Besieged by a (very small) plague of (very cute) toads

Girls Riding Small Frog 5 29 2016 049

There are many advantages to spring in the South, but for wildlife lovers few things beat getting out and spending time in the woods, swamps and countryside this time of year.

During the latest three-day weekend I was able to capture or catch a view of a multitude of critters – including largemouth bass, bream, box turtles, yellow-bellied sliders, cowbirds, painted buntings, egrets, blue herons, black racers, damsel flies, dragonflies, tadpoles, leopard frogs, river rats, blue crabs, fiddler crabs and hermit crabs.

In addition, I came across a hive of bees holed up in an abandoned building, a four-foot copperhead and six-foot alligator, all of which I chose to leave undisturbed.

Those that I caught – the bass, box turtles and fiddler crabs – were all freed.

But perhaps the most interesting beast I came across this weekend was the one shown at the top of this post. Near as I can tell, it’s a very young Fowler’s toad. I found it when I opened my garage Sunday morning. And there wasn’t just one of the little amphibians, but a whole slew of them hopping about.

Pharaoh besieged by plague of frogs. Note: Believed to a depiction, not a real image of the biblical plague.

Pharaoh, apparently a deep sleeper, besieged by plague of frogs. Note: Believed to be a dramatization.

I was initially reminded of the Plagues of Egypt, one of which featured the land of Pharaoh being overwhelmed with frogs, except my driveway featured perhaps a dozen of the tiny beasts and even had there been, say, millions, they were so small the only way they could have overwhelmed anyone would have been with their cuteness.

The one in the photo was desperately intent on making his way into my garage.

Recognizing that it would likely either end up under the wheel of a car or dying of heat prostration once I closed the door, I spent the better part of thirty seconds trying to convince it to head back to whence it came. It would have none of it.

Recognizing that the diminutive toad was either very bold or very stupid, I gently scooped it up and placed him on some nearby grass.

As I did so I noticed several other small toads hopping toward me. I quickly shut the garage, hopped in my car, which was parked in the driveway, and drove off. I had no desire for anyone else to take note of my newfound talent as the Pied Piper of tiny toads.


Jesus: Apostles needed; Goliath need not apply

the last supper

I’ve occasionally pondered a blog dedicated solely to the religious adventures of Daughter No. 3. For one, there’s definitely no lack of material. She’s the one who most recently expressed interest in looking into the church role of “crucifier” (rather than “crucifer,” the individual who carries the processional cross into and out of church at the beginning and end of mass).

But as much as I chortle at some of her misguided answers to basic Christian history, I often find even better her attempts to explain her lack of knowledge.

Last week, for some reason (perhaps simply because I decided it was time for a little levity), I asked Daughter No. 3 what term was used to refer to the men closest to Jesus.

“UH, UH, UH, I KNOW THIS! I KNOW THIS! – The Twelve Disciples!” she shouted, proud as a peacock.

“No, not quite,” I replied. “You got the number right, but you missed on the title.”

“What?!? 12 Disciples! It’s disciples, I know it’s disciples!”

“No, I’m sorry, it’s not,” I stated. Then, looking at her siblings, I asked, “Anyone else?”

In unison I heard, “The Twelve Apostles!”

Daughter No. 3 was less than impressed. “Disciples, apostles, what’s the difference?”

After explaining that any follower can be considered a disciple, but the 12 specific individuals who were Jesus’ closest followers were his apostles, she seemed less than convinced.

So I followed up with, “All right, how many of the Twelve Apostles can you name?”

This, of course, is where the fun began; Daughter No. 3 began racking her brain for biblical names.

“David … Jonah … Adam … Abraham; how about those?” she asks.

“Well, you seem to be on a decidedly Old Testament bent, sweetheart,” I told her. “Think New Testament.”

She paused, then blurted out, “Matthew, Mark, Luke and John!”

“I’ll give you credit for two,” I replied, figuring that then was not the time for a discourse on who the actual authors of the books of Matthew or John might have been, or that the authors of Mark and Luke are not known. “That means you’ve got four more to go to get to 12.”

