Frogs, dogs and the soul within

The frog endures. PHOTO: Aaron J. Brown
Aaron J. Brown

Aaron J. Brown is an Iron Range blogger, author, radio producer and columnist for the Mesabi Tribune.

So there I was, driving down the road. I checked my side mirror only to see a northern gray tree frog hanging onto the side of my minivan. But it wasn’t just clamped on like one of those old Garfield windows clings. Rather, its froggy back legs dangled precariously in the highway wind. One tiny front foot clutched the smooth steel of the speeding van and life itself.

This frog looked like James Bond holding onto the runner of a SPECTRE helicopter. It looked like Gollum reaching for the ring. Why, for a split-second, the frog looked like Superman flying across the sky.

Our van had been parked under a grove of tall pines while we stayed with my dad and stepmom for the Fourth of July weekend. The frog must have observed our Dodge for a while, making sure this strange new object was a permanent fixture. I’m sure the dark blue van bathed in shade on a hot day produced the perfect amphibian lounging temperature.

Anyway, a couple days later, we began the long drive home. The dexterous frog caught my eye and I was able to pull over in time. I knew this frog was relieved when it tried to get inside after I rolled the window down. I imagined it saying, “I don’t care if you’re going to eat me, just get me out of this frogforesaken wind tube.”

Wishing the frog godspeed, I deposited it into the ditch so that we each could resume our travels. The family and I headed home to the Iron Range; the frog, presumably, hopped a mile back to its tree. Oh, the tales this frog can tell the rest of its days. That is, presuming a crow didn’t gobble it up after we pulled away.

These animal encounters occur constantly when you live in the woods. A doe and her fawn pass through the yard. The phoebes raise chicks every June. I even find a few choice words for the grasshoppers nibbling my garden.

With each year I see something in the animals that I’d missed before. I don’t know what a soul is, really, but for lack of a better term I’d call it that. The animals and I don’t understand each other, but I like talking to them, acknowledging them. If they exist, so do I. 

The musician Charlie Parr wrote a song called “Dog” that describes this feeling. The song comes from the point of view of a dog. (No ambiguity in the title of this one). This old pooch laments a life in which his fundamental nature was constantly hemmed in by humans.

“You say that I need to be trained when I’m only doing what nature demands,” says the dog, in Parr’s distinct voice. “And a soul is a soul is a soul is a soul.”

Time spent around critters, plants, wind and water produce a sort of feeling you don’t get otherwise. It forces you to leave the narrative in your head for the one outside yourself. In doing so, we find the bridge between our little soul and the big one that belongs to everyone.

Like Parr’s song, we realize that the same elements that run through a dog also run through us.

“Rain down the water that created us both,” sings Parr. “My old man’s soul in this old dog’s coat.”

Or maybe a frog. Maybe even each and every being who walks, crawls or hops this earth.

A soul is a soul is a soul is a soul.

Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog and co-hosts the podcast “Power in the Wilderness” on Northern Community Radio. This piece first appeared in the Sunday, July 11, 2021 edition of the Mesabi Tribune.




  1. Reid Carron says

    We are all made of stars–Homo sapiens and gray tree frogs and everything above, below, and in-between. Beautiful essay, Aaron.

  2. Alan Muller says

    Very thoughtful and truthful. Thanks.

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