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October 2022

Earlier this summer I had one of those encounters with nature, the sort that makes you wonder at the uncanny interconnectivity of things.

I’d been in the garden for hours; you know how it is, when you just pop out to do some light deadheading and five hours later you are still there primping and pruning in the sticky gloaming. I was dog tired and delirious with sun but for the life of me I wasn’t ready to succumb to the pull of indoors.

So I got my banjo. I took up residence at the back of the garden by the small pond and, in the gathering dusk, picked out a few scales. I was in a pentatonic mood. All lazy and bluesy. Hunkered down in the Delta. Out on the bayou. You get the picture.

My fingers found a tune, John Henry or Cripple Creek or one of those ol’-time standards. Suddenly, from the edge of the pond, a frog. All eyes in the half light. He leapt out onto the edge and stared at me. I stopped playing. He stood still. I watched a while then picked up the tune again. He shot beneath the goundcover.

Plop! Another. This one didn’t stop; he hurled himself from the depths and legged it. I stopped again. Silence. Another tune. This time a loose-limbed murder ballad; seemed appropriate. More frogs (who knew we had so many!), each land-bound.

What could it mean? There seemed to be two viable explanations:

a. They loved my banjo playing so much they simply had to get a ringside seat.

b. They hated my banjo playing so much they were willing to forego the comfort of their cosy pond to escape the infernal clatter.

I was hopeful for the former but inclined towards the latter.

Next day was a workday. All day I kept wondering at this conundrum. Was I seducing my frogs into a state of stupefied wonder or was I really pissing them off? I couldn’t wait to get home and give it another shot.

I held back till the sun went down. Crescent moon and midge-o’clock. A few warmup riffs; finger flexing, nothing more. Then straight into Cumberland Gap. Straightaway – frog action. Same as the night before. Clamber to the surface, death leap over the Corten steel edge and scarper. I could make out three or four. One by the miscanthus. One under the papyrus. One among the amaranth seedlings. One poised on an outcrop of rock ready to flee. A mass amphibian exodus.

I put the banjo down. It was all too much. I didn’t want to freak the little fellas out. What if they never came back? What if, after building the pond, filling the pond, mending the pond (after numerous fox incursions – see previous musing); after blanket-weed-gate, frogspawn epiphany (which, alas turned all-to-quickly into tadpole disappointment); after finally getting some pond plants to grow and, to our utter delight, glimpsing our first resident frogs; what if after all this I was driving them away with my twilight tunesmithery?


I was undone.


But then, no, I thought, don’t be defeated. Maybe it’s the key? Maybe they don’t like open G, maybe it hits a frog nerve? Maybe I should retune to double C? Or perhaps it’s the repertoire? Perhaps they would prefer a jaunty little reel or a Celtic jig?


Or perhaps it had nothing to do with me at all? Perhaps they fled the pond every evening at this time and I had just happened upon their nocturnal manoeuvres? Maybe I was being too quick to jump from cause to effect?


Yes, I decided, that was it. Nothing to do with my banjo playing, which I’m sure they appreciated (how could they not?); all to do with the pull of the moon, circadian rhythms, that sort of thing.

Best not to tempt fate though, just in case. Retire gracefully, secure in the knowledge that they were indeed big banjo fans and would almost certainly have stopped and listened if they could have but were otherwise compelled – by forces greater than they, greater than I, greater even, I concluded, than the siren call of my moonlit serenades.

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