Frog Holocaust

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On this September 11th, rather than watch television, light virtual candles or attend awkward rituals, I decided instead to take a long walk along the pond. There is something daunting about this time of year, with so much life in its last embrace, preparing to die. The frogs are lying still among the lilies, chanting the dirges of the season. That started me thinking …

In the summer of 1966, three 10-year old boys stood on this very spot with BB guns, laying waste to scores of frogs. I recall it vividly, the frenzy of the boys, the pop-pop-pop of the guns, the frog autopsies and the mix of horror and fascination at the damage the BB's inflicted on their tender bodies. Today, I am the only surviving witness of this holocaust.

I have no idea why we scourged the frogs that day. It was as incomprehensible then as it is today. I'm certain that we were neither the first nor last group of boys to go through this grotesque rite of passage. I do know that from the beginning of my walk today, the ghosts of those dead frogs were fluttering amongst the latest generations of moths and dragonflies along the edge of the pond.

The frogs like to play hide-and-seek with walkers-by. The walkers turn their necks in vain to try to spot the source of a nearby croak, more often than not stumbling at the break in rhythm this disturbance causes. The frogs secretly laugh and continue their dalliances as the walkers move on.

The frogs have no fear, however, of sitting or standing visitors. They remain still for a few seconds, look the visitor in the eye, and then resume their business. It is no different with me. If they know of my past indiscretions, they show no sign of it. They seem no more wary today than they did on that day 36 years ago. I am certainly more welcome than the blue heron I can see wading along the opposite shore, or the pickerel that swirls in the reeds. I know nothing of frog lore, passed on from generation to generation, but in the eyes of the bullfrog closest to me, I can see no sign of either animosity or remorse.

Frogs are miraculous creatures. They are great communicators, and readily share their secrets with us. Much of what I learned of nature as a child, I learned from frogs. They give up their eggs for us to watch hatch, then transmute through all the various frog forms. The let us catch them, to feel their smooth skin, to witness the miracle that is their voice, to watch their multiple lessons in locomotion. I have to think that nature provides the wisdom of the frogs to us as emissaries. They don't communicate in any way we call communications, but if we sense well enough, the message comes across.

I watched the frogs in silence for a while, then rose to leave. The frogs stopped their play briefly, wary once again at the movement, then blinked me a frog farewell. As I rose, I looked down and noticed that the fabric of my socks was covered in burs and fluff from the walk. It was as if the dying plants have entrusted me with their future. And so it goes …

As I walked back a wondering smile began to slowly overwhelm my face. There was an extra texture to the shadow I cast from the cool autumn sun, with at least one 10-year-old boy accompanying me.

I neither asked for, nor received forgiveness for the sins of my youth. The ancestors of the dead frogs carry on, as do I. Life is more expansive than any of us - man, frog or wort. It surpasses the individual.

As the sounds of the pond were beginning to succumb to the sounds of town, I thought perhaps the croaking dirge shifted briefly to Latin: "Nos perituri mortem salutamus. Sola resurgit vita." We who will perish salute death. Only life goes on.

Jim Bennett

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March 21, 2009