February 7, 2019
Toads played a large part in our life on the farm. Our house surrounded by large trees, made the foundation a natural place for them to congregate. On the back porch, we kept a 50-gallon cast iron kettle, filled with several inches of sand. My sisters and I, and guests from time to time, circled round the house, collecting as we went and deposited tiny toads into the cauldron. By the end of the day there were hundreds of the tiny little creatures hopping around in there.
Our sand box sat below a large maple tree. It was an 8 x 8 foot wooden square replenished each year with fresh sand from down the road, around the corner on the way to Moose Lake, directly south of our farm. It was always fun to go with Dad to get it. He pulled a trailer behind the car and filled it up at the sand pit. The sand was beautifully fine and pale. It worked well for constructing bridges and buildings with elaborate stairways. We created landscapes for the toads that filled the entire sand box. It was complete when there was no room left for us.
Sometimes Mom and Dad would allow us to run water from a hose into one side of the sandbox and out the other to fill the riverbed we’d fashioned through the landscape. As water does, it created beautiful twisting mini sandbars. This image came back to me years later as I found sand-formed beauty in photos of Icelandic alluvial plains. We used carrot tops for willows and branches from Mom’s shrubs for other trees. Then we introduced the animation – toads! For an afternoon, this was their habitat. They hopped over bridges, up steps, into this magical place, and then we let them go.
The toad fetish didn’t restrict itself to home. At our church, St. Peter’s Lutheran, four miles away, were window wells hosting tiny toads and occasional frightening snakes! When Sunday school got out we kids would high tail it outside and leap into the wells to collect as many toads as possible before Mom and Dad came to pick us up. I have a vivid memory of my sister Janis leaping into a well in her princess styled coat.