The Sea of Frogs Serenades for Me

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Clouds Over a Rice Paddy

Between my home and the university where I work lies a stretch of rice paddies that takes me about 45 minutes to walk (or 20 minutes to bicycle). I came here in the middle of the winter while the land still lay fallow, the trees bare, and everything brown and dusty. The sense was of a landscape gone dry and dead, and the state of the dying town where I live didn’t help the overall impression that I had landed obliquely on the moon. Those first few weeks negotiating the dirt lanes on those early winter evenings, coupled with all the baggage brought from Tokyo, while being followed by hollow winds rolling off the coast, really made the whole area seem like some sort of banishment into the Gulag.

So when one evening as I walked home I caught the croaks of the first frog I’d heard in years, it was rather like feeling the first raindrop in a year of drought. Just the sound itself was green. Its voice arose from a hidden embankment, full of confidence and ardor, and hung in the darkness right out of reach.

Planting Night Rice

In the coming weeks the fields transformed as if by magic. Water flooded the empty platters of dried paddies, flowing in like mercury in the burning evening sun, while breezes scalloped the surfaces and prodded the sleeping frogs awake. I never would have thought the soil carried such a rich harvest of voices, but within a month the fields had awakened and the whole world seemed to erupt with the din of frogs, millions upon millions of them, as far as you could lean your ear and out beyond, where the wild reeds and rushes from last year rustled unseen in the shadows.

The sound of the frogs lit up something that I had not felt before here. In passing through the fields I found myself slowing down more and more to stop and simply listen, even though it was always after work and darkness had already fallen. With the neon lights of the mall strip road shining in the corner of my eye and enhancing the depth of the darkness all around me by visually dividing my head from my feet, when I hunkered down in the grass to listen close, it was like dropping into a darkened pond of sound, all else drowned out. The urgency of the frog song, its rhythm and texture, sang to something in me as a fellow living creature, rejoicing in the appetite of being alive. And a little, just a little, corner of my sadness and loneliness began to melt away.

Dried Sky Flowers

Farmers began to people the fields, planting rice seedlings in neat rows that suddenly gave scale to the duns and russets. And as if this was a cue the hills and copses all around sprang to life right along with the rice. In the blink of an eye there was green everywhere, and first hints, then rashes, and finally swaths of pink and red and yellow as flowers raced under the skies. What only a week before only shook in the wind, now billowed and swayed to the same music playing in my head. The days drew breath and expanded, loosening their belts to allow the light to spill out into the edges of wakefulness, longer and longer into the territory of night time. The walks lost their aura of anxiety and spending 45 minutes or more making my way between points seemed to grow shorter. I actually began to look forward to getting out of the office and crunching through the fields.

Bamboo Clearcut

Windblown Susuki

The frogs sing outside my bedroom window now. Spring has flourished. Each day more birds arrive, bringing with them new songs of hope. And new names: Great Reed Warblers, Common Gallinules, Woodcocks, Northern Shrikes, and Blue Rock Thrushes.

Horsetails and Dandelions

Rice Seedlings

Naruto Train

12 Responses

  1. The first photo should win a prize. The sixth is very beautiful too.

  2. Yes, the first photo and the second to last are out-of-this-world! So wonderful to read about the awakening of spring around you, and inside you! Liek the melting of ice and snow outside and inside, being replaced with something living and warm. It seems like perhaps you’ve turned a corner and the road ahead is a little easier. Warmest wishes for peace and happiness, butuki!

  3. My god, you’re a great photographer! And it’s good to hear about the land springing to life, too. Something very primeval about courting frogs.

    Hey, by the way, in case you haven’t heard, we’re soliciting for “Greatest Blog Hits” at qarrtsiluni. I’d love to see stuff from Laughing Knees. More details at http://www.qarrtsiluni.com/2007/05/a_note_from_the.html

  4. It’s kind of funny hearing the praises of these photos because all of them were taken with my cell phone camera! All my recent photos have been. I guess it shows that it’s not the camera that takes good photos, but your eye and your mind. My photo style is changing, too. The shots are getting more hooked on to my emotions and don’t necessarily retain an upright composition. I even have the camera lying on its back on the ground now to look up at scenes that my own eyes have never seen. I’m finding that maintaining visual acuity and rendering the texture of the photos in the most realistic detail are becoming less important, and trying to express the emotional effect of the things around me are becoming more important. Often that involves playing with the light and letting the camera’s inability to focus in dim light or to reload quickly for the next shot or simply allowing for the camera’s low resolution become an advantage in each photo. It’s a lot of fun learning how to see in new ways.

