Thursday, August 25, 2011

Slow Down for Frogs





I heard on the news this week that the New York State Parks and Recreation Department has posted some frog crossing signs over near Rochester in a couple of their parks. They want people to slow down for the little guy. It's raising quite a controversy with us being in a recession and all. People can't quite figure out why money is being spent to save a few measly frogs when there's much bigger issues to deal with. I don't have a clue as to how many of these hundred-dollar signs are actually in place, but I think it's rather nice that someone in Albany is concerned enough to try to keep the little amphibian from being crushed beneath the wheels of somebody's SUV. And what does it matter if they're only an inch or two long and kinda hard to see, meaning they're likely to get flattened anyway. Those who came up with this wonderful idea should get a big slap on the back for effort.

It's not that I have anything personal against frogs. No, quite the opposite. Every stage of my life has stories and therefore memories tied to the humble creature, and they start when I was just a girl living by the old Genessee Canal in Western New York. The canal hadn't been in use since the late 1800s, but for my brothers and I it was a place to search for lizards and snakes under rocks and pieces of sheet metal. The water was long gone, but the Fitzgeralds, just three neighbors down, had a wonderful little bog in their part of the canal with a short path that led down to that magical green pool full of frogs' eggs and tadpoles. I still remember my mom trying to keep us away from there, but to me it was absolutely one of the coolest places in the world. Most of the canal has since been filled in, but when I go home and stand on the bank, I remember how a good part of my childhood is tied to that place.
 

 
I became Miss Marcy the Frog Lady in the seventies. It was during my college years and I was working as the children's director at a camp in Western New York during the summers. I discovered early on that Circle C Ranch was chock-full of frogs and toads so decided to take advantage of the large population and incorporate them into my program. The campers with their counselors had to spend one afternoon of the week hunting down as many as they could, and that night at chapel the most exceptional ones were honored. Not a week went by when some nervous specimen being held up for a couple hundred kids and counselors didn't let loose and pee down my arm, but it was all in fun and in the four years I worked there, not one succumbed to death by children.  Each was always released and more often than not refound by the next group of campers. It was during those years that people started gifting me with frog paraphernalia. I guess they just assumed I liked them, and I suppose I did. I've since gotten rid of most my collection, but I still have the set of five instrument-playing ceramic croakers that Larry bought for me out of the country store my last summer there. We met at that camp and he proposed to me under a tree somewhere on the property. A couple of them are chipped now so I keep them in a box with other memorabilia. Occasionally I pull them out and smile, remembering.

My sister Dawn was attending college in Ohio the year I got married.  Always the prankster,  she snuck a large frog into the cafeteria and dropped it into the tea dispenser.  A couple of days later Dawn was eating her lunch when she heard a girl's scream and the sound of a breaking glass.  "There's a frog in the tea dispenser!" she cried.  The thing had swum up to the glass just as that poor girl was pouring her drink. The school never found out that my sister was the culprit, and perhaps she thought the whole incident had been long forgotten.  Not so.  Recently while reading through her alumni magazine she came across a page entitled, Favorite Dining Hall Memories. You guessed it.  Someone had written:  "The day they found the frog in the tea dispenser."
  

I saw some of the biggest toads ever while visiting the Atlantic Coast in Costa Rica. Those giants would come out by the dozens at dusk and fill the paths, seemingly oblivious to the pedestrians all around them. The street outside our first home in Honduras was sometimes filled with a much smaller variety that could squeeze its way under our screen door to check out the premises. Eventually we moved to the mission house on the other side of town. It was a two-story building and we lived on the second floor. One morning Fawn had just walked into the bathroom and proceeded to scream. She pointed to the wall where the toilet sat. There, filling up most of the bowl, was a rather portly toad having a leisurely morning swim. At first we were convinced it had to be a prank. But then it happened again, and the missionaries who followed had the occasional visitor in the same commode. We have yet to come up with a logical explanation.

A favorite picture of my grandson Tyler sits in a blue frame on a low table in the dining room. He is probably around four-years old, riding his first two-wheeler. If you look closely you will see a toad with suction-like feet clinging to and peering over the the handle bars. This particular fellow lived outside our bathroom window and would venture out and take a climb up the wall each afternoon. He and Tyler seemed to take a liking to each other, but after that bike ride he disappeared and never came back. Can't imagine why.

Tyler giving his little friend a ride
 
 
Now back to those signs. I'm thinking that maybe there's somebody in the Parks Department that really has a liking for frogs. Perhaps they lived by an old canal or pond and have memories of times gone by skimming frogs' eggs off the surface or carrying a big old granddaddy covered with warts off to school in a shoebox for show 'n tell. After all, remembering those special moments and places of our past are a gift, especially when we see the thread that ties them all together.
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