A new frog can’t seem to settle. She entertains ideals, though dangers always lurk round the corner. Story complimented with unsettling pictures of a student modern dance performance from Amiens, France, circa May 2018.
If she entered the space on a Tuesday, how is it that she didn’t emerge until Friday?
The answer is this: an aquatic frog can bury herself near oxygen-rich water for extended periods of time during great catastrophe, natural disaster, harsh winter or, as sweet amphibians are wont to do, in times of mortal embarrassment.
Our little friend had succumbed to the latter. Tuesday midday she flung herself into her riverside hole, she closed herself in. Given to assuming, Frog had believed passerby would be open to her ideas. She was too trusting.
Now, it’s important to understand that Frog had taken a terrifying route to come to her new hovel. The mound of earth she called home, though mere acres from the sluggish crick where she had sprouted legs – first recognized her right to elope with solid ground – was unfamiliar territory. She had hopped for many days, circling across parched turf, forest and tall grass. With legs that are vehicles for mapping landscape (and ancestors who wandered little), new frogs have no sense of direction.
So Frog suffered the scrapes and humiliations of losing her way. She hadn’t a strong survival instinct, and caught flies only when they sank to rest near her – rare in the dry transit she had undertaken. She had been seduced to get close enough to a fox’s nose that she could only just escape a snapped attempt at her life, thank her fabulous reflexes!, and bullied away from a nice damp den under an oak when its toad had come home.
By the time she came to the riverside, not so far from her birthplace but far enough that she’d never get back to it, her skin was rasping. Frog had gone too long without water. She was tired of her fear, demoralized, shriveling, burdened. Frog began to think the legs she’d sprouted were an affliction in the earth she’d come to. When she had wriggled through squadrons of brethren in their primordial crick, at least there had been a certain equality – she’d had so many masses of siblings that her chances of getting picked off by some hungry rover had been small indeed. She resented the world! The hateful beasts, the trickery, cold brutality… something had to give!
Frog had traveled so far under such circumstances that she’d ceased to think quite like a frog. This is when she spotted the quicksilver sign of home.
She’d left the toad’s burrow the evening before, hopping only so far as a damp sheet of maple duff she could use as shelter. She sighed relief as her hungry skin wicked in water from the forest floor. Here, at least, she could succumb to exhaustion. Frog slept, and slept until well after dawn’s break. When she pushed out of slumber, she understood she had rolled and rocked herself to face what she hadn’t seen in the gloom of her previous night’s failure.
The river was there, shining, wet. Green, expansive, empty, with heavy willows along the opposite shore. It was the edge of a large estate, though of course Frog couldn’t have known why the land looked so bare. She’d not yet learned of the soft-fleshed beasts that could move the trees and root massive dens – more massive than any frog could hope to span without terrible exposure – and bury earthen homes in walls of fire, and drag new rivers through deep soil where there was no water before…
She hopped, quick-like, to inspect this mirage. She wasn’t disappointed. Her side of the river, a weedy haven pockmarked with clods of fresh earth, mocked the fresh order of the opposite. There was a clump of moss, here was a rock with an overhang that looked like a frog’s haven. She knew, at last, that she might live. Frog would claim the rock, and luck gifted her a timely peace. She’d have weeks to nest and grow. She could feed, and rest.
But Frog, with no fellow beasts – only those terrifying encounters of her earlier travels – had succumbed to a terrible parasite. Like so much she didn’t know, she couldn’t have understood that her hopes and ideas were un-froglike. While her brothers and sisters, still residents of her mothercrick, were sunning themselves and snatching dinner in a lazy haze, Frog was thinking. Her kin only shed their stupor to laugh and mate, but Frog would watch the butterflies and floating leaves, wondering about the tranquility she perceived. She would listen to the birds chatter in their high branches, and learned of shelled eggs and song and endless rivers and Humans and their offerings. She was prey to all questions.
Frog did, of course, emerge from her solitude. On that one Tuesday, as she sat river-side, a brown beast surfaced from under a patch of water that had barely eddied before. It was furred, and sleek. When its black matte snout broke up through tree’s reflection, the unfamiliar thing whistled sharp chatter through pointed teeth.
“Good day, beauty. What is it that you are finding so interesting this morning?”
The creature spoke her language, but the strange way about it unnerved Frog. She hesitated.
“I don’t know whether anything is very interesting. But today things seem like they’ll be okay.”
Curling onto his back, the beast swirled in circles. “What is it, then, that is becoming ‘okay’?”
“Well… I just mean that things here are calm. Unlike in other places. I traveled so long to get here, and the road was so hard… Since I’ve been here, I think I’ve been able to understand how things could be… different. It think I understand why things here are better.”
