By Lee Anne White
Mom was in the basement doing laundry when the doorbell rang. I swung the front door open wide to greet one of the older neighborhood boys. He was standing there with two large plastic buckets and a grin on his face.
“Hey, would you like to buy some frogs?” he asked. I looked deep into the buckets. Sure enough, they were filled with frogs—and not just any frogs. These were enormous bullfrogs carrying baby bullfrogs on their backs.
“Cool! How much?” I asked.
“Two bucks,” he responded. I ran to my bedroom and dumped out the measly contents of my piggybank, scrounging around for enough nickels, dimes, and pennies to make the purchase. Two dollars was a lot for frogs. Heck, it was a lot for anything based on my allowance, which was earned one dime or quarter at a time for doing chores around the house—but I had never seen so many frogs at once, much less any carrying babies on their backs.
We made the exchange and I headed straight to N’s with the buckets before Mom could figure out what I was up to. N’s house was behind ours—through the woods on a well-worn path that crossed a vacant lot and a gully that we called the foxhole. N and I rode our fat-tire bikes on those trails and played army in the foxhole, building underground forts beneath the tree limbs dumped there by our fathers.
N was a lot like me—ten years old, brown hair, and happiest when building tree houses or playing ball on the front lawn. People often mistook us for sisters—so much so that we started telling people that we were when asked, and sometimes even when we weren’t. To make it official, we made small cuts on our hands and then pressed them together to mix the blood, making us blood sisters.
Most of the neighborhood girls would have squealed and told me the frogs were gross, but not N. She loved bullfrogs as much as I did. We routinely got in trouble with our mothers for dawdling too long on the walk home from school because we’d get sidetracked trying to catch frogs and tadpoles in the neighborhood pond with our bare hands.
We headed to the woods with the buckets and a shovel, and took turns digging several holes. We dragged the garden hose out into the woods and filled the holes with water. Then we carefully placed our new amphibian friends in their new homes, covering each hole with old window screens we found in the shed, and securing them in place with rocks. We didn’t want our frogs to escape.
As was often the case, there were a few flaws in our plans. When we checked on our frogs the next morning, the holes were almost dry. Even though this was dense red clay, the holes did not hold water like the pond down the street, which had a running stream and dam. We filled the holes back up with the water hose and checked it again that evening. We also realized that we didn’t have food for our frogs. “Where will we get flies?” N asked.
By the second morning we had a new problem on our hands: The holes were filled with eggs—enormous masses of slimy, jelly-like tadpole eggs. We had seen clusters of them in the pond before, but never like these in our holes. There were thousands and thousands of them.
We also noticed that the baby frogs were no longer on their mothers’ backs. Puzzled, we headed to my house and pulled the F-G encyclopedia off the shelf. There we read that a male bullfrog “hugs” the female for several days, causing her to squeeze out thousands of eggs, which he then fertilizes. Hmm…so maybe those had not been baby frogs on their mother’s backs after all. While we pondered this new information, we added water to the holes again and wondered what to do next. There was no way all those tadpoles could live in these small holes once they hatched, and we couldn’t fill up the holes twice a day forever.
On the third morning, the frogs were gone. All that remained were the eggs. The screens and rocks were still securely in place, which made us think that some of the neighborhood boys had stolen them in the night. Or perhaps our parents had found our tiny frog-filled holes and released the frogs out of pity.
We never did learn what became of those frogs. Later that day, we hauled buckets of slimy tadpole eggs to the pond down the street and refilled the holes with dirt to hide our failed attempt at raising pet frogs. Undeterred, our outdoor adventures continued—chasing rabbits in the neighbor’s backyard, nursing injured birds and chipmunks back to health, catching butterflies and lightning bugs, and even adopting a chicken that had fallen off a poultry truck—wondering if it, too, might lay eggs. It did not.
Lee Anne White still loves the great outdoors. She has written seven books on garden design, recently published a book of photographs called The Mutable Sea, and blogs about the role of creativity in women’s lives. You can find her on her website, blog and Twitter.