When I was in kindergarten, an older neighbor kid with a name I’ve forgotten and a face I wish I could, picked up an enormous mama toad and looking at me slyly said, “Watch this!” as he threw the poor creature as high in that air as his rotten little twelve year old boy arm could throw. I squinted into the sun and watched as the toad flew high above my head and then began falling back to Earth where it landed on the pavement in front of our house in a sickening splat.
Five decades later, I remember every detail of this scene as if it happened an hour ago. I don’t think I told anyone about it for many years after it happened but even now, when I think of bearing witness to such cruelty toward a defenseless creature, I get the same sick feeling in the pit of my stomach that I did so many years ago. At the age of six, I might not have known much, but I knew that throwing toads wasn’t okay.
To this day, I have an aversion to toads. Frogs don’t bother me in the slightest, but I’m Toad-phobic. Go figure.
A few years ago, Leopard frogs were making the news. Biologists studied the odd mutations and the dwindling frog population in Minnesota. For a decade or so, it was impossible to find a single frog hopping into the meadow up at the lake even though the summers of my childhood were full of frogs.
I am happy to report that the frogs have made a come back. In fact, I may well have every amphibian in Itasca County living in my yard at the present time. In addition to big, green frogs and little frogs with opaque, white tummies, we also have giant, gray warty toads (ish!) and their tiny and not-quite-as-ishy brown tree toad cousins living here. This is not a problem until it is time to cut the grass. And then it is a big problem.
I believe that the world is divided into two types of do-ers. There are those who forge ahead on tasks unfettered by obstacles and those who don’t. I’m generally in that first group when it comes to checking stuff of my to-do list. Just ask my family. I hyper-focus and this drives them a little nuts. If I start painting a room in the evening, I will pull an all-nighter rather than stop. I miss lunch or forget to start dinner when I’m in the middle of grading papers and don’t want to lose my concentration. This usually serves me quite well. Start a job. Finish the job. Check the job off my list. Move on.
But there’s something fundamentally wrong with running over a frog with a lawnmower, at least for me. And so, yesterday as I mowed the lawn, I did a lot of stopping for the hopping. I’d be moving in nice, even rows, making progress and suddenly there would be motion in the grass in front of me and I’d stop and wait. Then, once the coast was clear, I’d keep moving and make a turn. This went on for a half hour…..walk….watch…wait…move…turn…
During one pass, a smallish frog hopped in front of me, out of the way of the blade. I moved on and made my turn, heading back to the other side of the yard. On the next pass, I came back to where I’d seen her and was horrified to see that one of us had miscalculated the time it took for her to get out of the way and saw her there, belly up. One minute she’d been hopping around, and then she wasn’t.
Maybe I’m making too much of this. After all, I was bigger, and more focused, and had a job to do and it’s not like I did it on purpose or anything. Even so, I felt bad. And responsible. And I slowed down and looked more closely after that. When a giant bullfrog beat it to the rocks near the foundation of the house and hid under the electrical outlet watching me, I watched him, too, making sure that he’d go on to hop another day.
I’ve also been known to stop the car and move a mud turtle or two in my lifetime.
I figure I have enough bad Toad Karma. I don’t need bad Turtle Karma, too.