the day started out like any other day—phone calls, emails, dirty dishes, weedy flower beds, a dog patiently waiting to be fed—but then it turned, veered in a different direction, and left me face to face with the biggest, grandaddy-est eastern american toad i have ever seen. his (?) body length alone—i measured—was nearly four inches and—oh my—did he have fantastic bumps and warts. i was curious as to which bumps were warts and which bumps were, well, just bumps. his skin was dry and densely patterned with them, sprinkled with wonderful camouflage—an assortment of raised, large, small, brown, white, and black dots. to my mind he was indeed a splendid piece of living art. (after a quickie consultation with google i still do not have a definitive answer about how one identifies a genuine wart from that imposter, the generic bump.)
crouched low against the foundation in corner of the deck beside a planter (a large circle cut out of the decking into which a three foot deep concrete cylinder was inserted, ending up a few inches below the level of the deck and filled with soil, compost and flowers) this cute toad sat motionless, even with me leaning down and thrusting a camera in his face.
i confess i have left the planter somewhat overgrown but, as it turns out, this neglect was a good thing because it probably provided a nice habitat for him—and who knows who else—and since i rarely remove the dead leaves and stalks from the container, but merely cut them up and leave them to rot into mulch, he may have hidden out in there for years.
in this warm, dry, sheltered spot, the toad sat absolutely still. he blended in well with the patch of chipping paint between the edge of the planter and the house, but he wasn't moving at all. i wondered, was the chubby guy okay? suddenly i experienced a slight panic as i tried to recall where and when the exterminator had sprayed the foundation to get rid of carpenter ants. i don't normally use chemicals anywhere and it makes me cringe when an ant infestation necessitates the use of pesticides. i held my breath as i stroked him gently on his side with my finger. he blinked and turned his head. i withdrew my finger and exhaled—phew, thankfully he was alive and well.
i studied the patch of skin where the toad had sat on the palm of my hand. did it feel itchy or tingly or irritated? did i notice anything odd? no—there was no evidence of warts or bumps or anything sprouting on my palm. what is it about toads and warts? why the loathing, the fear? i don't pretend to understand a toad's skin, the purpose of it, and yet there must be a purpose, a reason, besides the obvious one, for it to have developed the way it has. i don't find a toad's flesh at all revolting—in fact, i like it. ah, but there is humor at work here, humor, as well as practicality, built into those bumps, into the very workings of the cosmos, is there not?
why are some people utterly freaked out by warts on toads, convinced there is a connection between a toad's lovely warts and the icky kind people get? toads do occasionally secrete a mild toxin which may cause minor skin irritation—but never warts—in some people, and of course we know getting warts from toads and frogs is an old wives tale. and yet, toads, and toad warts, still remain unpleasant for a lot of people to look at. we view them as disgusting; they make us uncomfortable.
there it is: humans are frequently made upset, uncomfortable and uneasy by what is harmless, inconsequential, and unimportant to this existence.
i imagined that beautiful old toad sizing me up, getting a good look at me while i was getting a good look at him. would he be critical of me—turn his head away in disgust—if i had a piece of spinach lodged between my teeth, or if he saw a fleck of mascara smeared under my eye, or discerned a small, hardly noticeable, pimple on my forehead?