Essay: Frog Journey

It will happen at night, under pale stars, in a drenching, cool, summer rain that follows a dry spell. July, maybe. The frogs will begin their journey. They will emerge, thousands of them, from damp forests, from streams and swamps, from membranes of mud, from wet leaves, their eyes bulbous with yearning for primal byways over which we have built Route 212 or Route 42.

Because their sensate moist skin is prone to desiccation, the frogs, I believe, will have waited for a night of flying rain, so that they may roam with water on their bodies. They travel on the rain. I will note their general direction; they will be traveling toward the Esopus Creek as if it were a highway they sought. I suppose they are called, propelled in this way, from place of water to place of water, to stir up the gene pool, to make new frogs in a new place next year.

Many frogs are like fish in the beginning, their eggs gelatinous in the water, specked with mobile dots. Then they transform into mercurial tadpoles until, gradually, they change again, trading gills and tails for lungs and legs. I have never, myself, actually seen that final transition. Do they struggle at that seam, that threshold of air and water, gas and liquid? Does it pain them somehow, the movement from one medium to another? And is it the memory of that early life’s “water breathing” that calls them out on rainy nights to hop and breathe in an air that is mostly liquid? Does the slosh of rain make them feel, once again, the rudder of their now-gone tail, as amputees experience “phantom limb,” the sensation that their lost body part still exists, beyond the seeming stump?

I know the frogs will make their journey unless we’ve done some dreadful and irrevocable damage to the earth. The frogs are, after all, in trouble these days. Fruitful for millions of years, they are having reproductive difficulties now, producing mutant offspring with distorted limbs. Their skins are more pervious than ours, more delicate; more damaged by parasites, chemicals, pollutants—who knows what. They are victims, too, of our misguided destruction of their wetland homes.

We humans are in the same soup, dependent on water. Our body tissue is essentially liquid. The blood sloshing against our veins and arteries is 70 percent water. We may live weeks without food, but only a fraction of that time without water. We need water, inside and out.

I hope I will see the frogs again next year, when I’m driving the dark curves of the country roads that are so ominous to people not familiar with the black weight of the mountains at night. My car wheels will spray up water, and other cars will be a passing drench as my windshield wipers click their arc. My headlights will shimmer on the road and I will see the movement of the frogs. They will be leaping into the night’s mystery, their hinged legs flexing into the center ridge of their spines. For the smallest instant, as the frogs jump, the puddles will mirror their bodies. That is one of water’s secrets—everything twice, the thing and its reflection, the shadow of the thing and the reflection of the shadow. As in years past, I will stop my car along a still shoulder of road. I will hear the soft spill of rain. I will taste the mist on my tongue, and the smell of rainwater will surround me. The moon will be soft, silver, barely visible in a dripping sky.

And on that night I will recognize it, water inside and out, water sweeping from the dark sky and hopping, encased in skin, along the roads. I too will be traveling that night, unable to rest, moving along ancient pathways I cannot define. I will be on that same road, under the same moon. Where will I be driving? What will be urging me on? Will it be my amphibious ancestors back in some primordial time, their wet snouts poked experimentally into the air, their fins resting in question on a muddy border?

I will remember once again that I am on a liquid planet, which itself is swimming in the glistening air. The air will be so wet that I might as well be breathing underwater, frog-like. Around me the rain will be washing an earth that is two-thirds water.

I will pour myself back into my car, my skin wet as a frog’s. I will drive, welling with sorrows older than myself, through the weep of water. The earth will be moving in its accustomed way, water running along its seams. The water will be carrying me, and the frogs, with it as it runs. Water in water on water through water.    

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