Cottage-country classroom

Jennifer’s children get a surprise lesson about wildlife and food chains.

Denver the American Toad in his child-made habitat

While doing yard work earlier this week, Isaac and I found a wee American Toad hiding underneath our deck. After a few attempts to catch him (each time Isaac picked the toad up, the toad would pee on him and he’d drop the toad) we found a large bucket and went about building a habitat for Denver (the name Isaac gave the toad). I pulled out my Wildlife of Ontario handbook and read to both kids about Denver the American Toad. According to my kids, Denver needed daisies and asters and plantain leaves and sand and ants to be happy so they carefully built this downright adorable temporary home for him. The kids took turns carrying Denver the American Toad around the yard, until I finally asked them to set the bucket down in the shade in the backyard.
I was doing more backyard tidying when we found a garter snake hiding underneath the play structure. Looking a little closer at the snake we realized he had half a toad in his mouth. Half of a freaking toad — with just the hind legs sticking out. I still barf in my mouth a little picturing it. Both kids panicked thinking it was Denver (who was hiding under the daisies) but once they realized Denver was safe, all of us stood staring at this perfect example of food chains in nature. While we’ve always read and talked about food chains — both where wildlife get their food from and where humans get their food from — it was something entirely different to watch this garter snake take in a toad. After the snake was finished he took off into the leaves, faster than I’ve ever seen any snake move.
I was sure the kids would have been upset about watching the toad and the snake, especially Isaac who is quite sensitive and finds every Disney Nature movie upsetting, crying and yelling at the TV every time a carnivore comes on screen. Instead they were fascinated and told their friends all about it, with Isaac declaring that this is his favourite house ever (we’ve lived in three homes in the last two years, so he’s had a few to pick from).
Denver was safely released back under the deck before bedtime.
And as for me, I’m wondering if I’ll ever adjust to life in the woods.

Stay in touch

Subscribe to Today's Parent's daily newsletter for our best parenting news, tips, essays and recipes.