And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.
Last Saturday, Michael and I drove to Beloit, Wisconsin, where I introduced a student at his first book debut (Yay!) and took part in the celebration. We’d never been to Beloit, so we took advantage of the time between the event and the dinner and we explored. We ended up in a lovely park right next to the Rock River.
Photo opportunities abounded, so it wasn’t long before Michael wandered away. I wanted to get closer to the water, so I crossed a walking bridge that went over a thick patch of lilypads. I was partway across when I heard a little boy yell, “Look! A frog!”
A frog! I stopped and leaned over the railing, looking where this boy pointed. And sure enough, just like a cliché, a big green frog sat on a lilypad. The sun sparkled in his eyes and his chin filled and emptied with his breath, like a bubble pulse. I was charmed, as I always have been around frogs.
From the ages of six to twelve, I lived in way northern Minnesota, in a little town called Esko. During the mid-sixties to early seventies, it was the type of place where a summertime child could fly out the door right after breakfast and disappear and nobody worried. Every child was always Somewhere. Even though the area was home to grizzlies and moose and porcupines and skunks, a child was always Safe.
A little creek ran through my back yard. Every spring, against the banks and tucked in bends, were beds of frog eggs. I filled ice cream buckets with eggs and silt and creek weeds and then I watched as the eggs hatched. The tadpoles were swimming commas and then suddenly, like magic, they sprouted legs. When that happened, I returned them to the creek.
Which led to a bumper crop of frogs. I became an expert at catching them, holding them, talking to them, and then letting them go. Or maybe not an expert – maybe the frogs just knew that I’d never do anything to hurt them.
Watching this boy now, I both hoped for the frog’s escape and for the boy’s opportunity to hold such a creature in his hands.
When I wrote my first “novel” in the fifth grade, one of the main characters was a frog. In high school, I had to take the class where everyone was required to dissect a frog. I refused. Luckily, my teacher was patient and willing to sit down and discuss my arguments against the dissection. He offered me an alternative – write a research paper about how the frogs in our classes came to be there. I think he thought that I’d find it was a benign thing – the frogs were raised and then sent to the schools. Their whole life purpose was dying so we could learn. I believed we could learn just as easily through books and illustrations.
I did the alternative. I unearthed tons of material about frog farms, the inhumane environments frogs were raised in, and even found evidence that the “painless” way we were taught to kill the frogs – inserting a pin in through the back of the head to the brain – was actually torture.
I got an A on the paper. Then I sent it in to the Humane Society of the United States’ magazine for kids, KIND (Kindness In Nature’s Defense), and they published it, and then published it again in the HSUS magazine.
This past spring, I was on my way to pick up Olivia from work when I passed a swampy area and I was bowled over by the chorus of singing peepers. I pulled over to listen. After getting Livvy, I pulled over again so she could hear them too.
All brought back to me on this day, the day of a young boy shouting, “A frog!” and seeing a frog with the sun in his eyes.
The boy took one splashing step in the water and the frog disappeared under the blanket of lilypads. “I just wanted to see it,” the boy said, looking up at me on the bridge. I nodded. “It’s okay. You’ll get the next one. Just walk really quiet. And think hard about how you would never ever hurt it. The frog will know.”
The boy smiled at me and the sun sparkled in his eyes too.
And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.