mud frogs awakening all around… It was a rebellion she led, a rebellion for rather than against. For ourselves. For the dormant mud frogs we had been for so long.
I love that book.
The frogs (or toads—I’m still a little unclear about the difference, but these critters are probably actually toads) aren’t the only creatures who celebrate the rain. I spend morning walks after stormy nights helping displaced earthworms out of the street and back into the grass. (Some are more grateful than others.) And anytime the sidewalks are wet, we have to watch our steps so as not to squish the snails sliming their way along the concrete.
Where I live now, we mostly have the small snails with the long spiral shells, rather than the big round ones that lived at my previous home. I miss those snails. There’s only one house in my current neighborhood that has them, and no one has lived there for years. (Except the snails.) I miss those snails so much that one night last March, after a rain, I decided to carry two of them home with me.
Here’s an email I sent to my family about the encounter: (My family members email each other about strange things.)
Tonight I decided to kidnap a couple of big snails from the empty house down the street and bring them home. I don’t know if they’re good for the yard or bad for the yard or if my yard has what they like to eat or not, but they’re pretty and I like them so I decided to grab a couple. I’ve picked up snails before. What happens is, they immediately hide inside their shells. Then you put them down again and they come back out. No problem. So I picked up a giant snail in each hand– for some reason I had a glove on my left hand and no glove on my right– and they dutifully tucked themselves inside their shells and we continued our walk.
BUT… (you knew there was a but)… after a few steps, they came back out! They were completely unbothered by the fact that I was snail-napping them and they came FAR out of their shells (more than an inch– these were big guys) and started trying to slime around on me! AAA! I spent the rest of the walk squealing and slowly twirling the snail in my bare right fingers to keep it from getting a grasp on my skin and slithering up my hand. I ignored the one in my left hand, and he happily oozed himself onto my gloved thumb and sucked on it until I dislodged them both (gently) in our flower bed. The whole thing was sort of disturbing.
Anyway, the great snail saga reminded me of a horror story by Patricia Highsmith about giant man-eating snails called “Quest for the Blank Claveringi” which you should all read at some point. The end. Goodnight.
Well, I never said it was as good as Jerry Spinelli.
One of the snails, at least, survived the great migration. We see it now and then happily sliming its way along the fence.
To me, post-rain evenings are filled with poetry. Everything’s fresh and clean and good-smelling. Life wakes up. Creatures stir. Even the sunsets are better. I’ve got several poem drafts in the making that were inspired by damp earth and wet sidewalks and colorful, cloud-scattered skies. But since those aren’t ready yet, I’ll end by sharing one that I wrote a few years ago, just after I moved into this house. It’s about the snails.
This poem was originally published in di-verse-city in 2011 and then reprinted in A Texas Garden of Verses in 2013. I hope you enjoy it.
Something I’ll Miss About My House on Ramsey
in their smooth spiral shells
the size of hazelnuts
that came out
after it rained
inching their way up
the glass door
sliding across the porch steps
leaving shiny trails
on the sidewalk
and the way I tippy-toed
to the garbage can
trying to avoid
© Carie Juettner, 2010.