Thursday, 21 April 2011

Fair Warning to Parents

I was out to the zendo a few weeks back, doing some grounds work on a beautiful spring day with no-one else around but the warm sun and the cold wind. The place was alive with waking wildlife, and when I'd finished my task, I took a stroll in the woods. Near an old stump I watched a knot of electric-blue garter snakes, shiny-clean and freshly painted, untangle like a film run backwards and glide off in all directions.

By the time I got back from the truck with my camera they'd melted to untraceable rustlings, but as I searched, this groggy girl fell from a cedar and onto the trail at my feet.

Meet Pseudacris regilla, the Pacific tree frog. At an inch and change, this one is about as big as they get. In this instance she was cedar green, but her race possess the ability to shift shades, and even whole colours, so she may be avocado or vibrant beryl or even tan or grey by now. But her signature mask, somewhat hard to see in this light, will remain black.

Also slightly discernible are her "garden gloves," the adhesive toe pads that allow her to climb and cling just about anywhere. I've found her ilk under my tent fly on summer mornings; stuck to my window at midnight, gobbing insects drawn to the light; and tucked almond-shaped between the sod and the foundation of my grade school. Inveterate hobos, Pacific tree frogs have been collared as far afield as Guam, having stowed away in shipments of Christmas trees.

This particular individual was well aware the place was literally crawling with her most rapacious predator, hungry and hunting after the long winter fast, and scrambled desperately up a nearby maple the instant her belly smacked the ground. I took her in hand to further ensure her survival, though as you can see from her expression, she hadn't requested assistance and was uncertain she needed any.

I grew up between a big bog and a larger lake, where each April the Biblical roar of these little prophets foretold a new millenium. (Thus their other common name, the Pacific chorus frog.) The bog has since "developed" into the Alder Terrace Mountain Valley Sherwood Forest Tree Frog Manor Kitchen Sink Estates, and with most of the lakeshore similarly McManaged, the kids in those houses know nothing of the primal thrill of a hundred thousand tiny war cries, raised in unbroken, night-filling forewarning to the Grup Nation that school is about to end, love it or lump it. And in fact, the whole tribe were recently knighted Washington's official amphibian, following a petition by students at my nephew's own elementary, most of whom live in still-rural, not-yet-redeemed country.

I kept a few of these on my desk for a time when I was a boy. They were fun to feed, being lively and unparticular, but their habit of croaking in chorus at sunrise elicited yawning grumbles from the family. For such morsels of mortality they can really belt it out, especially when you're in the same room. On the other hand I've had few alarm clocks as pleasant.

So I was glad this one lived to sing again.


  1. Robin, you have a wonderful gift of narrative. I've thoroughly enjoyed pouring over your stories. I was especially struck by the post on the ancestor gong you made, and how it was formed from the saw blade used by your grand father to build the house in which you now live. In our culture, it is so easy to become disconnected from our ancestors, and to forget that who we are and how we live is an extension of who they were and how they lived.



  2. Exactly, Scott. And I think a very fertile meditation is, what was it in fact that they've given us? Because most of it goes unreported. Lots of people try to lay claim to interpret our ancestors and their values, especially people exhorting us to follow one or the other political path. But the fact is, all of our attitudes are their (our ancestors') attitudes. That's where we got them.

    I find that the more living I experience, the more respect I have for those who have lived more than I have.

    Thanks for the good word, Scott! I thoroughly enjoy writing this blog.



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