I love the springtime. That's when the frogs in my neighbor's pond begin to sing and transport me to places far wilder than my urban neighborhood. I've often wondered what it is I'm hearing out there. So when the Wolf River Conservancy (WRC) announced a frog chorus walk at Mineral Slough Boardwalk at LaGrange, Tennessee, my curiosity was piqued. A friend and I, along with her two grandchildren, made the hour-long drive to explore the WRC's boardwalk. It provides public access to a beautiful bald cypress-water tupelo swamp in the Ghost River State Natural Area, but this place also plays an important role in our watershed, according to Ken Kimble, development director for the WRC. When the Wolf River overflows its banks, flood waters collect here. The swamp acts as a sponge, and the water eventually trickles back underground to refurbish the Memphis sand aquifer.
This is what a cypress-tupelo swamp looks like. These tall, slender hardwoods create an airy canopy that keeps the watery basin shaded and cool. The trees rely on the monthly fluxuation of water to survive, but in turn, create a perfect habitat for frogs, turtles, beavers, and other wildlife.
Thirty of us of arrive just after 7 p.m. to take an evening hike along the boardwalk, many are parents with children in tow. Our guide is WRC Education Director Cathy Justis. She quickly spots this Eastern box turtle just as we descend into the forest. She holds him up so the kids can get a closer look.
The first frog we hear fools us. It sounds like a song bird. Cathy tells us that's because it's actually the bird-voiced tree frog you see here. Carmen Womack says hearing these sounds reminds her of her native Lousiana. Her husband, Mike, agrees. "But now, we're getting educated, so we'll know what we're listening to." Their son, Noah, smiles. "It's awesome."
The further we edge into the swamp, the more varied the frog chorus becomes. I hear a lower "ghomp, ghomp," a sound akin to a banjo string being plucked; that's the green frog. Another sounds like the 'baaa' of a sheep; this is the Eastern Narrow-mouthed toad, I learn. Behind that, cricket frogs click-click, like two pebbles being struck together. And then there are bullfrogs and peepers and treefrogs and before long, the air is alive with so much trilling that frog voices nearly drown out our own. Which is rather nice, really.
As we arrive at the center of the swamp, Cathy points to a thicket of branches that mound up over the water's edge — the tell-tale sign of a beaver dam. Beavers play an important role in a wetland community, since their dam building alters water flow. But their activity here forced workers to blow a hole in the dam to lower water levels and keep an adjacent road from flooding. And while this tree stand is healthy, few cypress are of great size, "This swamp was probably logged at one point" she notes, "since Memphis was once the hardwood capital of the world."
Up ahead, a dad and his son have their flashlights trained on the murky water below. Peering into the reeds, I finally spy their prize, another bright green treefrog (pictured here, photo by Carmen Womack), only visible because of the movement he makes as he puffs out his chest to sing.
The kids are excited by their find and take turns looking for others. As they scout, I stand alone for a moment to simply enjoy this captivating chorus. I count at least eight different calls, all unique in their frequency and song. It is heartening to know that here, frogs will continue to sing, thanks to the WRC's efforts.
Finally, dusk is upon us and before long, its inky blackness will descend. Our group begins to walk back across the boardwalk and into the forest where fireflies wink to light our way home.
Ghost River Natural Area Mineral Slough Boardwalk in La Grange, Tennessee
Directions: Go east on Hwy. 57 from Collierville to La Grange. When you arrive at the town center, look for the Cogbill's store on your left. Turn right onto La Grange Road. Travel 2 miles to Beasley, turn right. The parking lot for Mineral Slough will be on your left after one-half mile. The area is open from sunrise to sunset.