mardi 20 octobre 2009

Chez Eugénie G. Toad

Home, Sweet Home

Eugénie Grandet Toad
found (again) 19 October 2009

"Mais tu ne peux pas le mettre dehors la nuit!" dit-il.

"Pourquoi pas? Il a passé toutes les nuits de sa vie dehors jusqu'au présent," répondit-elle.

"Mais il ne sait peut-être pas creuser son lit par nuit." But maybe he doesn't know how to burrow his bed at night. Lame. I don't think they follow a plan (just like our workers) or need to see much at all to dig a little hole into which to bury themselves. "Et," he added gamely, "il fait froid."

"Mais il s'est rechauffé et en tout cas, il a l'habitude." In the space of two hours, we had gone from "Mais tu ne vas pas garder ça dans la maison, non?" to "But you can't put it out at night!" It wasn't worth arguing. I didn't really want to stick him outside in the dark, either. Besides, another friend sent a link for making your own toad house and village. I wanted to do that.

"Bon, d'accord." He spent the whole time I set the table, made dinner and we ate nestled under my sweater on my chest.

"He's a living brooch! I've seen those. Usually they're tiny lizards, but, hey, you're a trend-setter," said my sister on Facebook.

He got pretty active towards the end of dinner and wanted to crawl over me. I went to find a cardboard box and stuck a cushion cover from IKEA I have never used in the bottom and set the cardboard protection from the printer that came in the box in one end. It would offer him a little space. I wet some paper towel and set that in, too, in case he needed some moisture. After the dishes, I took him upstairs and sat the box next to the bed. Audouin was already there, reading in bed, magnifying glasses perched on his nose. It gives him this old but pert look.

"C'est qu -- oh! Mais non! Tu ne vas pas le mettre dans notre chambre?" Mais, why not? "Mets le carton plus loin au moins. Si tu te lèves dans la nuit, tu vac marcher sur lui."

Like I'm stupid or something.

"Ici je peux voir facilement s'il va bien." He returned to his book. This is when you know you have indeed been married seven years. It's very nice. The disagreements end much sooner, before they become full-blown arguments. To the death. Almost. Or, as good as.

In the morning, I found the box next to my side of the bed, uncrushed. I had not gotten up and stepped on it during the night. Such a relief. I lifted the lid, took out the towel I had put over him in his corner, where he had climbed right onto the cardboard protection like it was a little toad apartment, and peered in. He was very still. I touched him. He was very cold. I looked closer. I didn't see much to indicate breathing. I picked him up, very carefully. His left eye slid back around to look at me. He was alive. I put him back in and went back to sleep for another hour.

There would be time enough to attend to his house and wait for the plumber after Sam and Audouin left.

But first, there was a more pressing question: is he a toad, or is he really a frog. And, if he is a toad, is he a he, or is he really a she?

This was actually too easy to determine. First, it is most definitely a toad, and the toadiest of toads, one of the ones that cannot be called a frog: being a Bufo of the family bufonidae, the "true toads". One look at the photo to the right (from Wikipedia), and there was no doubt about what I had rescued, a Fowler's Toad. The Bufo bufo, or the common frog, is very common in our part of Europe. So are Bufo fowleri.

The next part struck me as being a little more challenging. I mean, would I recognize toad testicles? How big are they? Do they stay up inside the toad and descend as required?

As it turns out, I had no need of testicles to make my identification. At I read:
One of the most frequently asked questions we get from visitors to is how to determine the sex of a toad or frog. I am going to give you a basic idea but I think it is important to understand that there can be many exceptions to this and that it's more of a generalization than a rule.

One of the easiest species to differentiate between male and female is bufo americanus (American toad). The rules here apply to other species like bufo fowleri and bufo woodhousei, as well (Fowler's and Woodhouse). However, some of this doesn't seem to help in differentiating between male and female Rococos (bufo paracnemis), so again, this is more of a generalization than a rule.

Bufo Americanus males have one of the most beautiful songs in all of nature. Their shrill call is easy to identify and can be heard only briefly each year during mating season. I would also like to point out that there has always appeared to be less [sic] males than females. Here on, we get many emails asking us if we can identify the sex and species of a particular toad and most often, it's a female regardless of what species it is. I don't know if anyone has factual data on this, but this has been my observation. Also, I might add that I can usually tell on first site if the toad is male or female without much investigation. I guess 27 years of experience makes it easy.

Italics mine.

