Discovering Mr. Christmas

For months, my mum thought an alarm in her house was malfunctioning. When I visited around Thanksgiving, I thought it was a bird outside until she adamantly pointed out that it came from within the house alarm. Still skeptical, I left, resumed life elsewhere and forgot.

Months later as I went about my own life and completely forgot about the issue, she called a technical specialist with 15 years of experience on alarms who checked it: all the wiring was fine, he even replaced the alarm with a newer model. After telling her it should be all set as he was about to leave the house, it started to chirp again, and stopped by the time he went back to check on it. He was baffled.

On Christmas eve, I noticed this time the sound came from beneath the alarm and realized it had to be a frog nestled amid plants near the alarm.

Best yet, it’s my favorite frog (a tiny frog! probably not much bigger than your big toenail) which you can find in most temperate climates: the Spring Peeper! (Pseudacris crucifer–the scientific name comes from the fact that a dark cross-like pattern can be seen on their backs. Coincidentally, my mother named him “Mr. Christmas” without knowing anything about its scientific name)

Its “peeping” call sounds very different indoors, instead of a sweet ascending “peep!”, it sounded more like a crisp, almost electronic chirp because it’s so loud. The crispness comes from the way the sound pierces your eardrums in the opening moments before the sound registers.

Gram for gram, it’s incredibly loud, I’d guess a ratio of 50 decibels of loud per gram of frog would be a fair description.

It sounds like something you’d hear from your smoke detector when it’s low on batteries–and it wakes you up at night even with the doors closed.

While I figured out the general area the frog was at last* night, today I finally found the frog this* evening because it started peeping once I practiced the violin—it had discerning taste, it only responded really well to the opening notes of the theme for the “Masterpiece Theater.”

[*I wrote most of this on Christmas close to midnight before going to sleep]

I ended the night by transferring an entire plant out of its pot and into the soil outside to release the spring peeper outdoors. You can still hear him occasionally outside. This time around however, we’re really excited every time we hear the frog outside. We’ve made the kind of connection you’d have from hosting a fond guest. For whatever reason, lost moments of sleep isn’t something we can readily associate with the little frog. Considering that it shared all these meals and nights with us at the house for a full season by surviving in a bunch potted plants, it’s exciting to know that the frog is currently calling outside–especially because we can pick it out from the others in the chorus.

I think that’s worth noting for more than just our friendly frog. It’s more than a thing, it’s Mr. Christmas, our frog. We’ve developed a relationship with a being that we know like a neighbor.

That moment highlights Aldo Leopold’s Land Ethic in action: seeing our human relationship to the land and its occupants as part of a community much in the same way we consider our own human neighbors.

While Christmas the holiday celebrates a religious figure, it’s fundamentally about celebrating life and our capacity to bring love to one another as fellows on earth. Despite the chaos and arguments that arose during the holidays within the family, I’m certainly grateful to have shared the experience with Mr. Christmas, the family Spring Peeper.

Quasi citations about decibel ratings for spring peepers and more information:
” At just 2.5 cm long and weighing in at only 3-5 grams, the “peep… peeper” calls of this tiny amphibian measure 110-120 decibels from 10-20 cm away”

I highly recommend finding out if there’s a Watershed Education/River stewardship organization near you–some (like my local Friends of the Rouge) train people to learn how to identify the local frog and toad calls, and you’ll be able to help scientists learn more about how wildlife responds to shifts in the season.

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