Frog Wars

24 08 2010

Nearly every spring, summer and fall morning for several decades, you will find Linda and me enjoying our overindulgence in coffee and sitting beside our ornamental fish pond.  The sound of the waterfall and the perfect visual juxtaposition of the natural, sharp-edged Indiana sandstone rocks and the rounded lily pads seem to create something far more natural and Zen than ornate.  It is our time, the time we are more of a team than any other.  This is when we brainstorm problems, discuss children and grandchildren, develop strategies and daydream about our glory days, both past and future.  I think it is our morning time that allows us to be the best we can be as a couple. This time is sacred.

I built the pond because I wanted one ever since I was a young boy.  A neighbor of my grandparents had one in his backyard.  It was more of a mini-swimming pool complete with poured concrete sides and bottom but it still stirred my imagination. Thank you, Romeo LaPage for letting me experience that moment in your backyard so many years ago.

Except for the plastic liner fabric that can only be seen if you lift one of the rocks, our fish pond looks completely natural.  Heck, we even have frogs that live there year round.  And that is where the story of my fish pond gets a little complicated.

The fact that the pond looks and apparently feels so natural that frogs have taken up residency is a compliment.  And the frogs are comical as they sit on the rocks or lay on lilly pads sunning themselves in the dappled sunlight filtering through the Japanese maple that overhangs the waterfall.  Truly, my efforts to create a natural setting have been validated by the frogs.

Like fish, frogs grow.  And, like the fish, the larger they get the more food they need to sustain themselves.  I understand that; after all, that’s the natural way, right?  Well, starting last summer, dawned on me that the number of goldfish in the pond was diminishing.  I was prepared to blame  the harsh winter conditions or some woodland creature such as a racoon until, one morning as I sipped coffee, I saw a frog lunge at and nearly swallow a goldfish.  I’m talking about a goldfish somewhere between four and five inches in length.  The frog just floated on the surface of the pond with the tail of the goldfish hanging out of it mouth.

“What the hell?” was all I could conjure up as a reaction to what I just saw.  I did, however, shift into rescue mode and somehow was able to grab the frog with my bare hand as I laid across the rocks at the edge of the water.

“Not in my pond, dammit!”

As my hand wrapped around the frog, he opened his mouth in response and the fish flipped out and hide on the bottom of the pond.

With frog in hand, I walked the 300+ yards to our large pond (about an acre surface area) and told the frog–it was listening to me, I could tell–“We’ll see how you like it when the largemouth bass get a look at you.”  Even though I was pissed at the frog I was not going to harm him in any way; that’s not the kind of person I am.  I would let nature take care of that.

Two days after my relocation efforts, there he was again.  Back in the fish pond and with a fish in his mouth.  I am reasonable sure it was the same frog due to his size. Anyways, back to the large pond we go.  Again, two days later and he’s back.

Next to the time I spend on the rider mower, sitting by the fish pond is when many of life’s truths review themselves to me–the light went.

“How come I never realized this before?”

I don’t claimed to be the shiniest marble in the bag  but the life lesson emerging in my conscious mind was brillant.

The frog was doing what came natural.  Not only was eating the fish natural but also returning to his home place of safety, where, in all probability, he was born.  It took nearly two years for the frog to morph from a tadpole to the goldfish-swallowing lowlife he had become.  After all, wasn’t I hoping that the large mouth bass was going to do what comes natural?  Of course, I was.

How could I find some natural behaviors to be acceptable and yet other natural behaviors to be intolerable?  What was the criteria for making the determination?  Oh, sure!  It’s an easy choice if I find myself being considered as the main course by a mountain lion or some other predator.  However, what gives me the right to determine for other animals what is acceptable natural behavior and what is not when that behavior does not endanger the me or something held dear to me such as other humans or pets?  I like the goldfish but they do not rise to the level of pets.

Some might respond to my quasi-rhetorical question with some sort of a religious answer about man’s dominion over the beasts.  I ain’t buying it!

I think humans have, through intellect, developed a rationale that exempts us from most natural laws; that is a logical fallacy.  I always am amazed at the arrogance of humans (myself included)  when it comes to getting our heads around man’s relationship to and place in nature.

How often do we hear, “If we don’t stop doing______ or start doing____, then we are going to destroy the earth.”  Give me a break.  We may make it to where the earth is uninhabitable for humans but we are not going to DESTROY the earth.  It was here long before we became the dominant species and I’m putting my money on Mother Earth outliving all of us.  Of course, some other animal will be the dominant species.  I just hope it’s not those damned fish-eating frogs.  Talk about attitude.

Another human quirk to consider when analyzing man’s view of nature is mowing the yard and pulling weeds?  It is a never-ending job that as far as I can tell serves no utilitarian purpose in life other than to meet some contrived standard of what natural beauty is suppose to be.  Maybe there is some primitive fear in our subconscious that we need to have enough clear space between us and where the predators are lurking so that they cannot sneak up on us.  I’ll have to think about that one for a while.

What would happen if we did not mow the grass or pull weeds for just one year?  Oh, yeah.  We would be fined by some agency of government for not maintaining our property and be a nuisance to any neighbor who lived close.  Yet if you would go mow a meadow beside a mountain stream in a national park what would the outcome be?  See, we want to achieve a false sense of control over nature when, in all reality, we are only denying the futility of our actions.

When Linda and I first moved here thirty years ago, our place was a combination of woods and fields that had not been used by humans for anything other than deer hunting for at least twenty years prior.  As we walked the land, we could see where old fence rows had been, but to the untrained eye there was no sign of human interference with the nature’s plan.

Over the years, we cleared some parts and planted trees in others.  Of course, we have altered the land much more significantly than that.  We have put in underground utilities, built a house, a barn, a swimming pool, a driveway, dammed up a creek for a pond and created various vegetable and flower gardens.  As beautiful as Broken Plow is, both from the human design and the untouched natural perspectives, make no mistake, it will someday return to its natural state.  I hope it is several generations from now, but it will happen.

Trying to change that is like trying to get a frog to stop eating goldfish.





2 responses

13 01 2011
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Undoubtedly, one of the best article l have come across on this precious topic. I quite agree with your conclusions and will eagerly look forward to your coming updates.

13 01 2011

Thanks for visiting my blog.

It’s kind of funny how something so obvious can be so overlooked until you see it and then that is all you can see.

I have a couple of other pieces in the works that touch on the subject as well. We’ll just have to see if they proof and rise enough for me to consider putting them in the oven to bake.

Again, thanks for reading my blog.


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