Sunday, November 16, 2014

Little kite-shaped toads

One time when I was a kid there was a population explosion of toads. When I was three or four my sister and I helped my dad dam the small creek that was on our property. Before we built the dam, the creek was about 6 inches wide and an inch deep. We made a pond that was about 4 feet long, maybe 2 1/2 feet wide, and at least 4 inches deep. It lasted all the time we lived there, until I was 17, although it did silt up somewhat over the years. So a few years after we made the pond there was a really good year for toads. Maybe it rained more that spring; I don't remember if there were any clues as to why. The water was filled with ropes of little black spheres: toad eggs. Inside the jelly, the spheres acquired tails, later they started wriggling, and eventually they hatched. The shores of the pond were lined with black tadpoles that lay still, occasionally wriggled, and were probably eaten by various critters, although I never observed that. They were the cutest things. It was amazing to see them grow, acquire legs, and turn into little kites with legs that still lived in the pond under the water. One day I went down there and they were crawling out of the water, taking their tiny little hops as they explored the muddy bank. Probably on their way to disappear into the woods, where adult toads spend most of their time. These baby toads were shorter than your pinky fingernail.

But this is the horrible thing that happened. These little toads were just about the coolest thing that had ever happened to me. My pond! My toads! The way I remember it there were more than 1000 and I think there really were at least many hundreds. One thing would make the experience perfect. My mom had to see these toads. She would agree with me that they were wonderful, beautiful, exciting, a miracle. So I picked up as many as would fit in my hand and I ran up the path through the woods to the house. It wasn't very far, probably no more than 200 yards. But something made me stop, halfway up the hill, and open my hand to look at the toads. To check on them, make sure they were okay. They weren't moving. None of them were moving. Oh my God! I had killed my toads!! The shame and horror were almost insupportable.

So what did I do? Did I take the toads back to the pond, to put them in the water. So they might revive, or at least become part of the circle of life? No. I opened my hand and sprinkled them in the woods. I hoped they would revive. And after all, the woods was their home, or would be soon, if they made it. So I didn't go back and get more, even though there were hundreds more. I could've just picked up a few, and been more careful. But that seemed wrong. I had had my chance, and I blew it. I didn't deserve to get to show the toads to my mother after I had betrayed their trust in me. Actually, their attitude was probably more panic than trust, followed by the amphibian equivalent of "Help! Help, I can't breathe! It is so hot I feel like I'm going to die! Ack!"

50 years later I still regret killing or probably just almost killing a dozen baby toads. What a funny thing to remember so vividly after all these years. Part of it was that they were babies. Poor little things, they couldn't defend themselves against me. When they tried to hop away they hopped about 2 mm at a time. What? That's the best you can do? I'll just suffocate you!

When my children were little I tried to make sure they understood small animals shouldn't be hurt. Really wasn't much of a problem. Neither one of them likes touching small animals: spiders, ants, lizards, they were all safe.

There is no moral to this story. Unless the moral is: it's not good to hurt baby animals. Or maybe: small children have no sense.

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