A few frogs have occupied the ornamental pond tucked into the ivy in my overgrown backyard for the past decade or so. Still, each spring it is a surprise to hear their first telltale plop as I approach to clean the filter or skim away the fallen leaves and pine straw. I have learned to creep up silently to get a view of them perched on the slate edge of the basin, slick-skinned and in Buddha-like serenity. We spend summer this way, keeping each other company from a respectful distance. When Fall comes, it always takes me a few days to accept that the frogs are no longer with me. As orange and red leaves threaten to choke the pond filter into silence, the frogs don’t pack up and leave, but nor do they any longer fully share my world.
I have known about the strange way of frogs since the third grade or so, when some adult alleged that frogs were “brumators,” hibernators of a sort, such that, almost inconceivably to my warm-blooded form, they creep down into the mud and muck for the cold months, slowing their metabolic engines to an imperceptible hum, while winter brutalizes all life left above. Until last week, though, I have known this fact only in the most superficial, Encyclopedia-Brittanica fashion, a “knowledge” that I did not really believe, because who, really, could accept that this delicate, animate, breathing creature, my frog friend with her crystalline stare and lithe, iridescent body, could survive for even a moment in such a frigid, water-filled tomb?
It was on a cold day just last week that I plunged my hand into the frigid water to clear the filter mechanism, and actually got a glimpse of the little frog body there underneath, suspended, legs akimbo, in a half-lidded trance. Although I was careful not to disturb her further, after a few moments, she gently pushed herself more deeply into the muck with one leg, like a sleeper rolling over in the midst of a troubling dream. Her body was self-preserving enough to move away, but she did not wake up. Maybe I was just folded into her nightmare, a pale giant’s arm disturbing her muddy nest.
What I now know for sure is that, in the time between Fall and Spring, when the frog is no longer there to greet me, when the snow and ice clamp down on the vital green world, the frog continues on. When the only thing available to my stingy vantage point up here at ground level is killing brittle silence, life is being held in trusting abeyance there below. In these moments, I can believe that existence itself is made up of the thrumming energy of life even though much of it appears to be dying or dead. And I do not need faith, hope or schoolbooks to teach me that this is so for I have seen the frog for myself and she is still alive.