Since I had found the toad, it was almost surely a female. I read on and looked at the toad. It was bumpier than smooth (female), it had an "even-colored", or light, throat as opposed to a dark throat (female), it was largely silent (female), it's arms appears more slender, like the one in the photo of a female (female), and it had no nuptial pads for hanging onto the female during mating (female). It was, therefore, not Trevor T. but Eugénie G., who will zoom about the countryside not in her Tin Lizzey (T. Get it?), but in her 2CV, the top rolled back and secured with rubber bands.

Another scene from our life in the provinces.

Avant Yard. In her post, Diane Rixon suggests a flower pot, half-buried in the soft dirt. She covered hers with smooth pebbles, like river stones, because she's "into a more naturalistic look, something I think might be more likely to attract wildlife, too." I gave it some consideration and decided not to drive to Truffaut for a bag of pebbles. Instead, I covered Eugénie G back up to protect her from Wisp's needle-sharp claws and headed out to find a flower pot and some stones.

For once, not throwing something away came in handy. There was the tin rimmed (the tin gets in here, after all) terra cotta pot from IKEA out of which the bottom fell, making it perfect, since the missing bottom makes the perfect escape hatch in the event of aggression. Now, for the stones. I looked around. There was a ton of chips of chaux and bits of brick and concrete, but these broke the sharpness rule for basic toad safety. I remembered the stone gravel in the courtyard next to the old school across the street that they are transforming into three apartments, where we parked one of our cars until the work started. Then, I remembered that there is some in front of the neighbors' house. I didn't need much, and he gets excited about the same kind of idiosyncratic (to put it nicely) projects I do. I headed over and scooped up some gravel in lovely ocher and grays, beige and reds and headed in to look for the super glue. The plumber arrived while I was painstakingly gluing small stones to the pot.

It's okay. He appreciates the same sort of projects. That's why he's our plumber still after 7 years. That, and we like him. He always stops and takes the time to appreciate the fish in the basin, offer advice and praise. I told him the story and showed Eugénie G to him.

"Il est dans le carton, le crapeau?" I nodded. He peered in and made the appropriate noises of appreciation for this perfect specimen of nature. I covered her back up, and we headed out to the furnace in the garage.

By the time I finished gluing stones, the bits of dry grass and bay laurel leaves to the pot, my fingertipss were coated in super glue. I was a little nervous about picking up Eugénie, in case I'd never be able to put her back down again. I could just hear Audouin, "Mais on ne va pas vivre avec un crapeau collé à ta main!"

Especially not once I failed to nourish it sufficiently and it -- . Never mind.

I heard Baccarat bark. I suspected she had gotten out of the garden when the plumber came, but I figured it would serve her right to have a good scare and think twice about flying out the next time. I detached my fingers from the pot, pushed my chair back and headed out to the gate. There was my neighbor, from whose little lot in front of their garden, I had filched some stone gravel.

"J'espère que ça ira mais j'ai trouvé Baccarat dans la rue et je l'ai mise dans le jardin. Elle a failli se faire écrasée par une voiture, en plus." I looked at Baccarat. She had gotten the fright, but I wasn't certain we could count on her to even realize it. Cars are not toys, Bacs. She had her baby in the carrier and her almost 5-year-old was gamboling up the railings along the street, at the school bus stop. We chatted. I remembered I hadn't covered the cardboard box again. I needed to cut her off shorter than usual. I explained the concept of the toad house I was making in 10 words or fewer and promised to tell her husband about them so he could make a toad village with their son in the spring.

Wisp was up on the ironing board, licking her paws.

I glanced over at the table. Nothing appeared to have been disturbed. Eugénie was in her corner, unsnacked upon. Besides, had Wisp tried that, she'd be howling from the poison Eugénie could unleash from her glands.

I picked up the stone-covered pot, went and got a spade and installed the house under the yew by the clematis and the Falstaff rose bush. It seemed fitting to move Eugénie Grandet in by Falstaff. Come spring, she will have the pink and white tulips, then the deep violet clematis and violet-red Falstaff English roses with the blue holly berries, followed by the flowers of the Hosta. Then, I went and fetched Eugénie. She flattened her cold belly to my hand and wrapped her fingers and toes around mine, the pad of my hand. I carried her out to her new home. She was not eager to quit me, but I insisted.

She is now contently burrowed into the damp soil and leaves of her toad house.

Next, a hibernaculum.


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