A Dead-End Road
We used to live on a dead end road next to a thriving small pond. There were only five houses laid out on this unassuming quiet spot and ours was the closest to the woods and the pond. The last spring we lived there, the pond’s bullfrogs were silent, apparently reluctant to begin their welcoming chorus to the warmer weather. These frogs were very close to my heart, even though I hardly ever saw one. Their deep throbbing mating calls would go on all through the spring days and nights and the hypnotic rhythm was comforting, familiar and trustworthy. Not to hear them announce this long-awaited change in seasons seemed disastrous. How could anything happen without them? Certainly, we could not endure winter forever. The smaller frogs that were always hopping along the little spillover stream meandering along side the road were also absent.
Of course these wonderfully babbling and bellowing neighbors had never taken me into their confidence, but for the eighteen years that I had lived in their neighborhood their raucous presence had always been incomparably reassuring
Our other neighbors, an eleven year old girl and her four year old brother, loved to catch frogs in a butterfly net and take them back to their house and put them in a terrarium I had once given them, feeding them crickets from the pet store. They were constantly trudging up and down the street in their wading boots and wide-brimmed hats like juvenile Charles Darwins. These precocious children did not have an iPod or a Gameboy or even a computer at home, so the small frogs and the tiny silver fish they discovered in the stream were their main sources of entertainment. To make it safer for the Darwins, their mother had pulled up all the poison ivy around the stream and hanging down from the spruce trees.
Desperately missing the first loud deep voices of spring, I remembered other times when around eleven o’clock at night I used to like to go out with the dog and stand alone at the end of the road. I would look up beyond the canopy of oak and maple and spruce trees at the stars and listen to the bullfrogs while Gracie poked her black nose into the damp shadows and followed the little stream. There was nothing like those few moments enveloped in the dense black universe. The always tragic and dreadful news from the television was just a faint jumble of sounds through the bright open square of a window. The stars burned and winked through the leaves in their self-centered way as if to say: pay no attention to anything but us! Though I sensed a strange benevolence in their distant overture, there was no comfort there, no sense of helpfulness and security. The mysterious loneliness of this tiny cold patch of earth with all its secret passionate brave and resilient life endured. But early spring would be unbearable without the bold unstoppable drumming din of the bullfrogs, without their inner certainty and the soft colorful hope they brought forth.
So, the final April and May I lived there, the silence at night was especially riveting and strange. Where was the loud jug-of-rum-song of all the frogs? During the day the little girl and her even more determined brother seemed to be constantly trudging up and down the street in their bright yellow wading boots carrying their butterfly net and a big pail filled with nervous jumping frogs. I asked them suspiciously how many frogs they had caught and the little girl airily and proudly responded that they had captured about fifteen small ones. I asked them (trying to be casual and polite) how long they kept them in the terrarium. They kept them for a week or so and then let them go. I asked them about the big frogs. No, they hadn’t found any bullfrogs. Not yet. She indicated by her quiet, confident manner that of course they would find the bullfrogs, eventually.
Probably I was anxious for no reason as the female bullfrog lays twenty thousand eggs at a time, certainly enough to populate our warm undisturbed little pond forever.
I had once read that the bullfrogs’ main enemies were snakes, hawks, raccoons, even dogs. Lately, a pair of great blue herons had taken up residence by the pond. Perhaps they were responsible for the absence of the familiar croaking around us. But in the back of my mind, I was sure that the Darwins were capturing all the frogs and imprisoning them in my old terrarium. Quite indignant one morning at breakfast, I told Joanie. She was horrified that I seemed to be stalking these curious children who no doubt would grow up to be world-class biologists, running out and peering into their bucket, while pretending to be walking the dog. Gravely setting down her green tea, she told me to stop being ridiculous; as an afterthought she kindly explained that I just had to be patient and the bullfrogs would appear soon enough. The frogs did not especially enthrall Joanie and she did not really understand why I was so wild about them.
Sure enough, just as Joanie predicted, one day out of the mud, out of the sacred concert hall of glorious mud, the bullfrogs slowly began their deep careful songs, and the rising crescendo, the sudden harsh bedlam of their calls, the breathtakingly happy hubbub and pandemonium of their lives filled the warm spring air and made the lilacs bud and the forsythia bloom and the bleeding heart come up and the grass grow green and the maple tree unfold its leaves. The great blue herons flew away to a quieter neighborhood and the eleven year old Darwin caught one of the stentorian singers, a five pounder, and entered him into the Agway animal fair and won first prize for the most humorous animal. Normally so quiet and composed, she forgot herself and her modest ways. See! She shouted giddily at me as I stared dumbfounded at the immense and dignified giant, discretely silent though its pale soft throat throbbed in anticipation of the night’s chorale, the great conductor of the change of seasons himself! I knew I would catch one! And her brilliant little brother huffed and puffed morosely beside her, for wasn’t it he who had seen the most humorous animal first?
Later, after the prize-wining frog had been released, the Darwins’ mother and I and the dog stood around watching the dusk arrive and listened to the indefatigable ensemble begin their night’s chorus which was so important to the well-being and success of everyone who lived beside this pond. And as we stood there quietly in reverent audience, the mother found a few more poison ivy strands to pull up with her one garden glove; the dog with her cloudy eyes, happily meandering about in the damp leaves, discovered where two deer had recently napped; the vain but good-natured stars one by one (so as not to overwhelm us) appeared overhead; the wispy cloud turned deep purple; and the trees, having worked hard all day, fell asleep; and I imprinted every detail of this dear old road upon my mind as we drove all the way to Florida to our new home; oh I wanted so much to remember those damp and magical frogs so I could tell you how completely they had once fulfilled me.
©2006 Linda Clarke Volume 7 Issue 1
Linda your talent is to make us all feel as you do about the natural world. I was disturbed by your Darwins’s kidnapping the frogs and holding them captive for days. I wanted to say, no, observe them in nature. I don’t like people of any age disrespecting the privacy of creatures and any and all creatures’s right to live in the neighborhood. I hate that curiosity leads to capture. It breaks my heart to think that for even a minute the frog is snatched up and put in a bucket and taken indoors to a small terranium. Maybe mothers should teach their children to observe in nature and hands off. Maybe the poison ivy is telling her to stay away. I want all creatures to feel safe in their homes and be able to thrive. People are the great disturbers and it is no good. Joan