Tadpoles and kids have always gone together…at least they did before paved-over wetlands and acid rain combined to mute the great springtime chorus that accompanied evenings all across the Northwest. We siblings would take a bucket or a glass jar to the swamp to collect frog eggs, like tapioca clusters in chartreuse gelatin. We watched the black dots in each globule grow to become recognizable eyes while the little round bodies formed, tails tucked under. Then one day the tails straightened out, the bodies wriggled free of the egg mass, and the water shimmered with tiny, minnow-like forms.
We had another, easier spot for tadpole watching and collecting. Up the hill from our house, where the road cut through sandy banks, water trickled through grass and marsh plants in the ditch all year round. Whether we found our eggs there or in the swamp, we usually kept them in a cool spot outside the house while the tadpoles grew. Eventually, two little hind legs pushed out at the base of each tadpole’s tail, then the smaller front legs. The tail itself grew shorter and shorter as the tadpole body took on the shape of a frog’s. By the time the tail was gone, the gills were too. When the little frogs climbed up on the sticks we’d floated in the pail, we released them into the swamp to grow and sing for us next year.
We never knew where they started life, but for several years we observed a phenomenon I’ve never seen anywhere else: the great toad migration. On a late spring evening, we’d be driving home from Granite Falls, and Dad would hit the brakes. The road ahead pulsed with tiny leaping bodies: hundreds, thousands of baby toads tumbling down the embankment from the steep hillside on the left, hopping across the road and down through the woods to marshy Saunier’s pond. They bounced like popcorn in the headlights, as dry-skinned and bumpy as the parent toads. When we couldn’t wait any longer, we slowly drove on, knowing that, in spite of Dad’s care, some would die beneath our wheels.
Once, the day after the migration, we walked the lane to old Mr. and Mrs. Saunier’s house. Laggards still scrambled through the moss and ferns. I picked up one of the little toads. Intent on reaching its goal, its spread-out toes pushed against my fingers as it tried to launch the next hop.
Back then, we never thought how humanity’s habit of changing its surroundings to suit its own purposes would crowd out so many of creation’s small wonders. We just enjoyed the ones who shared our valley, like the baby frogs and toads.
(From Small Wonders in my book, A Logger’s Daughter: Growing Up in Washington’s Woods.)
I’d love to see you there!