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An Eye for Things that Hop

September 13, 2013 | Emily Donegan

The rainy season comes with some challenges

The rainy start to the season here certainly created some challenges on the farm -- muddy cows, sloppy pastures, hay getting overmature because we couldn't cut it. However, it did pose some benefits to amphibian-lovers such as my two boys, ages 2 and 3. The frog and toad populations around here are booming! Every time you walk by a mucky barnyard puddle on a sunny day, you hear the surprised squeaks and plops of the puddle's resident frogs.

We have a large pond on the farm which is full of frogs (and a few good snapping turtles, I'm sure), but for young kids, the puddles are really where the action happens. There are a few spots in the barnyard where ruts have formed from tractor tires. When a good rain comes, it fills the ruts and creates an amazing little pseudo-pond just the right size for an amateur frog-catcher. My son Patrick got his start in these puddles last summer, at 2 years old. (see photos). He could sit right down and concentrate on grabbing the frogs, and they couldn't really escape because the puddles are so small. They would duck down into the water and pop right back up a few inches away. He worked at this all last summer, and now, at 3 years old, he can catch one in each hand -- sometimes, simultaneously!

I feel fortunate to live here on an organic farm where frogs can thrive in water free of toxic runoff, and where birds and animals share the pastures with the cows. This summer, my kids have discovered nests, held baby birds, snuck up on deer, and spent afternoons wading in the river, catching minnows and crawfish. And I have learned more about amphibian metamorphosis this summer than I ever did in school -- observing the various tadpoles, salamanders, frogs, and mudpuppies that my boys (including my husband) seem to find wherever we go.

Perhaps what I appreciate even more is the patience and eye for detail that my kids have developed through their unscheduled hours spent outdoors on the farm. They have an incredible ability to notice subtleties in nature -- Look, something's wrong with the turtle's eye or Hey, the bark on this tree is different from the bark on that tree. I like to think that these skills will someday create adults who are sensitive, independent thinkers, and who know how to listen -- life skills, anyhow, that are becoming less and less common in our age of screens and cell phones.

Look what he's got! We were picking blueberries at a neighboring farm earlier this summer, when Patrick got bored and decided to look for frogs in the grass. He immediately caught a tiny little toad. A little girl watching nearby was bewildered. "How did he find that? It's so little!" she asked me. Patrick stroked his little toad with a finger and explained seriously, "I have an eye for things that hop."

How to catch a frog, an eye for details, and above all, a deep sense of gratitude: these are some of the life skills I hope my kids gain from their childhood on the farm.

(Note: No frogs were harmed in the making of this blog-post-- and we adhere to a strict policy of catch-and-release!)

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