On the night before Labor Day, as our family gathered in the backyard to catch a few more moments of a dying summer, we finally glimpsed The Croaker, an outdoor visitor that, for the length of the season, had routinely been heard, yet never seen.

Visitors to Tickfaw State Park get up close and personal with nature _lowres

Julia Morris, with the Tickfaw State Park Nature Center, shows a bull frog to an audience at the center.

The Croaker, nicknamed by my wife, is a bullfrog that bellows every night just beyond the back door. He’s sometimes so loud that we can’t hear the television, which might be life’s way of telling us that there’s more to summer than the latest sitcom or cable news bulletin. Think of a cello sounding the same rusty note — a note so strong that the window panes seem to vibrate — and you’ll get some idea of the competition that prime-time programming is up against.

Some nights, hoping to know just how big a creature was calling to the neighborhood, I’ve walked outside with a flashlight to trace the source of the commotion. But The Croaker, as elusive as Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster, remained hidden. My only sense of his size came from a faint rustling in the bushes as he disappeared from view.

But last Sunday, our time off lengthened by Labor Day and unfettered from the urgency to wrap up the usual weekend chores, we went in the backyard after dinner — my wife and I, our teenage son, our daughter who’s in college. There were four of us — or, as we quickly learned, five. We spotted his silhouette, barely visible from the light of a full moon, as he darted into the shadows. His body was as big as a baking potato, and his legs streamed behind him like the tail of comet. Big enough to be on someone’s dinner plate, I thought, as The Croaker vanished once again.

The sight of him seemed like the closing of a chapter — our small reward for following a frog through a season now at its end.

Soon, I know, the sound of The Croaker will be gone, too, as the days cool and the creatures of summer go off to those secret places where they sleep until spring.

Walking back in the house, I thought of "The Great Gatsby," the F. Scott Fitzgerald novel so many of us were assigned to read in school. Fitzgerald writes of a summer evening when the "wind had blown off, leaving a loud bright night with wings beating in the trees and a persistent organ sound as the full bellows of the earth blew the frogs full of life."

The book is about a hundred things, including the age-old illusion of summer seeming endless, though it ends just the same. Or so I’m reminded by the big leaves descending from my sycamore this month, carpeting the lawn like leaflets dropped by an invading squadron.

Their message is a simple one. Surrender, summer. Your time is up for another year.

Follow Danny Heitman on Twitter, @Danny_Heitman.