She paused, then reverted back to the Old Testament: Daniel? … Noah? … Moses? …. Did I already say David?”

“Yes. You need one more.”

“Uh, Joseph,” she said.

“Which Joseph,” I asked. “There are several in the bible.

Goliath, who didn't make Daughter No. 3's list as one of the Twelve Apostles.

Goliath, center left, who didn’t make Daughter No. 3’s list as one of the Twelve Apostles.

She stared blankly back at me in the rearview mirror. I tossed out a name: “How about Joseph, Jesus’ father?”

“Yeah, that’s a good one.”

I looked at her incredulously. “If your brother was, heaven help us, a religious figure of some stature, do you think he would want me as one of his apostles?”

That brought a round of laughs.

Still, she wasn’t budging from Joseph, the father of Jesus.

“Congratulations,” I said in my best game show host’s voice. “You just named two out of 12 of the apostles. And to think you completed a two-year confirmation course just two weeks ago.”

“They didn’t teach us anything,” she blurted out in semi-disgust.

“Oh, I have a feeling they taught you plenty, you just weren’t learning,” I told her.

With that, I got a wave of the hand and a laugh. She knows that since I teach in the same faith formation program, I have at least a slight idea what was going on in her class.

I did give her credit, though. For once she didn’t go to her safety answer for all bible questions. Typically, the first name blurted out, no matter what the question, is “Goliath.”

Progress is coming in very, very small baby steps, but it is progress nonetheless.

(Top: Leonardo’s Last Supper, showing Jesus and the Twelve Apostles.)

Beware the inebriates of St. Patrick’s Day


Per usual, I’m a day late and many dollars short, but perhaps I can make a bit of lemonade out of this by looking forward and replacing “Ides of March” with “Saint Patrick’s Day.”

Something along the lines of, “It’s not just about befouling one’s body with alcohol to the point of near-death intoxication, to a degree that one’s liver is ready to test the free agent market in hopes of finding a more responsible being – perhaps a hobo, a depressed former Soviet Gulag guard or an abused Mongolian yak – it’s about befouling one’s body with alcohol to the point near-death intoxication in groups.

Of course, I wised up after a generation of such foolishness and no longer inflict such near-death experiences upon myself. But I hear I had a great time.

Good Samaritan hopes for best in deer-car incident

get well

As I sputtered toward the local metropolis Sunday afternoon, I spotted an animal carcass on the side of the road. Nothing unusual there, but tied to the foreleg of the white-tailed deer was a silvery foil balloon festooned with the words “Get Well Soon,” not unlike that pictured above.

Once I comprehended the words on the balloon I started laughing raucously, and asked my daughters if they’d caught a glimpse of the decidedly optimistic note attached to the lifeless ruminant.

Daughter No. 4, blessed with her father’s cynical sense of humor, immediately found the above image on the Internet, and soon we were all laughing.

The Internet also offered up: a roadside memorial to a dead raccoon in Toronto, a dead armadillo and various other deceased deer adorned with get-well balloons and, in a completely serious story, a 2013 memorial that was held in Portland, Ore., for 50,000 bumblebees, honeybees and ladybug, said to have been killed by pesticides.

One supposes the last item would be funnier if not for the fact that more people showed up to honor the “slain insects” than often appear at the funerals of those who die with few family or friends.

Update: I spotted said white-tailed deer on the way into work this morning. It’s condition could best be described as “stable.”

Daughter No. 3 exhibits extreme fluidity on church roles

hammer nail

Daughter No. 3 – the one who is so adept at (unintentionally) leaving her sisters and I in stitches by recounting such Old Testament narratives as Jonah’s Ark, how Adam and Eve were cast out of Eden for “eating the Poisonous Peach” and Moses’ adventures leading the Hebrews out of Egypt and through the Wilderness while garbed in a “flowing red bathrobe” – has shown an interest in participating in church services.

