How do you feed a dying toad? This and more unanswered questions, plus a recipe for Aqua de Valencia, a stiff, juicy, sunshiny cocktail to combat the summer blues.
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This morning I tried to feed a dying toad, tried to feed it even though even though I could see its intestine dangling, it’s muscle and stomach exposed by the cat, probably skinny little Rosie, who had ripped off the toad’s hind leg and a good bit of skin before leaving it to die on my sidewalk. The leg was nearby, perfectly skinned and butchered, and I remembered the frog legs I tried once in Louisiana when we drove my sister all the way down from Maine to Texas that year. They were stringy, those legs, and I think now, what a waste of frog.
I thought the toad was tree bark knocked off by last night’s storm which was more sound and flash than actual rain, but which offered up the first clouds and drops we’d had in over 50 desiccated days of 100+ temperatures. I’m sure that’s why the toad was out past its bedtime, and how the kitties mauled him. I thought it was bark or leaves, until I walked by and it flinched, this toad, still alive with its bottom half missing, slowing drying out on the damp spot on the sidewalk where the clogged gutter I’ve been meaning to clean for a year dribbles rainwater long after the rain has stopped. What will he do for food?
How do you eat when your body is broken?
I poured water over him and left him there while I went inside to work at my kitchen table, but I knew he’d dry out. I kept peering through the window to see the damp patch slowly shrinking as the sun rose higher. I felt his death would be worse on the heating pavement, probably because I’m hopelessly sentimental. Probably his death would be horrible anyway. But out I went again to scoop him gently, pulling his front legs so as not to disturb his exposed giblets, and placing him in a terracotta plant dish and a half inch of water. I tucked him and his dish partway under the Gregg’s blue mist by my shoddy diy fountain, the one guarded over by the lotus-seated cement frog, and dribbled some water on his head. I am so sorry, I said. I am so sorry for your pain, for this hideous long end you are facing.
God’s eye was not on this toad, I said to my partner, and he said no, God’s too busy watching the sparrows.
I checked on the toad every forty minutes or so, getting up from my laptop and creeping to the edge of my porch to see that he’d moved a bit, had slung an arm over the edge of the dish to gaze blankly at the tumble of greenery above him. Still breathing, I concluded, with another dribble of water, until an hour or two later I Googled “what to feed a dying toad” and read only that they want to eat living things, insects I wouldn’t be able to find quickly like crickets and mealworms. Out I went again, digging holes in my yard for an earthworm I never found, then trudging down to the woods beyond for a cricket and coming back with nothing better than two pill bugs and a spiky grasshopper I knew was too big and unruly to serve as a last meal.
I rubbed these offerings on the toad’s unresponsive lips, trying not to alarm it, saying, would you like this? It’s good, it will make you strong.
How do you eat when your guts are destroyed? Who could eat at a time like this? My google search displayed other commonly asked questions like “do reptiles feel pain?” (yes) and “do reptiles feel pain if they are skinned alive?” Jesus H. Christ. We are monsters and cats are monsters and my dog Nora, that time she crunched a cardinal and left it peeping so piteously that I had to get my mother to take it somewhere cool and shady to die because I just couldn’t—she’s a monster too.
By noon the toad was very still and didn’t flinch when I touched his tiny hand. After my phone meeting at 1:30, I could smell his death when I knelt over him. I cried and only just remembered to offer up thanks that he hadn’t lasted longer, remembered that that had been my original prayer hours ago, before I’d tried idiotically to feed him: make it swift, please please make it swift. I cried a little harder by the frog fountain with my knees pressed into the gravel, because I remembered I don’t know where to send these prayers, and I faltered. It wasn’t swift was it? It lasted all morning, this toad’s death. But I offered up thanks anyway, up anywhere, that his dying was over, that maybe it was better to die in the shade of green things, serenaded by the sound of dripping water. Maybe, but maybe not by much.
I picked a spot under the lethally-spiked mermaid rose and wrapped him in a paper towel. To the right of the burial hole is a reemerging pomegranate bush I transplanted this spring and had given up for dead until one day in early summer, green shoots, and now, blooms! I picked one flower from the bush and placed it on top of Toadly’s paper shroud, then one shovel of dirt, another apology, and back inside. It wasn’t until a few hours later that I realized I’d buried him upside down. I reminded myself he was definitely dead, and the dead don’t care. I believe this less and less as I get older, but I say it aloud anyway.
As it happens my mother was feeling unwell this morning, and she never gets sick. She doesn’t coddle herself like I do so if she takes to her bed, it’s worrying. Probably she’s fine, but I know it shakes us both, these sinking spells. And here I am texting her about dinner, about how I can make something, anything, so she won’t have to cook, knowing full well that she probably won’t have an appetite anyway. Here I am digging for worms, hunting for crickets, scanning my fridge inventory, desperate to offer edible solutions to things I don’t understand. Eat! Eat! You’ll feel better!—like a stereotypical grandma from the old country, any old country, the kind you want to strangle for her stubborn simplicity. It’s not that simple, Grandma, but still she insists. Eat. You’ll feel better.
Aqua de Valencia Cocktail
I developed this riff on the Aqua de Valencia cocktail for my clients, Common Ground Spirits, after revisiting episodes of Travel Man with Richard Ayoade and watching him guzzle this bevvy at a hipster bar in Valenica, Spain. It was the middle of August here in Central Texas, miserably hot and dry, but thanks to this juicy libation, my partner and I found a few hours of liquid relief. Brimming with fresh blood orange juice, lots of liquor, and gently fizzing Spanish Cava, this drink is a crowd pleaser and easy to throw together.
One bottle of cava yields 6 cocktails, and I give you this warning, dear reader: two cocktails are splendid. Three will knock you sideways. I highly recommend serving this drink with some snacks or having your dinner ready and waiting in the wings, so you aren’t slopping around your kitchen three drinks deep.
A traditional Aqua de Valencia is made with—you guessed it—Valencia oranges. I have never been to Spain, nor had a Valencia orange straight from the source, but I suspect they are more interesting than the Valencias at my local grocery store. When testing this recipe, I found the traditional recipe too sweet and mimosa-like, so I tarted it up with lemon juice and swapped the Valencias for the more complex juice of the blood orange.
1 oz. Common Ground Spirits elderflower and basil Gin Recipe 01 (or use whatever gin is handy)
1 oz. vodka
2 oz. fresh blood orange juice (or substitute for Valencia orange juice)
1 oz. fresh lemon juice
Cava (any decent dry Cava will do here, no need to break the bank)
- Fill a large (16oz) stemmed beer glass or wine glass halfway with ice, then add the gin, vodka, orange juice, and lemon juice and stir a few times to combine.
- Top with Cava (about 3 or 4 ounces depending on the size of the glass) and serve with a straw.
- I’ve seen versions of this cocktail made with the extra addition of Cointreau, and while this might tip the drink into the realm of anesthesia, why not give it a try?