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The Bullfrog Serenade

There is always a Provincetown evening in mid April when the wet air is particularly salty and the light, between the last of the sun and the rising moon, is radiantly gray. It’s the first night of the bullfrog serenade, to me the first night of spring no matter what the calendar calls it, and it begins loudly in the evening silence. Suddenly there they are, bullfrogs in full chorus, which is what the collective matting song is called.

The males announce they are ready. The sound is not exactly a croak; it’s more delicate. And not really a bull roar, from which they get their name. Marked with bright yellow throats, they are smaller than the females, but their sexual cycle is longer, so competition is stiff. They fill the air with their weird music, rising and falling until they go quiet. Some choruses go on and on, but others are over quickly. One assumes, when the quiet returns, that they are silent lovers. The sound is most like a thousand creaking bedsprings, rising and falling, banging away, Nature’s overture of procreation.

Still, when I hear them out there singing, I find that I am singing “Joy to the World,” a favorite from childhood by Three Dog Night, from the 1970 album Naturally. With one of Pop music’s most memorable choruses, it was a Billboard #1 in 1971:

Jeremiah was a bullfrog Was a good friend of mine Never understood a single word he said But I helped him a-drink his wine And he always had some mighty fine wine

What did it mean? It seemed, like a lot of pop music at that time, quite mystical, maybe most especially to a nine-year-old boy. But I liked the idea of having a bullfrog for a friend, and the sentiment of joy seemed right. Some thought the song referenced the Prophet Jeremiah, who railed against idol worship to the Judean people, and then made it his mission to reunite the Lost Tribes when Solomon’s Temple fell to Babylon. But what sense does that make?

Thinking about frogs, I found this poem “The Bullfrog Serenade,” from 1930. It makes me think of Old Cape Cod, and spring:

from Cape Cod Ballads, and Other Verse by Joseph C. Lincoln

When the toil of day is over And the dew is on the clover, And the night-hawk whirls in circles overhead; When the cow-bells melt and mingle In a softened, silver jingle, And the old hen calls the chickens in to bed; When the marshy meadows glimmer With a misty, purple shimmer, And the twilight flush is changing into shade; When the firefly lamps are burning And the dusk to dark is turning,— Then the bullfrogs chant their evening serenade:

“Deep-deep, deep-deep, deep-deep, deep-deep! Better go ’round! Better go ’round! Better go ’round,”

First the little chaps begin it, Raise their high-pitched voices in it, And the shrill soprano piping sets the pace; Then the others join the singing Till the echoes soon are ringing With the big green-coated leader’s double-bass. All the lilies are a-quiver, And the grasses by the river Feel the mighty chorus shaking every blade, While the dewy rushes glisten As they bend their heads to listen To the bullfrogs’ summer evening serenade:

“Deep-deep, deep-deep, deep-deep, deep-deep! Better go ’round! Better go ’round! Better go ’round!”

And the melody they’re tuning Has the sweet and sleepy crooning That the mother hums the baby at her breast, Till the world forgets its sorrow And the cares that haunt the morrow, And is sinking, hushed and happy, to its rest Sometimes bubbling o’er with gladness, Sometimes soft and fall of sadness, Through my dreaming rings the music they have played, And my memory’s dearest treasures Have been fitted to the measures Of the bullfrogs’ summer evening serenade:

“Deep-deep, deep-deep, deep-deep, deep-deep! Better go ’round! Better go ’round! Better go ’round!”

1. Toad / Arnold Lobel 2. Dig ‘Em / Kellogs 3. Mr. Toad / E.H.Shepard 4. Kermit the Frog / Jim Henson

5. Hypnotoad / Futurama 6. Super Frog / Team 17 Software 7. Frog Thor / Marvel Comics 8. Michigan J. Frog / Looney Tunes

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