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OpinionColumnistsMichael Dobie

Kirby knows how to leapfrog the chaotic news

Kirby, the toad, in the writer's garden.

Kirby, the toad, in the writer's garden. Credit: Newsday/Michael Dobie

The toad appeared in our garden in midsummer. We dubbed him Kirby and welcomed him warmly. Toads eat bugs, of which we have an unfortunate abundance, and he proceeded to grow visibly healthier as the season progressed.

We made him a house, an overturned terra-cotta pot with a chunk chiseled out for a doorway and "Kirby's Kastle" printed with a Sharpie on front. Now we're getting ready to prepare him a winter home — a piece of drainpipe filled with soil, sand and leaves — in which he can hibernate until spring.

There are days I want to join him.

Like Friday. That was the day the world discovered that President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump had tested positive for COVID-19. It was like so much other Trump-era news in the way that it was shocking but not surprising, and in the way that it obliterated from one's consciousness the hundred other pieces of shocking but not surprising pieces of news that obliterated the news that immediately preceded them.

Like the president's nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to fill Ruth Bader Ginsburg's Supreme Court seat, the rush-the-justice story, accompanied by intense speculation about whether that would change the contours of the presidential race.

Like the revelations about Trump's tax returns, the $750 story, accompanied by intense speculation about whether that would change the contours of the presidential race.

Like the horrifying cringe-fest known as the debate in Cleveland, the failure-to-condemn-white-supremacy story, accompanied by intense speculation about whether that would change the contours of the presidential race.

Like the continuing attempts by some state governors to make it more difficult to vote this fall, and Trump's request that supporters show up at polling sites to monitor voting, and plans by the FBI and Department of Justice to counter possible Election Day violence and voting disruptions, the are-we-really-willing-to-subvert-democracy-for-partisan-ends story, accompanied by intense speculation about whether that would change the contours of the presidential race.

After being pummeled by that kind of fire hose, luxuriating in warm soil inside a terra-cotta pot, living off the land, and then sleeping for a few months has a certain attraction.

When you're a toad, you blend in, thanks to your uncanny resemblance to a dead zucchini leaf (we have plenty of those, too). And you take your part in the ecosystem that is a healthy backyard.

The Italian wall lizards join you in dining on the bugs that feed on the crops, and the bees and wasps come to fertilize those crops. You hop across soil rich with worms that help the crops flourish, and you watch as the birds hunt the worms for food. You see the squirrels raid the tomatoes and climb the sunflowers, seeking food and scattering seeds that bloom in unexpected places, while a woodpecker finds nourishing insects high up in the dead branches of a dogwood left standing for just such a purpose.

It’s harmonious, in a way that’s a balm for what's taking place beyond the yard.

News always happens. That's a corollary of human life. We do stuff or don't do stuff that some people love and some people hate. But we've never had this much news, this much shock, so much of it created callously, so much of it to destructive ends, coming at us from so many angles, coming so quickly there's no chance to adjust and reflect, one crisis blending seamlessly into the next, the damage mounting with each percussive strike because we have no chance to deal with what came before.

It's enough to make you envy a toad.

Michael Dobie is a member of Newsday's editorial board.

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