Two weeks ago I spent several days in my childhood home in Maryland, visiting family and taking care of some planning for my upcoming wedding. Each night, after a busy day of visits and organization, I was greeted by the voices of hundreds of native treefrogs. The slow rising, alto creeeeeeeek of the upland chorus frog formed a polyphonic chant with the soprano chirrups of spring peepers. I did not see them on this trip, but recalled with joy being in my early years and finding the little creatures crawling on the sides of my parents house, loving that they were so small and yet had such a tremendous voice.
The return of the chorus frogs was always, for me, the first sign of the return of the warmer months. School would soon draw to a close, and a summer full of adventures would soon begin. So too would my personal new year be arriving, my August birthday arriving only a few months after the frog song began, and even when little the choir of ribbits got me thinking about what it would be like to be another year older, wondering about the year behind me, and the year to come. I would lay in bed, staring at the ceiling, listening to the rhythms of amphibian music, dreaming and pondering about new beginnings until eventually sleep took me.
This emphasis on Frog as a representative of new beginnings on the east coast of the United States once reflected fresh starts on another shore: that of the Nile delta. In Ancient Egypt, immediately following the annual flooding of the great river, thousands of frogs would seemingly “emerge” from the soil, as the sodden earth provided a greater expanse of habitat, and the various frog species began to mate and reproduce. Though my research has not yet lead me to which of the following endemic amphibian species to the Nile valley region (egyptian toad and mascarine ridged frog) most likely existed at that time, one or both contributed to the ancients’ understanding of the goddess Heqat: lady of rebirth, midwife to the gods, giver of life to the human bodies that potter Khnum created upon his wheel. When the frogs returned after the flood waters subsided, so too would crops begin to grow, new projects could begin as the silt was once again rich with nutrients and the sky rich with frogsong.
It cheers me that these various species on both sides of the globe remain listed as unthreatened, though the Egyptian frogs have declined substantially in the past 10 years due to overharvesting for university study. Hopefully something can be done to protect them, as the frogs serve not only as a symbol of renewal, a current cultural keystone within the Americas and a historic cultural keystone of the Nile delta, but also as a source of food for other predatory species seeking sustenance as they enter their own breeding seasons, a source of protection from imbalance as they keep insect populations in check.
The frogs are necessary to balance, necessary for new life. Their song must continue to be sung.