Muses Found in Frogs

Becoming a Naturalist, Part 6

The vernal equinox stretches the sky and reveals familiar haunts with unfamiliar light. On that day we sauntered quietly into a deep ravine we know so well, but the pale light that drew us deeper brightened the “unworn sides of our eyes,” as Thoreau predicted. Mary Oliver’s belief that the equinox makes for wider roaming was also proven true and confirmed my suspicion that ecology needs poetry. Maybe that’s why Humboldt included so many artistic allusions in his Views of Nature and used poetry to illuminate his scientific observations. He finishes his introduction to the first edition with Nature’s “world-directing chorus” speaking to humanity:
“In the mountains is freedom! The breath of the tomb
Cannot climb up to the purest air’s home,
The world is perfect anywhere,
If Humanity’s anguish has not entered there.”
By enlisting the world-directing chorus he conjures the daughters of Gaia and Uranus, who saw no need to integrate science and the arts because they had not yet been torn apart. We now call this re-integration “consilience,” and many interpreters see Humboldt as its first champion. But the Muses are not impressed. With their adopted sister Sappho, they applied their wiles to Theophrastus and all who proved susceptible to musing in the scientific tradition that followed. Why should they celebrate those who come to their senses and see the web of Nature and the world as it is?
On that day in that perfect ravine, unworn and wide and free of human anguish, we were beguiled by the muse Anura. (She has taken her place as the head of the taxonomic order to which all frogs and toads belong.) My friends and I approached the vernal pools and wet meadows as boreal chorus frogs sang louder with each squishy step. On the vernal equinox, the web of life was braided and stretched with frog song as we found ourselves musing and thoroughly amused. Then the leopard frogs joined in. And a Carolina wren.
Pseudacris maculata

Pseudacris maculata, boreal chorus frog, in song. Photo by Neal Herbert.

 Find the Muses at The Naturalist School. To learn how, click here.