From the Desk of Jay Rainey – March 8, 2024

Did you know that bullfrogs never sleep? Well, they might sleep, but scientists in 1967 didn’t think so. (Apparently one casualty of my being 50-something is thinking that a study from 1967 is still cutting edge.) Maybe insomnia explains all the croaking they do. If you never slept, wouldn’t your voice be froggy too?

Our onomatopoeic English word “croak” descends from an ancient verb (“gerh”) that also meant what it sounded like (“to cry hoarsely”) and to which words in many other modern languages owe their existence too—“garajanā” in Hindi, for example (“to blare, to roar”), and “nguroj” in Albanian (“to howl”). In German, “krähen” means “to crow,” and this is not the only bird-word “croak” cousin. “Grouse” in English (whose verb form, fittingly, means “to complain”) and “graculus” in Latin (which was what the Romans called the “Gerh! Gerh! Gerh!”-ing jackdaw) are two further examples.

In fact, I think I will use CROAK as my Wordle opener today. Here goes nothing. (Spoiler alert!)

Not my best showing.

One of Emily Dickinson’s poems likens croaking to fame-seeking—or “dislikens” it, I suppose. (“You really don’t want to be famous,” the journalist Kevin Kelly once said. “Read the biography of any famous person.”)

I’m Nobody! Who are you?
Are you – Nobody – too?
Then there’s a pair of us!
Don’t tell! they’d advertise – you know!

How dreary – to be – Somebody!
How public – like a Frog –
To tell one’s name – the livelong June –
To an admiring Bog!

As fine a poem as this is, Dickinson is punching down a little, I think. She might have picked on a croaking bird instead—a crow, a grouse, a jackdaw—who can at least sustain flight, and who presumably gets some occasional shuteye; but then again, none of these creatures’ names rhymes with “Bog!” Poor frog. It just feels like adding insult to injury.

When I was a child, my mother cross-stitched and framed the figure of a frog perched over a version of a poem slightly less literary than Dickinson’s. It hung on a wall in my home throughout my childhood and, among other points to recommend it, bridged the gap between avian- and amphibian-kind.

What a wonderful bird the frog are.
When he stand, he sit almost.
When he hop, he fly almost.
He ain’t got no sense hardly.
He ain’t got no tail hardly, either.
When he sit, he sit on what he ain’t got almost.

The word “joy” has been a touchstone for me this school year. In the same world where talking heads (grousing heads?) and attention-seeking algorithms as sleepless as a 1967 bullfrog plague our eyes and ears with humanity’s croaking discontentment and resentments (Have you heard? It’s an election year!), I discovered on Tuesday morning as I walked down the front steps of Olson Hall the delightful sounds of birds in the trees—first dozens of them and then, as I quieted myself, hundreds, singing to one another in the joy of the hope of spring. In his 2014 novel All The Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr reminds us that light is “mathematically invisible.” We must look to see, and we must listen to hear. “How dreary – to be – Somebody!” Looking and seeing are Nobody’s work.

MICDS has been full of joys to see and to hear this week: theatrical productions of Amélie in the Upper School and The Real Story of Alice in Wonderland in the Middle School; chamber music performances by students in all three divisions; spring athletic practices and our boys lacrosse home opener; the wonderful Lower School book fair; and, as always, other experiences great and small in the life of our community—and the lives of our students—as we continue in the year.

Spring break is upon us. It is well deserved. Whether croaking or singing—or both—fill your ears in the fortnight ahead, I wish you joy through the listening. Always reason, always compassion, always courage. Happy vacation! We look forward to welcoming you back when you return.

Jay Rainey
Head of School

This week’s addition to the “Refrains for Rams” playlist: Joy To The World by Three Dog Night (Apple Music / Spotify)