Road Toad, Morse Code

Slow Road Home: a Blue Ridge Book of Days
Image by fred1st via Flickr

We left the house this morning at 4 a.m. in a warm, misting rain and enough low fog to add a bit of theatric otherworldiness to the drive to Roanoke, but not enough to concern us that her 6:00 flight would be grounded by it.

Reaching the hard top of Shawsville Pike, steam rose from the asphalt. I remembered what I once (to myself–before the days of the blog) had called the “morse code of spring, the dots and dashes of smashed lifeforms, linear and lumpish, along the vernal roadways of the south: the rectiform meatiness of a million east-to-west night crawlers on a north-south roadway, destined to add their protein to the pavement, and the Sumo-forms of southern toads, squatting resolute in the face of oncoming headlights, dark determined fists of heat-seeking frog flesh.” Or something like that.

Toads on roads: catalogued on a low shelf far back in the archives: it is 1970, Auburn Alabama, March of my first year of grad school: thesis time–and not my idea but major prof’s who was into radio-ecology: The Retention and Bioelimination of Zinc 65 (this stuff is radioactive, I might mention) in Intraperitoneally and Orally treated Rana pipiens pipiens and Bufo woodhousei fowleri. A friend and I collected eighty toads from the warm pavement of the Auburn bypass that night in a heavy mist, fog lifting from the sandy soil. Three months later, I found a toad-mummy in the pocket of my raincoat who I am certain regrets he did not get to participate in the research.

Oh look, I said to myself about half-way to the airport, hoping she wouldn’t notice, and then she noticed anyway: I had about an 8th of a tank of gas. Dot dot dot dash dash dash… Not to worrry, I told her, as if I knew what I was talking about, the station there on Hershberger is 24/7. I dropped her off at the terminal drop-off and discovered that Roaonke is NOT the city that never sleeps.

I decided I’d rather be stranded at a Waffle House in town waiting for the sidewalks to roll out at six (or seven?) than on the interstate, and passed a dozen dark stations along Colonial to Electric Road. The nagging little gas-tank light popped on about then, and I was glad she was not there to tell me the sky was falling. Thankfully, wiper blades full beat against the driving rain, the Exxon on Brambleton was open. And I am home now, and about to have the first of five breakfasts alone. Well, there’s the dog.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. Okay, Elora, it’s a guy thing.

    And Gary, I’m glad you asked. I sorta think she might have taken hers with her, we’ve rather gotten in the habit any time we’re traveling in different orbits. And she loves pushing that button and knowing I jump every time.

  2. As a newer resident of Floyd , and only reading your blog for perhaps the second time, it seems to be written in code! With a War and Peace length sentence or two, I’ll check back in a year or or and see if I get it…

  3. Ah, went back and it is code, and so that narrows down the readers who do get it, I suppose !
    So , I guess there’s no reason to check back, and sorry for the or or.