Memoir Project: Summer of the Toads

Sahuarita, AZ, 2008

Summer of the Toads

During July and August, Arizona enjoys a monsoon season, with thunderstorms almost every day. With the storms came puddles, thunder so loud it would set off our smoke alarms, and flooding on the road. After a storm, the cactus blossoms would erupt in brilliant colors, and the Colorado River toads would make their annual appearance.

Pea soup green, bloated, ground-hugging, with rufous lumps, these toads would emerge from hibernation in the rains. We found them in the roads at night during the rains and sometimes they were flattened like pancakes in front of our house, run over by a passing car. The largest ones were the size of a large man’s fist, and when flattened, were a spectacular 8-10 inches in diameter. We also found them on our front porch at night, attracted by the porch light, hunkered down in corners, waiting for bugs. They have poison glands, so we kept the dog away and didn’t handle them.

The summer of 2008 was an especially good year for toads. We noticed the same toads came out each evening. The kids learned their sizes and markings and named some of them. Camouflage, Jumping Jack, Mongo, Toady, Spot, Camouflage Jr., and Teeny were some of their names. Sometimes the kids would catch insects and place them right in front of the toads. Zap! The ponderous toads’ tongues were quick to capture them.

There was a perpetual puddle on the west side of our house in July which teemed with baby toads, smaller than the size of dimes. We let the kids scoop them up and put them in Timothy’s screened insect carrier. Climbing and hopping with tiny legs, these toads were a delight to all of the neighbor children. One neighbor, however, was not thrilled to have so many poisonous toads near his house, and watched our kids and his daughter collect baby toads one night and convinced the boys to walk up the street with him to release them at the park.

We never saw a summer with toads quite like this one again. We traveled and had other adventures that season, but the simple memories of the little boys with their flashlights playing with their toads are clearer in my mind. It fits the familiar pattern of family memory; the tiny memories rise up over the bigger occasions to mean the most.

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I write so my family will always have letters from home.