A Cautionary Tale of Rana and Karma
I ran over a frog tonight. Squooshed him flat. I suppose I ought to feel a higher degree of remorse about it than I currently do, but it was almost exactly like a game of Frogger!
I was heading west on Memorial Drive just past the first turnoff into Memorial Park, and I caught a flash of white leaving the median and landing in the traffic lanes, moving a regular distance across the road each time it touched the ground.
I was in the right lane, and by the time I figured out that I was seeing the pale belly of the frog as he stretched out midleap, he was in my lane. He got by the first tire, but those LT305-75R16s take up a lot of real estate, and he didn't dodge the starboard pair. Even at 35 mph, I felt him pop like a ketchup packet under your foot.
I like frogs, though you wouldn't know it the way they tend to expire in my presence. We've got a bumper crop of little green tree frogs this year, and I'm all the time finding them on my truck in the mornings. I suppose they're attracted by all the dew that condenses on the glass and hood. I try to remove them and toss 'em in the bushes prior to leaving for work, but every so often, I'll see one clinging for dear life to the rearview mirror or the windshield wiper before the wind whisks them away to who knows where.
At any rate, that frog tonight reminded me of another frog incident almost 20 years past.
I spent several summers as a Boy Scout camp staffer, and if my blog gives you any clue to my personality, you can probably guess that I had an absolute blast, and the Camp Directors tore their hair out in anger and disgust. You know that phrase "indicted but never convicted"? That pretty much sums up my camp staff employment file.
I haven't really told any of my summer camp tales here on the blog. I'd like to see the collection published some day, and I don't want to use the stories for blog filler whenever I have a Bad Blogpost Day.
This one, though, I think I'll let slip out. If there's some terminology that's not quite clear, the Summer Camp book will have a glossary in the back. You'll just have to buy it when it's released!
(Names changed for obvious reasons, though if you've been to this camp, you'll know exactly where I'm talking about...)Summer 1990
El Rancho Del Rio Blanco
I'm slouching down Appetite Hill one afternoon, getting ready to go drag the mules across the river for my Mule Train/Miner 49'er overnight trip with a gaggle of Boy Scouts. Sun's almost overhead, it's probably 100 degrees in the shade and not a cloud in the sky. I'm a bit ahead of schedule, so I hang out at the Trading Post to shoot the breeze with the crew and maybe cadge a free Dr Pepper.
I sweettalk some crushed ice and a cup from the Commissary, and I'm kicked back on the porch slurping on my Dr Pepper snowcone, desperately hoping for a cool breeze to pull some sweat off my carcass when I see a bunch of Scouts heading my way. Their body language is unmistakeable. The kid in the middle has something interesting, and the electron cloud of other boys jockeying for position want a look at it.
As they draw near to the Trading Post, I can see there's a couple of kids getting grabby. The ringleader's having more and more trouble hanging on to whatever he's got. It's just too darned hot to break up a fight, so I get up and head over towards the group.
"So, whatcha got there?" I ask. I'm geared up in my Living History buckskinner/prospector getup, including the cap & ball sixgun
and the skinning knife as long as your thigh, so the kids snap to attention pretty quick.
I'm kind of a jack of all trades around camp. I've pinch-hit for other merit badge counselors teaching everything from Geology to Indian Lore, minoring in Nature, Archery and Pioneering, so I'm intrigued by what the Scout might be carrying. It might be a prime snail fossil, maybe an old flint arrowhead, or just another creepy insect.
"I caught me a frog!" says the ringleader. "We're gonna throw him in the bonfire tomorrow night!" The other kids nod in agreement, though one of 'em is dead set on flinging the wee beastie up in the air on the skeet range.
Sigh. You spend years teaching the Scout Oath & Law to these kids, and all it takes is one frog and we're back to Lord of the Flies. I'd better intervene before this frog ends up in the ice chipper.
