Spea multiplicata

New Mexico spadefoot
Michael Thomas



The first big rain opens the ground,

Water all over hell and gone,

Seeking its level,

Flooding the barn,

Drying up quick,

Setting the ground up to receive,

Take in water next time.


Coupla days pass,

Call from the Mayordomo.

We get water.

“Use it or lose it, you get it when Sammy’s done.”



Water shows up alright along with

Heavy clouds and lightning and heat,

Heat rising with its own burden of wet from last time.


I gotta say, though, we don’t get the irrigation water

Until the rising of a deflated, half worn out moon, maybe midnight.

Rain comes too, an hour later,

A big show affair with lotsa light and noise.


And, damn, its miles to go before I sleep for sure, buddy

And I am in a watery world

With that heat still rising in the pouring rain.

I’m directing water as best I can,

A soaked traffic cop on a half-submerged pasture,

Stripped to my skivvies, wet, warm, slick, witless, and happy,

This desert land now a world of wet.


The irrigation water marches along,

Resolute and stupid,

Like Pershing’s army after Pancho Villa

I lean on my shovel.


The moon is high overhead and morning not many hours distant.

The earth is swarming with tiny toads, sapos

They make a hellacious racket while they are at it.

At least until I move.

Cracka Cracka Cracka… etc. etc. etc


I pick one up.

Smells like a peanut butter sandwich, rich and fecund.

I’m no dummy, I know that they are toads, Spadefoot Toads.

And there are a parcel of the little creatures, that’s a take,

Along with the occasional large Western toads that I see all the time,

Toads that the livestock will inadvertently step on and maim.


The little guys are in a hurry, eating mainly.

Lotsa insects driven and exposed,

Taking their weird little insect chances,

Dodging the prospect of getting drownt,

Bread and butter to the small toads


Man there are lots of them,

Hundreds, maybe thousands,

Swarming the piddly three acre pasture,

And the rest of the place,

Some of them already at their work,

In the two feet of standing ditch water,

Breeding without shame in the glare of my flashlight,

In a hurry it seems.


I do what my kind does,

I try to figure it all out.

I take ‘em into the house and set them on book pages,

And in front of the computer screen to see what they are,

According to people,

and what they do.

They are New Mexico Spadefoots,

Sandy colored little guys with tiny ruby warts all over them

Like sugar sparkles.


My wife will be mad,

I got mud everywhere.

Standing in my wet shorts, I learn what I can,

But it’s not much.

New worlds of ignorance, vast and startling open up.


In the suddenly wet world the toads eat and breed.

They are little guys, not much bigger than golf balls.

Feet with that spade that is just swell at digging,

Digging in to wait, digging out to feast and party.

Deep inert and patient mostly

But hungry, desperate, and brimming with lust,

When the world is wet and the time is right.

“Use it or lose it,” as the Mayordomo says,

But irrigating in the rain has got to be stupid,

These toads have things to show me.




Michael Thomas is an anthropologist and novelist retired from UNM. He is a New Mexico boy having been born in Raton. He spent most of his life in New Mexico (Alamogordo, Las Cruces, Socorro). He now lives with his family in Albuquerque. He considers himself a naturalist and participates in citizen science.