Wrens, Tree Frogs and Rain Gardens

Carolina Wren - Dan Pancamo - Wikimedia CommonsHere in our little slice of Ozarks heaven, we are most fortunate to be granted the privilege of greeting every new day with a lyrical symphony of sound that has the ability take our breath away.  Yet, there are those rare occasions when the sweet symphony becomes more like a raucous cat fight.  Take the Carolina wren for example. Earlier in the week I spotted a male wren among the brushy edges of the woods, bobbing and flicking his tail up and down.  I’ve always found wrens interesting enough, but to be honest, they never really made any enduring impression on me – just a nice little brown bird that flicks its tail a lot.   I would soon be proven wrong.

As if to shame me for my lack of interest, the wren decided to show me the error of my ways by setting up his daybreak operatic outbursts just outside the bedroom window.  Each morning for a week now, I have been pulled reluctantly and somewhat violently from my dreams into the rising sun by this little brown bird.  Like a feathered Romeo calling to his imprisoned Juliet, the Carolina wren sings his simple, but expressive song with unmatched passion and abandon. The sound is impressively loud for such a small bird and he never seems to tire of hearing himself.

At first the performance irritated me and I shooed the amorous bird away, only to find him back at his post within minutes. Each morning I writhed in bed, covering my head with a pillow to drown him out, but his song only grew louder.  Now, as another day breaks, I am forced to find truth in the wren’s song and finally surrender my dreams to him.

Sunrise copyright Jill Henderson - Show Me OzAs I sat on the porch with the first cup of coffee in hand, grumbling about my acquiescence to the wren, a big red crescent sun inched its way up into the sky from behind the trees on the ridge.  Suddenly the world shape-shifted into a surrealistic landscape of sparkling dew drops illuminated from within by some internal fire.  Definitely one of the most magical moments I have had for some time.  I suddenly understand why the wren chose my window and I thank him in earnest.  Without his big song, I would have missed one of the most vibrant dreams of all.

By mid-morning, Dean had gathered a few early spring greens for a salad and I took them to the hydrant to wash.  The area around the hydrant is pretty devoid of grass or any other green things because it was badly compacted during the construction of the house and the drilling of the well many years ago.  To make matters worse, the land here slopes down towards the woods and by the time we moved here, the erosion had begun to take a bad turn.

We have been slowly building up the eroded trench and layering the slope with leaves, small branches and anything else that will slow down the water and build soil.  Another part of the solution was to put down some gravel around the hydrant so that the water wouldn’t scour away what little dirt was there, washing yet more of that valuable commodity down the hill.  Now, each time I use the hydrant, a small pool of water forms in the gravelly bed and very slowly trickles down hill.  I love to watch the water transform the dull, sun-bleached stones into a sparkling kaleidoscope of color.

This morning, as I washed the harvest and admired the rocks, I caught something odd out of the corner of my eye.  Not sure what it was that I had seen, I searched the stones carefully, looking for something out of the ordinary, but all I saw were rocks.  Knowing that I was missing something, I kept looking until I finally found what my eye had seen but my brain had not – a medium-sized frog sitting directly in the path of the narrow trickle of water.  On closer inspection, I understood why my brain had been fooled.  This little frog was perfectly camouflaged to look just like a maze of lichen and moss veined over a cherty-grey stone.

Gray Tree Frog - Agape Yojimbo - Wikimedia Commons

It dawned on me that the tree frog had been lying quietly in the rocks beside the hydrant before I arrived there this morning.  The more I thought about it, the more I fancied the notion that the frog was actually waiting for me to start the daily cleaning of the veggies in anticipation of the stream of water associated with it.  It might sound a bit strange, but it is also not out of the question – at least not in my reckoning of things.  It is extremely dry just now and perhaps the frog was looking for a bit of moisture.

This idea gives way to another thought.  I never considered the little bit of water that comes off the hydrant as being a part of an ecosystem, but this barren spot of ground is the perfect place to build a rain garden.  A small berm, a few rocks and a couple of plants with a bit of good garden soil around them could catch and temporarily hold runoff from the sloping hillside and the excess water from the hydrant.  It is a perfect solution for this problem area and will stop the erosion and create suitable habitat for many kinds of creatures – like my frog friend, for example.  Perhaps even the amorous wren might like to use it to cool his throat after his morning performances.

Jill Henderson is an artist, author and the editor of Show Me Oz
© 2012 Jill Henderson

Parts of this article were excerpted from
A Journey of Seasons:
A Year in the Ozarks High Country

A Journey of Seasons is a beautifully recounted story of life on a rural Missouri homestead. Based on the changing landscape of the seasons and filled with nature notes, botanical musings, back-woods wisdom and just a pinch of hillbilly humor, noted author, naturalist and organic gardener, Jill Henderson, spins a story of delight and enchantment. This is one journey you don’t want to miss!

Paperback: $18.00 www.createspace.com/3477718
E-books: $5.99 www.smashwords.com/books/view/17077
Kindle: $5.99 www.amazon.com/dp/B0050ZIB6U

…and don’t forget to tell your friends you got it from


4 responses to “Wrens, Tree Frogs and Rain Gardens

  1. Beautifully written, Jill. Our family calls wrens ‘tweedle dee birds’ due to that trilling song. And our little pond has been full of frogs and now – tadpoles! Our season has been so compressed with the warm temps – this week we have iris, tulips, dogwood and honeysuckle all in bloom. Enjoy your day! Kathleen

    • Thanks, Kathleen! That’s a fun name for wrens – I think I’ll use that from now on!! It’s been a warm spring here, too. Although the dogwoods are just finishing up, so many things are early this year. Hard to believe! We also have our entire garden in – including squash, melons and corn (which is already 2″ tall!) The nice thing is the birds, lizards, snakes, turtles and frogs are all early, too!

  2. Enjoyed this so much!

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