"Well, better let me take a look at him. It might be one of the endangered Rio Blanco Stump-toed frogs. Hate for y'all to get a $500 fine." Now, there's no such thing as a Rio Blanco Stump-toed frog, but they don't know that, and it saves me having to chase 'em down and wrestle the frog away.
The kid hands me the frog, and it's a big 'un. It's a leopard frog, looks kinda like this one:
He's a handsome fellow, as frogs go. He feels like he could use some moisture on his hide, though. It's apparent that he's been out of the water for a while.
I pull one of his legs outward and point to the shortest toe. "See here, guys? That toe oughta be at least an inch longer. Yup, y'all got a Stump-toed frog, all right. We've got to turn him loose."
A chorus of "Awwwww!" and "Oh, mannnn!!!" is the reply from the Scouts, soon replaced by urgent whispering behind me as I walk towards the Rio Blanco. Hell, I was their age once, and I know they're plotting to grab the frog again once I chuck it in the water. These Scouts will leap in after him, and still get their Frog-B-Q tomorrow night unless I can figure out how to get him off scot-free.
I can't go upstream. If I throw it in near the Aquatics area during the Free Swim period, I'll have 10 times the number of kids chasing the frog. It's just too damn hot to walk all the way downstream to the dam...
The bridge? Well, why not?
El Rancho Del Rio Blanco is unique in Texas Scout camps in that it has a suspension foot bridge
across the river. In periods where we've gotten heavy rain and it's unsafe to cross the dam, it's literally the only access to the 6 campsites on the far side of the river. Many times when the Rio Blanco is in flood stage, we've had a parade of Scouts carrying all their belongings over the bridge at the end of camp, since we couldn't get the trucks across to haul their gear out.
From the middle of the bridge, it's about a 10 foot drop from the deck to the water, depending on how high the river's running that month. Mr. Frog's gonna have time for a triple gainer and a half tuck before he splashes down.
The sun over the bridge is casting a heavy band of shadow across the river. I aim the frog towards the center of the band, figuring that the darker water will give him a little extra edge.
Half the Scouts are lined up on one bank, hoping the frog will swim their way, most of the rest are pounding across the bridge, heading for the other bank. Three have stayed to watch the toss.
I look Mr. Frog in the eye, and say "Good luck, dude!", then heave him over the side.
The frog hit hard, and floated motionless for a couple of seconds. I was a little concerned that the fall had stunned him, and I was not looking forward to following him in using a BSA-approved rescue dive, then using a BSA-approved lifesaving tow into shore, and the ensuing Red Cross-approved frog-to-mouth resuscitation.
About the time I was reaching to unbuckle my gunbelt, Mr. Frog commenced to kicking up a storm. He was kicking so hard he started to throw a bow wake I could see from 16 feet up.
"Huh..." sez I. "Wonder why he's in such a hurr...."
That's as far as that thought got. In the blink of an eye, a cavernous mouth emerged from underneath the murky water. There must have been 6 or 8 inches of clearance on either side of that outstretched amphibian to the lips on that catfish. Damn thing looked like a washbucket coming up from the deep.
A gulp, a splash, a slap of a thick tail, and that frog was GONE! Damn catfish looked like the Loch Ness Monster
as it doubled back on itself and headed back to its lair.
I must've stood there gripping the rail in silence for the better part of a minute. Sure didn't see THAT coming... I was vaguely aware of the Scouts walking back across the bridge, and I heard (though I wasn't intended to, I'm sure) a muffled "Smooth move, Ex-Lax!" and "Guess they're even more endangered now..."
I suppose I should have remembered that fish love to hang out in the shade, and that anything hitting the middle of the river might as well be backlit to any critters underneath the water. I was so intent on keeping Mr. Frog free from humanity's clutches, that I completely forgot about the perils of Nature, red in tooth & claw.
So, if you want a moral to the story, all I can say is this...
All actions carry unforeseen consequences, and always toss your frogs in the shrubbery!