I wrote, late last summer, about the two moments that are structured into my everyday life that are always beautiful. There are always new beauties and delights as I walk; the parade of flowers, too soon to fade, the squirrels and birds, the chipmunks (I have never seen so many as this year), the changing clouds and weather. But twice a day there is foreseen and dependable beauty: when I ring a lovely set of windchimes and when I walk beneath a spreading beech tree.
To those I have added a third.
It is at the end of my route. I’ve altered my path. Instead of cutting across the street like I used to, I walk maybe thirty paces beside a pond. At least it once was a pond; it is lined with stone but by neglect has reverted to a small outlier of marshland. It is all cattails and algae. And frogs, lots of frogs.
What I like about this brief stroll is the test of spotting the frogs before they hear me and jump into the ex-pond. This is hard to do.
Then there is the swift beauty of their jump, and the satisfying “plop” when they hit the water.
All of which brings back memories.
My Uncle Gil is my late mother’s younger brother; he must be around 80 now. Twice a widower, he lives alone in northern Michigan in a house he built himself, maybe 15 years ago. He keeps bees, taps maple trees, does beautiful woodwork, grows a large garden, makes wine, and feeds the wildlife.
For though Uncle Gil, like a lot of my uncles, worked in a GM factory in Flint, at heart he is an outdoorsman. On weekends or vacation he was on the lakes, or in the woods, gathering herbs and mushrooms, harvesting wild honey (think high in the treetop, stealing it from angry bees), fishing for walleye or pike. And hunting: rabbits, squirrels, quail, ducks, deer. And bear. With a bow.
From this you may have formed an image of Grizzly Adams, but my uncle is small in stature, bespectacled. He is soft-spoken and taciturn. Unlike some of my uncles, he did not go straight from high school to the factory. He joined a Benedictine monastery, intending on being a simple lay brother. He didn’t last all that long, left and married, and in fact was alienated from the Church for decades, reconciling in his 60s. But I have always thought it a fit choice. For whatever the reason for his leaving the monastery, and for his long exile, he is a man clearly at home with silence and solitude, more at home in the forest than the city.
When I was maybe 10 or 12 Uncle Gil would take his son, Rick, and me frogging.
Now if you are unfamiliar with the term, “frogging” is the art and discipline of walking on the edge of, or wading knee-deep in, a pond or marsh, very quietly stalking a bullfrog, then very swiftly smacking him over the head with a big stick.
If you have never done this, let me tell you it is difficult. Frogs are, well, jumpy, and one must move almost imperceptibly and then very speedily deliver the blow. It requires intense concentration, sort of like Zen, except for the bopping the head part, which is more Ninja.
Needless to say, this was very satisfying to a young boy. At the end of the day we would have a bucket or two of frogs, make a fire and feast on frog legs. Yes, they taste like chicken.
I have not tried to see if I can still stalk a frog like that; I am working class, and unlike office workers I am not allowed to goof off one third of the time I am supposed to be being productive. I don’t have time on the route to sneak up on frogs.
And I haven’t taken my own boys frogging. I do not like to kill anything anymore, and I do not relish the task of cleaning anything for eating.
Maybe we should try it, though. I’d like to see if I still have the touch.
If they want to bop frogs, though, the boys would have to promise to prepare and eat the frog legs…