Archive for June 6th, 2008

Wild Iris, Pecos Mountains, NM, photos © 2008 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.

at nine thousand feet
they say the air is thinner
like breathing naked

-related to post haiku (one-a-day).

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Their suction cup feet, I remember photos of tree frogs in National Geographic and how I fell in love with them, with their oversized toes. For years I had frog love, tiny tree frog love.

Once when I was a girl I captured a baby toad and made it a home in a shoebox. I filled it with cut grass and dirt, sliced slits into the top of the box, set the toad inside and slid the box under my bed. Days later I went to check on the baby toad. I pulled out the box and found the toad inside, dead and dried. Like the smashed ones we used to pick up on the road, it only took a day or two for them to dry out, paper cut-outs of frogs. I couldn’t believe I’d killed something so small and innocent.

I did the same thing once with a newborn cat, put it in a shoebox in a closet at Grandma’s. We went to the horse races that day, and when we got home I ran back to check on my kitty. I found it, suffocated on the toilet paper I’d stuck inside the box to keep the cat warm. It had sucked the tissue, as if a mother’s teet, looking for milk.

My girls don’t have that same desire to hold on to animals forever. Animals were exotic things to me. I hoarded them the way some people hoard objects. Now we’re surrounded by animals; no need to keep them in shoeboxes under your bed or in your closet.

Toads and frogs. They seemed so pervasive in my childhood, yet now when I try to remember them, nothing seems to come.

I remember walking in squares in the zendo, listening to Natalie say, Let it come to you, let the words and memories come to you. I remember thinking how liberating that idea was, after struggling with my writing, stuck in a place of wanting to find a gem, a story to tell. I wanted to be as clever as the person who wrote, “Sorrow is an onion, not even a mild yellow one.” Or the person who described her daughter building an envelope out of paper and tape. I wanted to cordon off my story, a snapshot of my world. Nothing came, nothing comes now.

Once Dee and Em caught two baby toads on the ditch. We made a terrarium for them out of an old aquarium. We put in a pond made from the top of a Cool Whip container, blue and green aquarium rocks, and dirt from the yard.

I watched the toads for hours. They were as big as the tip of my thumb. We caught them ants, small black ones, and those tiny bugs that scatter as if by magic, disappear by jumping when you pick up a rock lodged into damp dirt.

The toads didn’t find the first few meals we gathered for them. The tiny jumping bugs jumped away. The black ants crawled up the glass and out the oxygen slit in the top of the terrarium.

Then we had a flying beetle invasion. They were small beetles, teeny tiny, striped white brown, maybe black. They swarmed at the door to the garage, and we caught a huge amount, seventy or a hundred with just five minutes’ work. We emptied the beetle container into the terrarium, and the toads started to eat.

They stayed in one place, each its own, and waited for the beetles to come to them. When the toad would spot a beetle, it would become alert, creeping slowly toward the bug until zap, out came the tongue like flypaper.

I was frustrated after a while, seeing as how the beetles had gathered in the corners of the terrarium. The toads stayed in their spots in the middle, waiting for the beetles to come to them. I tried herding the toads to where the beetles were, but as soon as my hand was out of the way, they’d hop back to the middle. The toads still ate plenty of beetles, but I wanted a feast.

I’m thinking now that toads are living the life I should be living. Slow, patient. Rewarding, not piggy. Not moving toward something. Waiting for something to come.

related to post  WRITING TOPIC – TOADS & FROGS.

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I pulled the little frog out of the metal, feather shaped case where she is stored. A Zuni carving, a fetish, a gift from two friends who have traveled to the Southwest many times over the last 20 years. Traditional storage is clay. But I like her inside the feather.

The frog is carved from serpentine, and has 5 small pieces of turquoise on its back. And 2 pieces for the eyes that fall in front of the rough outcroppings behind them, the parotoid glands. It’s the place where they store their secretions, sometimes poisonous, released when they are stressed. There are 7 pieces of turquoise, total. The frog fits comfortably in my hand or pocket.