  5. . .yes, beautiful pics . . . and beautiful words . . . and the previous post too . . . yes: sex and travel and beauty in all its forms . . . loneliness does shift a person’s perspective, don’t you think? makes things show up in sharper relief . . . from my heart to yours: peace and acceptance of the chaos in all its many forms :)

  6. How true, sometimes it is how/what we see in the photo that makes it a great not the quailty of the shot. I remember seeing some in Photography class that I thought were not all that great. The teacher explained why it was great.

    On the other hand, I said to another art instructor, that it seems like at times it is not what you make, as long as you have a good story as to why it is good or done that way. :-)

    Anyway 1 & 4 are my favs. # 2 is also nice, has an abstract feel to it. Reminds me of the effect I would get in Photoshop when using a low res digital camera and wanting it to look like something other than a low res camera shot more like painting.

    I’m glad your are getting out and about connecting with nature is good for the spirit and rebalancing.

  7. Miguel,
    This reminded me of my old “Frog Songs” post a few years back… I love the sound of the frogs in Japan, and I miss them now that I have moved from Shimane. I had literally hundreds (perhaps thousands?) within five meters of my back door out there. They lived in a small fish pond that I made for my kids, a place for them to keep the goldfish they won at the festivals in town. Unfortunately, the fish never survived, but the frogs thrived. Luckily, I was crazy enough to record the Frog Songs back then, and I still have a copy on my computer. I play it sometimes when I want to relax, and other times when I want to play a joke on my coworkers. “Where the hell are those frogs!?!?”
    Let me know if you want a copy of the audio, I would be happy to share…

  8. I also love animal noises of all kinds – I even enjoy the piercing sounds of the Asian cicadas that have forever changed my trips through China into memories of shrieking noise… :-) Rice paddies and frog noises are also a definite favorite of my travel memories.

    And those pictures are pretty cool. My favorites are the second and the second-to-last in this series. The colors and the slight blurriness are divine.

    I’m glad you are feeling a bit better – it’s surprising how long it seems to take for Spring to get going in your neck of the woods, but now that it’s on the way, I’m sure nature is in a hurry to catch up with summer…

    I just came back from a visit back to Germany to see my parents and I was astonished how vivid and outrageous nature’s colors are back there compared to the siennas and beiges of northern California. I guess that’s one of the main drawbacks of the Bay Area that we don’t get any seasons to speak of.

    Oh – and from the last post: Glad that the honey-in-black-tea trick is working for you! It’s something I found some time ago in an anonymous post on a medical blog and it has improved my life a lot… Honey bees are now my best friends forever! :-)

  9. Miguel, may I ask what mobile phone you use. I ask because I’m about to buy a new one — as cheap as possible to last me until the iPhone makes it to Australia. I want one with a camera and I would like to have a reference point.

    These are lovely images. Please keep making and posting them.

  10. Miguel–its wonderful to see some of your world in your photographs…there is a beautiful otherworldly quality to many of them. very lovely.
    Seeing nature’s process of transformation and renewal is always a great source of inspiration. Amazing that creation has taken such care to build this natural ability into things. Thanks for reminding me of this. best to you-lisa

  11. Hi Andrew. sorry to take so long to respond… I experienced for the first time my computer hard drive dying and I’ve not had internet access for the last few days.

    I use a Casio W51CA mobile phone which I’m not sure is available outside Japan. Japanese cell phone technology and infrastructure are far ahead of their counterparts in the rest of the world and what the phones here offer customers has taken the place of the internet in other parts of the world. It’s gotten to the point where many young Japanese don’t know how to use regular computers. Some of my university students have even asked me if it was okay for them to submit their essays via my cell phone! Even the announcement of the iPhone elicited only ho-hum reactions among the Japanese. (though as a Mac lover I may get it just to have something that works natively with my computers). The cell phone cameras and music players here are really amazing (mine has 1 seg TV and radio included). The cell phone camera I’ve been using is okay. It’s very slow and hard to focus in difficult light situations (forget the dark… my last cell phone worked much better in night situations), which is part of what gave my photos here that eerie feeling. I’ve actually found the limitations of the camera somewhat liberating, in that it has allowed me to see things in a new way and to work around the shortcomings of the camera and use them to my advantage. The results are pretty satisfying, don’t you think?

  12. Miguel, thanks for the reply.

    You are correct, phones like that are not available outside Japan. And yes, I’d heard before of the prevalence of using the Web by phone instead of computer.

    I totally agree on limitations being liberating provided, I think, the limitation in capability is accompanied by a concomitant reduction in options for the user. The lesser abilities of a phone camera are liberating provided one isn’t required to attend to focus, exposure and program modes. The attraction for me is the near-zero impedance to taking a photograph: it will be in my pocket, turned on, ready to go with a button push.

    In fact that’s the camera that I wish existed: the size and weight of a mobile phone, fixed focal length, or maybe 2 – 3 steps, wide aperture for low light, large sensor with few pixels – 3 megapixels say – for low, low noise at high ISO, instant startup like a DSLR.

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