Enchanted Frogs

Spring has brought so many gifts for me on her annual visit to my forest, but the gift most precious to me has been the coming of the frogs, especially the first frog, who landed in the pond with a hearty splat in early April.

"Ooooomm"frogs. Of all the first sounds of spring---first robin’s trill, first meadowlark, first spring thunder claps---the most precious “first” for me this year was the lovely, loud “plop” of the first returning frog to our backyard pond.

The sound was solid, satisfying, and—because I had been wondering if any of our wintering frogs had survived—utterly thrilling. I didn’t see who made the sound, because the pond was brown as chocolate from the rains, but I smiled at the concentric ripples that glided swiftly to the pond’s stony edges.

As the weather warmed, I counted up to ten individual plops, splats, and splashes when I’d burst out the back door, forgetting we had pond tenants who required peace and quiet from the landlord. I learned to walk softly and move slowly when my chores and my curiosity took me to the pond’s edge, and was rewarded with the blessed sight of frogs of every size and color perching on stones, branches, and lily pads, just a short hop from the water. If I moved quickly, they’d launch like Olympic swimmers at the starting shot.

I’ve never been lucky enough to live with frogs. Now that I have a large tribe of them just feet away from the back door, I can hardly stay away from them. Like a kite on a string, I am pulled in by the magic of the frogs many times a day. I started taking all my meals there, and my rest breaks. Then, that wasn’t enough, so I started taking more rest breaks. Some days, I sit in the dappled sunlight for an hour or more, just letting my eyes roam the edges of the pond and small bog, counting the frogs, watching them shift positions, listening to the droning of newly hatched insects, and the whisper of the breeze through new leaves on a thousand surrounding trees.

I am not one to just sit. I don’t think I’ve ever spent an hour guiltlessly doing nothing unless I was dead sick. My nickname among certain friends is “the Energizer Bunny.” But at this time in my life, health issues have corroded my batteries. I spent my winter reflecting on how I might live a more sedate life, both in body and in mind. I felt myself drawn to the notion of peace and stillness and wondered if I could teach this old dog to learn such a new trick.

I am convinced that down below the winter ice, nestled frigid and stiff in the leaf muck, the frogs heard me and made a plan to entrance me come spring. And they have. I sit and watch them now as the minutes glide by, and feel as though I’m doing something important and exciting. And when I wonder what that might be, I believe that I am getting to know “frogness” a bit better, and that frogness is a kind of holiness. And getting to know holiness better is important and exciting in its own quiet way.

The frogs sit in utter stillness, gazing out over the pond with the silent intensity of old men playing a slow game of checkers. They do not blink. They do not shift side to side. They don’t make a sound. I sit near them, rocking gently on my patio swing, and imagine that if they could speak to me, they would say this:

“Susan, come over and sit down. Watch the water. Watch the air currents moving like invisible smoke. Can you see them? Watch the stones. See the sun glint on our wet bodies. Watch and learn. Sitting like this is an art. It is not idleness. It is art, and art takes much skill. You must practice this many times a day. Come and sit, and we’ll teach you.”

And so I sit with the frogs, ever more appreciative for their presence, and ever more impressed with their virtues. They sit with Buddha-like serenity. They do not look as though they are gritting their teeth, trying to remain in the correct meditation position. Where do they go in their bodies to sit so motionless, with such grace and ease?

All I know is that it is hard to stay anxious and uptight around a group of meditating frogs. Try it sometime.

The frogs also practice their own particular brand of sacred chant. One sounds like stomach growling. Another barks like a dog. One makes a sound like a rusty gate. I’m certain this is frog-speak for “Om.”

Does it get any better than this?

I find the frogs to be such wonderful meditation partners, that I decided to craft another pond up by our vegetable garden. I wanted to create a safe, fish-free frog nursery for when the polliwogs arrived, so I pulled an old claw-foot tub under the crab apple tree and set up a second temple for frogs with tree limbs, water lilies, irises, and duckweed.

Three weeks later, when not single frog had bothered to visit my latest water masterpiece, I snuck out after dark with a flashlight, and attempted to net the frogs that had taken up residence in our rapidly drying drainage ditch. They would have none of it. I implored them to please just leap into the net, so I could take them to a far, far better place. I said, “Come on, guys. Just a few feet away, I’ve crafted a frog paradise for you. Please, just work with me on this.” They chanted and dove into the muck, and I went back into the house frustrated. In my dreams that night, I chased frogs endlessly with no success.

Come morning, I headed out to the vegetable garden humming “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” and was struck mute at the sight of three large green frogs, sitting and chanting on the edge of the bathtub pond. They dove in with splashes all around as I hurried toward them, too delighted to contain myself. I gushed over with superlatives at their beauty, and thanked them over and over for listening to my plea and putting in an appearance at the bathtub. I am certain in my deepest heart they heard my call. They are residents now, living with the duckweed and lotus, and a small party of toad tadpoles.

I sit here by the stone pond in the backyard, writing this, counting three frogs in easy sight. For weeks, I’ve been saying to Carter, “I wonder how many years it will take for me to be sitting there at just the right time to see one catch a bug.” Not a full minute ago—I kid you not— I stopped typing to watch a frog stalk cat-like across a smooth stone. Three inches in front of him, a pair of small green metallic beetles were locked in a fierce mating dance, distracted. They tumbled toward the frog. Before I could blink, the frog zapped them both with his very, very long tongue, and bounded into the water. As I finish these words, he’s back up on the rock again, stalking, stalking.

“I don’t believe this. What did you just do?! Thank you!”

I know they listen to me. That is, I know the voice of the holy listens to me, this time through the ears of frogs. Isn’t it astounding that after all we keep doing to God and nature, she is still at the table with us, sharing dialogue though millions of voices, listening with millions of ears. It’s such a comfort, isn’t it?

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4 Responses to Enchanted Frogs

  1. Cindy says:

    Susan

    Your last paragraph brought tears to my eyes. I attempt to sit at the table with the Divine She on a daily basis, the One who holds us all so close, the One who unstops our ears so we can actually hear, the One who tells us that we are not alone, be it through frogs and their song, or be it the whisper of the breeze through the trees…..we are not alone. Thank you dear friend, thank you!

    • Susan McElroy says:

      Hi Cindy: I believe—at least for me in my particular life—that a kind of existential loneliness stalks human beings because we have been enculturated to “forget” that we belong to the earth and are mothered by the earth. I often, by habit, feel that I’m struggling along all by myself, stressing that I’ll never be able to get done all that needs to be done. When I catch myself doing this, I say to myself, “Duh, Susan. Remember who you were born to. You are never ‘alone’ in a forest.”

  2. dave5145 says:

    Susan—

    Frog consciousness. I like that. Very meditative! And, as you describe, frogs are perfect Zen hunters, too. Their rugged love songs (or blurts, whatever)…the tell tale “plops” of escape from approaching feet… their lifted eyes wide open to a spontainous world…vulnerable, naked skin unafraid of the cold…. I’m glad you focused our attention on these friends of yours. Deep down in our brains (ok, maybe way way way down there…)don’t we all carry with us a frog sensibility from our evolutionary past? We were frog beings once; let’s reconnect. What fun. Ever converse with a toad? When one comes to one of your ponds to trill up a lover, trill back. You can get locked into a meaningful dialog.

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