March 01, 2012

A traveller

Coming home in the dark just now, at half past six, I spotted a frog on the pavement outside our house. It was too dim to see his colouring, but his skin was smooth and he had the alert, upright posture and wedge-shaped head that told me straight away that he wasn't a toad. I nearly missed him, so much did he look like a leaf; only years spent studying frogs and toads as a child readied my eye to pick his shape out in the dark, as a birdwatcher spots the 'jizz' of a familiar species although it may be winging its way past him at some distance, or obscured by trees.

A couple of minutes before coming across the frog I had passed a neighbour who has five British bulldogs. He was taking them all out for their evening walk – with the usual wheezing and panting on their part – so I decided to move the frog out of harm's way before they came up the road. Since it's possible to burn a frog's delicate skin by touching them, unless you wet your hands first, I picked him up using a tissue and put him in our front garden underneath the hydrangea, where he will hopefully find a damp place to hide.

It's been a warm couple of days, and spring is definitely in the air: I had heard my first blackbird of the year just ten minutes before. He was singing from a tree on Rush Common in Brixton, his fluting notes unmistakeable above the engine of the bus I was passing in. I wonder if this frog was responding to the same instinct as the blackbird – the urge to breed – and was making his way, in the cool of the night, to the pond in which he had turned so magically from spawn to tadpole to frog, perhaps last year, perhaps the year before. If that's the case, he won't stay; I only hope he makes it OK. It's a concrete jungle out there, after all.