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The Patience of Frogs

Wait for it. . . wait for it. . .

 

My wife would tell you in a heartbeat, I'm sure, that I'm not a patient person. She's seen me fidget in lines—when I deign to stand in them at all—and wriggle with annoyance when on hold. She's heard me growl at the computer, "Come on!," when its electrons move too slowly for my taste, or holler uselessly at recalcitrant cars in a traffic jam. I confess, two minutes to brush my teeth with the electric toothbrush—30 seconds for each quadrant of my mouth, switching-time helpfully signaled by a beep in my mouth—seems an eternity.

If someone is late for an appointment with me, I steam; you can imagine how wonderfully this attitude fits in with laid-back New Mexico. When I'm waiting in a doctor's office, the pages of decade-old copies of Field & Stream begin to turn ever more forcefully as my appointed hour slides ever further into the past, until the quarry elk in the magazine's photographs become crudely animated, as in a child's flipbook. (Local physicians who value their old magazines, you have been warned.)

My wife bears all this, well, patiently. She'll act as the designated line-stander or take over the phone when I've been on hold long enough to show signs of impending aneurysm. She puts up with my congenital impatience with a bare minimum of eye-rolling, bless her.

I don't know why I'm so impatient. Part of it, I'm sure, is the modern era's curse of "places to go, things to do." But I was impatient even as a child, when my agenda was typically no more packed than "1-4 p.m.—Play superheroes," "4-6 p.m.—Watch cartoons," "6-6:30 p.m.—Eat dinner," "6:30 p.m.-bedtime—Watch TV." Growing up in the indolent era before soccer moms and overscheduled kids, I have no excuse. What was I in such a hurry for? "Get a move on, buddy! Huckleberry Hound is on!"

When I was a kid, we didn't have Blackberrys, email, instant messaging, cell phones or any of the other gizmos with which today's youngsters have speeded up their lives, cramming every second with communication. (Geez, I make it sound as though I grew up in the Dark Ages, reading illuminated manuscripts by firelight. "Why, when I was your age, we had to use pay phones! We had to write real letters—on pieces of paper! And then fold them, put them in an envelope, put a stamp on it and walk five miles through a blizzard to the post office. . . .") Everything is instantaneous now, so you can understand if Generation X or Y or Z or whatever we're up to these days gets a tad impatient when a Wi-Fi signal can't be found or the cell phone drops a call. Instant message can't go through instantly? It's a national disaster! Get Bill Gates on the phone! Redirect a communications satellite!

Nothing in today's frenetic world teaches patience. Idleness seems simply lazy. Why sit doing nothing, lolling about in the tall grass or dangling your toes in the creek, when there's work to be done, 171 digital cable channels to watch, hobbies to be pursued with the zeal of a Spanish inquisitor, In Boxes needing emptying, voicemails demanding attention? It's a 24/7 world that waits for no one.

Heck, I fit right in. Even as a kid in the laid-back 20th century, I was prepared with the impatience my grownup, 21st century world would someday demand: Naptime, schnaptime, in a few decades I'll have emails to reply to! How much longer is this pattycake crap gonna take? I'm gettin' old waiting for this freakin' pediatrician—puberty's gonna hit before I get in there! You gonna move in on those monkey bars and live up there, kid? Some of us down here on the playground would like a turn before the end of the Johnson administration. C'mon, c'mon!

 

So my question is: How do the frogs do it? Frogs, toads, I don't know exactly, and obviously I'm too impatient to find out. In any case, all through the New Mexico spring and early summer, months as hot as the devil's armpit and psoriasis-dry, the frogs wait. You wouldn't even know they were there. They make meditating Tibetan monks seem frisky by comparison.

Then, eventually, after all that waiting without so much as a croak of complaint, the rains come. The late-summer monsoons open up, and suddenly it's amphibian party time.

The other night, after a whole weekend of rain that left folks here trying to recall the last time they'd seen water so high and fast in the Big Ditch (1952 seems to be the consensus), I heard the frogs. I was brushing my teeth, counting the beeps in my mouth as I dutifully switched from top to bottom, left to right, vaguely wondering if I'd snap before two minutes expired and I'd jam the toothbrush right through my palate in frustration. Even over the incessant hum of the electric toothbrush—120 seconds, for the love of Mike, would somebody please just shoot me and get it over with!—I could discern a distant, almost musical burping sound. When the toothbrush quit—finally!—seconds before I gave in to the temptation to whack it against the bathroom countertop, I leaned toward the open bathroom window to breathe in the sound.

From the no-doubt-still-soggy arroyo at the bottom of our backyard, and perhaps from points in-between and all-around, came a chorus of croaking. Not the annoying squeak of solo crickets that just might be in the house, but a burbling cacophony—layers of sound, countless critters chiming in until the combined sound was as much a hum as a croaking. A symphony of frogs who'd waited whole seasons for this chance to perform, for one night wet enough to express the essence of their frogginess.

Where do they find the patience? How can they stand the waiting?

You could argue, I suppose, that they don't have a choice. Frogs can't control the weather, any more than I can make two minutes of electric toothbrushing go faster. But surely there are frogs out there who are tempted to just chuck it all, to climb out of whatever pocket in the earth where they spend the long, dry months and go hop in front of a passing car. Rather than endure the wait to croak, they'd rather—you know—croak.

Somehow, though, the frogs endure. They'd be great in an Albertson's checkout line behind somebody who needs a price check, then decides to write a check, then can't find their I.D. so they have to pay in cash, counting out pennies and dimes while everybody in line behind them watches their ice cream melt and their frozen pizza defrost. Frogs could wait on hold for hours, I bet. They could get their flights cancelled and have to fly standby—wouldn't faze them. Watching paint dry—frogs might find that exciting.

Can we learn from the frogs? (Or toads, whatever, you'd rather I get to the point here, right?) Is there some fraction of their stoic patience we could borrow for the next traffic jam, the next flashing "Flight Delayed," for any time the universe asks us, "Can you hold, please?" It could be worse, after all. You could be baking out there in the New Mexico sun, killing time until the sky finally gets it into its cloudy head to cut loose and for gosh sakes rain. You could be a frog in what's ordinarily a very dry place. Very.

I listen to the frogs singing their songs to the damp, dripping darkness, making the music they've waited so long to share with the New Mexico night. I think how long, how patiently the frogs have bided their time until this moment, and how brief an interlude it will be. Soon enough the monsoons will blow over, the ground will dry and crack again, and the waiting will resume in the brittle bowels of the earth, this rainy night just a memory. Do frogs even remember? Do they dream—wet, croaking dreams—as they wait? And wait some more?

I would make a terrible frog, I decide, turning back to getting ready for bed. But maybe I could stand another 30 seconds with the toothbrush, who knows?

Teeth as gleaming as they'll ever be, I finally flick off the light. The frogs serenade me from the darkness as I make my way to bed. "Just wait," the croaking seems to say. "Just wait."

 

David A. Fryxell is editor of Desert Exposure. Please don't put him on hold

 

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