In spring, 10-year-old Megan's fancy lightly turned to thoughts of ... amphibians. All winter, I'd been tutoring her in reading. But then one warm Thursday morning, she turned the library tables on me with an earnest petition: "Can you help me catch a frog this weekend?"
I demurred at first, citing lack of equipment and expertise (never mind enthusiasm). But Megan already possessed a carrying cage and a makeshift terrarium. What's more, her dad would gladly help her tend any creature we captured. She further assured me that, come autumn, she'd return to the wild whatever we caught.
Loath to squelch a budding biologist, I investigated fishing-license legalities, secured a dip net, and enlisted the assistance of my husband, Ken, who has the nerves of steel needed to nab a frog in a nanosecond, then transfer it from net to cage to terrarium.
Thus equipped, our threesome repaired to the pond that balmy Saturday to find frogs sunning by the dozens in the shoals. As I observed from a safe distance, Ken and Megan knelt in the mud and strategized quietly, soon bringing the net down on a lovely leopard frog.
After driving Megan and her new chum home, and dispensing bookish advice about the latter's care and feeding, I considered my duty done (and then some).
The following Thursday at school, she informed me that "Fellow" was a hit with her playmates. "He's already tame," she said. Privately, I wondered if he were merely tired. She added that when she'd placed a mirror in his terrarium, Fellow had stared at it for a very long time.
"I think he must be lonely," Megan speculated, then asked, "Can we catch him a buddy?" Two frogs would be well within her terrarium's occupancy limit. With parental preapproval again secured, there seemed nothing for it but to drive once more to the pond the following Saturday.
Ken could not join us, and I assumed Megan would execute the capture on her own.
Standing at the pond's perimeter on this cool, blustery afternoon, however, we found precious few frogs in evidence.
"You'd better try first," she said, handing me the net.
"This was your idea," I pointed out.
"But your arms are longer," she countered.
Clearly, I was in over my head. As if impersonating a semaphorist, I began swinging the net, flaglike, at every nub on the pond's frothy surface - only to dredge up wads of algae, black muck, and a paucity of amphibians.
Megan had been holding onto my coat, but as I leaned farther out with each attempt, my feet of proverbial clay sinking deeper into the real thing, she reasoned that there was no point in both of us risking a dip. And so, without warning, she released her grip.
Somehow, with more flailing, I avoided taking the plunge.
Meanwhile, every last frog had fled. Now, as a chill wind sliced across the water, I broke the news to Megan that I was a fair-weather frogger at best, and that the friendless Fellow might just have to settle for playing Narcissus in his terrarium pool.
That's when Megan finally decided to get her
own feet wet.
Although she swiped the net through the water with a swooshing technique much subtler than mine, she too netted naught but a lump of inanimate sludge.
Or so I thought, until she cried, "I got one! I read that they like to play dead. But I'm sure there's a frog in there."
Although pleased to hear she'd been reading, I suspected the frog she'd sighted was a phantom. Eying the net's clumpy contents, it alternatively occurred to me that while Megan might have seen a frog therein, perhaps it had indeed, um, croaked in the catching.
Then I spied a quiver. She was right! As she held the net, I massaged the mud with a forefinger, slowly excavating a small green critter from the cakey grime. Sure enough, as I lifted it gingerly from the mire, it ceased playing possum and flexed its appendages in a thrilling display of amphibian aerobics.
"Hooray!" I cheered, surprising myself.
Within seconds, Megan and I installed Fellow's new friend in his cage, then launched into our own mud-slinging medley of hops and high-fives.
We've since decided to continue our reading through the summer, with an eye toward amphibian literature. Meanwhile, Fellow and Fritz are proving themselves ideal mascots for a friendship that's grown by leaps and bounds.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society