Every year I bring back wood frogs, peepers or toads to this property to increase my amphibian population… this year with a drought underway the peepers captured my heart because a bizarre heat wave hit Maine just after the coldest freeze I ever remember. The poor peepers froze and then steamed and fried under a relentless solstice sun, their vernal pools rapidly disappearing from under them.
Intervening, I scooped up about a thousand and took them to the pond, brought some here to the shaded vernal pool that I dug here many years ago. Amphibians are the most endangered species on earth and I liked the idea of providing a temporary home for some.
This year I decided to raise seven peepers in a fish bowl something I had not done for a number of years. The ones in the vernal pool had kingfishers, herons, and a raccoon to deal with on top of drought – with these odds who knows how many would survive to become adults. The prognosis seemed grim.
On a whim when I added five toadpoles to my bowl of seven tadpoles I wondered if they would be eaten, but happily I was mistaken. So now I had twelve rotund bodies with wiggling tails, blobs with discernable eyes that watched me through the glass any time I sat with them. It was impossible not to reach the conclusion that these tadpoles were as interested in me as I was in them. One of the peepers disappeared within two days, and I knew from prior experience that he had died, becoming a source of protein for the others. Nature knows a lot about recycling.
Because I have no aquarium I have to scoop out the water and refill it with microbe rich bacteria pond water twice a week, a labor-intensive job that I have been doing for more than a month as of this writing. I feed my tadpoles bits of homegrown torn lettuce that they demolish with incredible speed and gusto. I have been anxiously awaiting back legs to develop because when this happens I know that their final ordeal is almost upon them. Transformation is never easy. (When I hear women casually discussing transformation as if it was some sort of fun process I cringe. Transformations of any kind are fraught with danger and difficulty).
None of the toadpoles have legs but about 10 ten days ago I noted the first of the peepers were sprouting some. One little fellow turned almost transparent as his body shrunk, his head increased in size as frog eyes appeared as protuberances, his mouth grew wider. When tiny nubs emerged and developed almost instantly into front legs and his tail began to shrink this little character made a mysterious exit one night.
Since there are no predators on the porch where I keep the fish bowl I had deliberately provided him with an escape by leaving a long piece of wood leaning against the inside of the bowl that stuck out a few inches just in case a transformation occurred during the night. The purpose of the wood was to give the little emerging frog a stable place from which to hunt his first bug. Although I searched the porch I could not find him. Perhaps he slipped through a crack in the door to freedom. I hoped so. After this experience I was determined not to miss the next show!
When the second little tadpole began to change I transferred him to another bowl without as much water, one with a floating piece of wood in its center. This time I was rewarded. I watched carefully as his tail shrunk trying to judge when he would re absorb it because this would be his final food source until he caught his first insect. I watched him alternately coming to the surface to breathe air and then sinking back down to the bottom of the bowl to gulp water. He seemed to be struggling a bit and I was worried. By evening his tail had diminished. When I looked in the bowl he was sitting on the floating wood gazing at me expectantly as if he knew I was his route to freedom. It was time.
I prepared a protected place in my flower garden, putting a shallow dish of water with a few stones under the greenery, and added another wooden island – just in case he might still need to rest. When I picked him up and opened the door he squirmed a little. As soon as I bent down in the greenery, placing him in the dish he leapt out and disappeared into a mass of green foliage! His journey had begun. I was shocked to feel so bereft. Even though I had raised him from childhood I was, after all, celebrating his new life…How is it that I had forgotten that raising tadpoles always carried a cost?
I suspect the process reminded me of losing my own children to unseen forces; but perhaps it wasn’t only that. It may be that nurturing (and usually I raise tadpoles from eggs) puts me in touch with the inevitable pain that is always associated with love. I reminded myself that I needed to learn this life lesson over and over.
Letting Go is an art form.
Sara is a naturalist, ethologist ( a person who studies animals in their natural habitats) (former) Jungian Pattern Analyst, and a writer. She publishes her work regularly in a number of different venues and is presently living in Maine.