Frog is about cleansing, refilling the well. And purging negative energies, people, places, and things that no longer serve the higher good. It’s a good time for me to carry her. When my friends gave the Zuni frog to me a few decades ago, I couldn’t relate to her purpose. I was more connected to the 7-year mysteries and cycles of the Lynx and the Snowshoe Hare, or the aerial view through the eyes of a Red-Tailed Hawk. Something as grounded as a frog, a tadpole, a pollywog, I had never been drawn in that direction.

That’s not true of Liz. I think Frog is one of her totems. Last weekend when she was mowing the lawn, I heard the lawnmower come to a dead stop – she bent down gently, and picked up a toad that was crossing her path, then carried him, cupped in her hands, over to the neighbor’s yard. I was looking out the window at them. The next thing I knew, he had the toad cupped in his hands and they were chatting about the release to freedom.

Later, after seeing ybonesy’s New Mexico photographs of toads, I asked Liz what color the Minnesota toad was. “Dark, toad-colored,” she said.

Frogs breathe through their skin. Tadpoles have tails they lose in adulthood (not unlike the lowering and flattening of the human butt in middle-age). The mythology of Zuni afterlife takes them, not underground, but deep under a lake where frogs, tadpoles, fish, and other water creatures protect and keep them safe. Frogs connect and restore.

I grew up with many superstitions about frogs – warts if you touch their backs or they secrete their fluids on you. I still cringe a little when I go to pick one up. But none of that is true. Fairytales from the storytellers of yore. I have never kissed a frog. But when I was out playing one sweaty summer day, a neighborhood boy named Buddy, who went to the same elementary school, blew one up with a firecracker. I’ll never forget that sound.

It’s been raining and thunder storming all week. I’ve been thinking about the frog’s association to the cleansing rains. Unlike the Southwest, it rains often and for long periods of time in Minnesota. It is green and wet and lush. Frogs and toads are everywhere. I’m listening to them as I tap these letters out on black keys, Frog resting quietly on the keyboard in front of me. He looks more like a horned toad. The serpentine is mottled, dark brown mixed with a cream yellow. I just realized I called him a him; earlier in this write, I called him a her. S/he is androgynous.

I’m going to carry her in my pocket for the weekend. Protection for when the green tornado skies belt out the siren song of the Midwest storm corridor. Mom called a few minutes ago to see if we were okay. She said there’s a lot of red on her screen indicating turbulence over south central Minnesota. For me, sitting here staring out the window, it draws its own picture of swaying, rattling oak leaves, frog choruses croaking from the pond, chimes going crazy, banging on the deck, and the remnants of last weekend’s storm piled in the front fire pit ring of Jade Creek rocks.

The 5th day of gray. Last night at the poetry group, thunder rumbled after one woman read the first Rita Dove poem. And it rumbled again when we sat in the silence. We remarked later how it sounded like an airplane, high above the horizon. Then the rain came, pummeling the grass outside the alcove windows. It was the perfect night for poetry. And after Rita Dove read Geometry, after passing around Gary Soto’s moving postcard, after hot tea and chocolate, we walked outside to see a pink-hued, rosy green sky, daylight filtering through streetlamp midnight.

And I thought of Frog, or maybe Toad, burrowing into the earth, reclaiming the 120 frog species we have lost since the early 80’s, waking us up with frozen spring rains, hiding from the cold in the Arctic Tundra. Back down to earth in humble Minnesota. Reclaiming the green sky slickness of Frog, the bumpy dry, water tank skin of the toad, the hundreds of thousands of lakes, calling me home.

-posted on red Ravine, Friday, June 6th, 2008

-related to posts:  WRITING TOPIC – TOADS & FROGS, Green Is As Green Does, PRACTICE — Pink Frog Moon – 15min

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