“Yes… better. Better than the dry road. Better than the forest, where no one is safe from tricksters and bullies. Better than the pond, where we crowd and compete. This place is safe for all who come here.”
“And why would that be?”
“Well… I think it’s that the creatures here get on so well. This place is quiet, and my companions – though I guess I don’t have so many companions – aren’t hunting each other like they do in other places. I sit on the bank, and watch the minnowlings… they sparkle, and play, and live. And the birds here eat those seeds, the ones you see hanging in boxes across the river… so do the squirrels. They share them with their children.” She paused. “We’re all together, but no one bothers anybody else. I just think it could be something we all talked about.” Pause, again. “All of the creatures, I mean.”
“That is sounding like idealism.” The brown beast brayed a hacking cough. “One of the problems is that beasties from certain species – and yes, from that greener edge of the Human estate!, spoiled beasties – is that they are divorcing from reality. Their ideas – they are laughable! We should be getting down in the mud before we croak, shouldn’t we…”
Frog balked. “I don’t think you understand what I’m saying. I just meant that things could be better for all of us, you know? As in… couldn’t the different creatures, the birds and the minnows and the frogs and you, too!… couldn’t we just meet, and agree to do what causes less harm? You can see it in the trees… when they speak, it’s about how they can share when their fellows are starving…”
“You know we cannot be surviving without prey, do you?” The furred speaker gripped his paws on the river’s cliffed bank, slapping his tail on water’s surface. “For my meal times, for example, I will be eating fish… they are the lifeblood for my kind, yes. The delicacy, yes. But, fat friend, you should be knowing, when we are hungry and tired, we might be coming for a cousin to you…”
Frog balked, again; here again, a trick – she pulled back toward the shelter of her river stone. Her companion coughed, and shook its head, movements curt.
“Do not be worrying, little one! I am not hungry at this time. I am really only meaning to help… But do know, I might be coming back, and that day I might be another kind of beastie…” And it pushed back from the earth, slid beneath the river, was gone.
Frog was mortified. All of this time she’d sat thinking of her calm home, and how it could always be so, she had forgotten her journey, and sharp-toothed dangers. Though she knew them, she had forgotten. Idiot! Little Frog, spared by indifference! She couldn’t cope with her shame. What a frog! A wreck! She’d survived a fiend, but not his portent. What would a creature seeking a blooded lunch do with her ideals?
So Frog hid away. She plunged into the muddy recesses under her protective stone, deeper than she’d burrowed in the days her riverside seemed so kind. When she felt safe, cocooned, she pushed the rich mud round her back. She closed herself in, all but the hole where she would sip fresh air in restless sleep.
Sleep, she did. Dream, she did. Frog’s ideas, as on other days, continued to prick. Her visions, light floating thoughts, garbled the words of her sleek brown adversary. She slept, three days she slept, and she began to see:
Idealism is a disparaged process, it is! The greater beasts can’t gauge its worth, they approach with condescension. Impossible, they think! Have the animals no hope? They belittle ideas – do they even have ideas! They don’t hear, they don’t hear… and can only demean the inquiry. But if! If the other animals could just see, like she could see, just break from their routine… would a shock be enough? Would a shock shake them to a place of peace?
Frog emerged from the mud on Friday, reaffirmed. She was out of her hole for not so much as a second when she took the long leap to the top of her stone, and began to sing. She sang until the minnows noticed, and hovered still in the shade of the bank. She sang until the squirrels, distracted on the opposite shore, pricked their ears and froze. She sang until even the birds, shocked that such a sound could come from a creature without wings, dropped into the branches above her head. They had never noticed her before.
Elegant little Frog heaved onto her back legs, sure she had captivated them all. She puffed in a grand breath. She would woo them! She would convince them! And she took off into her self-contrived monologue:
“It shall be river equality, brethren!”
“Why do we not value the minnow as the rest value the bass?”
“Does a smaller creature really warrant species degradation? Does it really warrant being preyed upon?”
“Inter-species communication… that is it, the secret! Communication!”
“Let us ask the fox to sample tubers, the possum to stick to fruit! And the hawk shall taste the suet Humans leave for their bird cousins…”
Frog, had she been more aware, could have joked she was an advocate for folly. As it was, she would continue to garble her sentiments in a hopeful way, pushing for riverside peace. The other animals grew bored and drifted away, but she was an active little frog. Frog was so active that, in the rapt fervor of elocution that kept her proselytizing into an early dusk, a heron who had cloaked himself in shade nearby and sat – listening, as she’d wanted – finally snapped her up for a late snack.
Poor Frog. She hadn’t the constitution to heed life’s natural dangers. The heron, however, flew off enriched. Frog had been nutritious for body and mind! And he thought he just might take some of her ideas to his brethren. His own stretch of river had become too competitive as of late…