This not only surprised me but made me swell a bit with pride. Maybe I’m doing something right.

So after a recent mass she approached the parish priest and inquired about if she could assist with mass.

I later asked how it went: “So, are you going to be an altar server?”

“No, not an altar server, but something else,” she replied. “I’m not sure what it’s called exactly. Does ‘crucifier’ sound right?”

I couldn’t help but immediately burst into laughter.

Crucifer leading procession into church. 'Crucifier' not pictured.

Crucifer leading procession into church. ‘Crucifier’ not pictured.

“No,” I said after a good 20 seconds of cackling, “that doesn’t sound quite right, Sweetheart. The Church really isn’t into crucifying anyone, especially considering what happened, oh, about 2,000 years ago. ‘Crucifier’ sounds more like a rock band or the name of an enforcer. You could be Caroline the Crucifier.”

“Well,” she replied, waving off my remark, “it’s something like that. Whatever it’s called, they want me to carry the cross into church at the start of mass because I’m tall.”

The word she was searching for was “crucifer” so she really wasn’t too far off. A crucifer carries the processional cross into church at the beginning of mass and out at the end.

Of course, I said I was proud of her for showing an interest in participating, but only Daughter No. 3 would come up with “crucifier” as a potential church duty.

Never a dull moment with my brood.

Osteen vs. Luther: in a theological debate, go with the dead guy

osteen luther

There’s no doubting televangelist Joel Osteen’s appeal to millions of Christians. The senior pastor of the largest Protestant church in the US, Osteen’s televised sermons are seen by more than 20 million viewers monthly in more than 100 countries, and he has written five New York Times bestselling books.

The Texas-based preacher has been lauded for touting God’s love for humanity, efforts to inspire others to overcome personal setbacks and emphasis on the need for mission and purpose in life.

Similarly, Osteen has been criticized for his simplistic black-and-white thinking, being a theological lightweight and applying Scripture out of context.

While I generally keep my distance from televangelists and megachurches, I will also readily admit to not being able to see into the hearts of others.

I can’t determine, in this case, whether Osteen is a well-intentioned individual who is doing his best, and has very likely provided solace to a significant number of people, or if he is part preacher, part carnival barker who has used his ability in the pulpit to enrich himself.

That said, there are many theologically savvy types who have had a field day picking apart Osteen’s teachings. Among them is the individual who created this imaginary back and forth between Osteen and 16th century Protestant reformer and noted killjoy Martin Luther.

While the twitter conversation is, of course, imagined, both Osteen’s and Luther’s quotes are taken from the respective religious figures’ various sayings and/or writings.

Luther, not remembered as a light and fluffy sort, would probably have had Osteen burned at the stake after sitting through just a few minutes of one of the latter’s feel-good services.

osteen luther 2

The mystery behind fledglings lighting up on the down low

birds smoking

While there’s no doubt that the US government has been known to squander money that would seem better used elsewhere – see the $856,000 National Science Foundation grant allotted to the University of California at Santa Cruz to, among other things, teach mountain lions how to use a treadmill, for example – there are some pie-in-the-sky projects that I would love to see funded.

Take the above image. If government officials needed money to create a device that could translate bird-speak so that it was intelligible to humans, then required additional cash to develop a way-back machine in order to go to the above point in the past, so that they could interpret what our two feathered juvenile delinquents were saying to one another, that is a project with which I would have absolutely no issue.

Are they discussing where to steal birdseed? What’s the best place to perch their rear ends and “roost?” Where the “easy” chickadees hang out? We just don’t know, and that, at least in my opinion, is one of modern science’s great failings.

Just think, if this pair were a little bigger and had opposable thumbs, they’d probably be ruling the planet by now.

And don’t tell me this image was photoshopped. I for one am prepared to hail our new avian overlords.

(Required disclaimer: I in no way condone underage smoking among fish, fowl or other beasts of the wild, and hope these two fledglings got a sound thrashing when they returned to their nest.)