I read Sara Stein’s “Noah’s Garden” the first year we moved to Racine. She was (is?) an expert gardener with decades of experience landscaping every kind of flower, shrub, and tree. Her gardens were so beautiful they were sometimes featured in magazines and newspapers.
Except one day she realized that she had no frogs. Much of the lively fauna that ought to among her beautiful flora – was missing.
That realization provoked and inspired her into what became a many-year project to replant her acres of rural New England with native plants and trees. Success arrived the day she was working in the yard and heard an unfamiliar noise. When she turned around -- there was a frog.
Frogs’ skin is so thin and absorbent (I think part of their breathing process is done through their skin) that they can only live where the water and air is healthy and the environment can sustain and nourish their complicated yearlong transformation from eggs to frogs to next year’s tadpoles.
After I read “Noah’s Garden” I gave up weed killers. (Until Kathryn showed me how to use them to fight super-duper invasive wild mustard). Our grass became rattier but it stayed green even in drought summers! I didn’t only plant native plants, but a lot of them were and I muddled along.
Our bedroom had two windows that opened to our backyard and in the summer those windows were open most nights. In the yard was a small pond with a pump-driven waterfall; the quiet splash of water was lovely. This pond-ette was surrounded by plants, the unbuilt-upon lot behind us, moss, weeds, and a mighty plethora of bugs and mosquitoes.
It took years of low-grade gardening, but one night while in bed reading Len and I heard our first deep “Ribbit!” We grinned more gleefully than a real estate developer with a new casino. That handsome single bachelor frog (I don’t really know that, but it was fun to ascribe romantic attributes to him) oversaw our backyard the rest of that summer. The photo that starts this posting is not some random frog from the internet. Oh no, this is a close-up of Our Froggy Heartthrob of Yore.
He was not there the next spring. We have ideas, but respect for Frog’s private life keeps our speculation to a minimum. Also, there were also hawks in our neighborhood. And occasional coyotes. And a delightful retired school teacher neighbor, but I don’t thing Gwen would have frog-napped our frog. Did you, Gwen?
The true thing here is this. Frogs are very small. Yet frogs in nature tell us, almost before anything else out there, when world is wrong and when it is right.
Watch for frogs. The symbolic small realities that indicate how we are doing. Laughter. A good night’s sleep. When a kid you love asks you for a food that nourishes. A national story about millions of ordinary citizens preserving something worth preserving. Eggs from a friend’s chickens.
And also watch out for the real frogs who are bellwethers of our at-risk natural world.
Keep your eye on the small stuff and little fellows.