river in the dark

tire-flattened toads decorate nearly all the roads on kauai. at first, i tried not to look too closely at their squished bodies; in a word, they were gross. but one night while out walking at dusk, I happened to look down and see one on the pavement. I stopped; stepped back. drained of its three-dimensionality, the toad became strange and wonderful. there in the half-light, an invisible door inched open into a mythic landscape full of paradox, where lifeless amphibians start dancing.

this world of silhouette forms to which the toads belong opens only in fleeting conditions of light, but is also somehow there all the time. it’s strange when the imaginal, the mythic, feels MORE real than the “real.” perhaps they’re separated only by a trick of the light.


this project (2021-2022) was undertaken with respect and reverence for the Hawaiian islands, their kanaka ‘ōiwi wisdom holders, and all their creatures, including toads, who are totally amazing

in dreams and fairy tales, toads and frogs often arrive unexpectedly. taking the place of something desired (e.g., the handsome prince), they’re seen as ugly and unwanted. but if they’re attended to and accepted in their amphibian form, they transform into the original object of desire: the beloved.

i’ve been learning about frogs and toads while processing toad photos, and i’m struck by their porousness - literal and metaphorical. their skin is so thin that they’re incredibly sensitive to changes in the environment, and disturbances in their populations are often one of the first signs of an ecosystem out of balance. they transform from swimming tadpole to four-legged creatures, and the aphrodisiac and psychedelic medicines their bodies contain are bridges between worlds, for themselves and for us.

frogs and toads have long instructed humans in the movements between states of consciousness and being.Chinese mythology celebrates the toad as a moon goddess of transformation and immortality, and the Aztec toad goddess Tlaltecuhi is said to have a mouth so big that it swallows the sun each night into the generative womb of death and rebirth. hand-shaped sculptures with the body of frog and the face of a woman can be found dating back to 6,000 BCE. there is an ancient connection between frogs and the feminine, and many versions of an amphibian lunar goddess.

having moved through a chapter of life accompanied by these creatures, they really did transform for me, just like in the stories, from slimy aliens into mythical beings who will forever have my appreciation and respect.

image: Meditating Frog by Zen master Sengai, ink on paper, 18th century Japan
research from The Book of Symbols