Some Enchanted Evening
BY C. L. BOTHWELL III
A rain forest can be a noisy place. Lots of jibber-jabber all the time. Rumor. Innuendo. Just plain gossip. But science marches on, and researchers have managed to decipher the tangle of talk. Would it surprise you to know it's mostly about sex?
Unlike human conversation, which largely deals with the philosophic implications of Sartres or Kant when selecting peanut butter for the kids, or the fractal nature of distal edges, it seems that all those animals are busy arranging dates. Frogs are a good example.
In a healthy stretch of rain forest (yes there is one healthy stretch of rain forest left) there can be as many as 1,000 species of frogs in an acre. And none of them have a date for the big dance. Busy, busy, busy. They're aided in their search for true love by having neural screening devices that block frequencies used by other species.
So, while we hear a cacophony of voices, each frog only hears its own kind. "Some enchanted evening, you will hear a stranger, you will hear a stranger across a crowded pond. Then hop to her side and make her your own..." (from the musical South Pond Civics by Frogster & Kermitstein).
Do you think it's a coincidence that princesses kiss frogs? Princesses are born with a tympanic receptor we mere mortals don't share. They hear the steamy invitation of Latin love in every passing "chugarum." Where do you think Di came up with Charles? Months of slogging around in a slough behind the polo grounds to no avail, and then BINGO there he was, crossing a road in a springtime shower.
But princesses, unlike frogs, have no neural screening device, and are left with trial and error for locating that special amphibian. There's a lot of room for error, too. Naturalists report that the total mass of amphibians in even a temperate woodland usually outweighs all other vertebrates combined. Kiss on.
But back to the rain forest. All of that rattle and hum reverberating through the treetops, shaking the vines and roiling the roots makes for a smouldering sonic soup. (Ker)plunk rock, pondsta rap, and grunge several feet deep combine to make human music seem pretty pale by comparison. And these dudes don't just carry Ouzis like posturing humans hoping to score, they are ouzi, Primal Ouzi.
So, there I was, in my canoe, my senses becoming gradually overwhelmed by the sheer kundalini jism of the sound around me, when it happened. She was a leopard frog, blinking her wide moist eyes at me, looking more attractive by the moment, and suddenly, somehow, I understood her.
"Hey, fella, you're new around here, aren't you?" I looked around, but there wasn't another fella in sight.
"Uh, yeah." I stammered, feeling like I felt years ago when the most beautiful girl in my chemistry class asked me to the Sadie Hawkins Dance. "Never been to this pond before."
"Didn't think so. Ribbit. What you doing after the evening singalong?"
"Oh, heading back to camp, I guess."
"Why don't you come over to my pad?" She winked. "It's on the waterfront," she added, wrapping me in her limpid gaze.
I'm too discrete to tell you all the details, but the conversation was vibrant. The arts, comparative religion, riparian politics -- the works! It has lately become very P.C. to view the rainforest as a potentially endless source of goodies to be twisted to human ends. Medicine, chemicals, yuppie snack food, sustainably harvested trinket fodder, et al. But I'll tell you this. The real reason to save the rainforest is intellectual. When you get past the sex, frogs have a lot to offer. Really.
Like Sheila told me when I asked. "Neitzsche?"
"Jif, honey. Definitely Jif."
C.L. Bothwell III hails from the other Carolina. Duck Soup is served at 8:40 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. every Tuesday on FM stations in North Carolina on WNCW 88.7, Spindale, 100.7 Charlotte, 95.5 Beech Mountain, 92.9 Boone; on 97.3 Knoxville, Tenn., and 97.5 in Greenville.