Frogs On The Go

Raymond C. Ganga

Frogs don't move quickly over land for a long distance. In Britain nature lovers got highway engineers to change plans for a road by constructing tunnels and bridges to allow for frog and toad migrations because frog road kill was not only loathsome but it became a traffic hazard.

One reason it seems to me that the Budweiser commercials are amusing is the contrast bvetween a normal frogs movements and what happens when the frogs tongue sticks to a passing beer truck and doesn’t let go. The frog takes flight, to our delight - a possible metaphor for our own liberation from being earthbound in flight - a common if not universal dream.

In the water, however, frogs assume more grace. The limbs elongate after each kick to accentuate the hydrodynamic shape of the whole body, a shape at once aesthetic and functional. This shape, of course, evokes a frogs tadpole beginnings, appearing perfectly streamlined. This ability to move from one medium to another gives a freedom to frogs but at the potential price of multiplying predator enemies –snakes and raptors, for example - who would like nothing better than a frog meal.

In the rural south, particularly, young boys, perhaps the premier frog predator spend a lot of time "gigging" frogs, i.e. planting a spike in the end of stick to jab into a frogs spine just back of the head to see how may can be spiked on one nail at a time. The ostensible reason is for food - frogs legs - but the real reason is probably deeper with many levels, not least is some relationship to the wilderness in all of us.

But it is in the transitions of a frog’s life that the notion of movement and change are most evident – beginning life as eggs which hatch (as a reptile or bird might) emerging as a tadpole with gills and a tail, prey to his neighbors and finally going through a metamorphosis into a creature capable of living and moving on land, sans tail and now a recognized predator in its own right, for insects. These transitions match the movement from water to land, from ‘oceans to islands’ as it were, and in this sense a frog leads a picaresque kind of life.

One can see in all this both the ‘tragedy and comedy’ of a frogs existence – a cute, bumptious, awkward, nubbly, green creature which can evoke both humor and interest on the one hand and fear and loathing on the other when you suddenly meet up with a frog where it is least expected. Frogs are also thought of as slimy and vectors for disease, a gross calumny more characteristic of their toad cousins. And, of course, the ultimate transition in frog fairy tales is the transformation of the frog to a prince, a perfect change from ugly to handsome. It might be possible to recast the riddle of the Sphinx with a frog in mind, i.e. what goes on no legs when young, four legs in middle age and ends up as road kill or prey. And not only as road kill or prey because in our world of increasing pollution and global warming frogs are also now becoming a universal symbol, like songbirds, of the coming crisis. Frog populations and species are declining throughout the world, a possible harbinger of our own fate.

I don’t know if I could imagine life as a frog. The Beatles sing, "I’d like to be, Under the sea, In an Octopuses garden in the shade" and I can imagine frog neighbors stopping by for tea in this kind of a world. But my imagination is necessarily human bound and lends itself to metaphors more like those of Lewis Carroll where frogs are messengers for the Red King and Queen. To actually know the cool green underwater life as a frog can (even for the kind of underwater navy personnel formerly known as "frogmen") or the hopping lurching life on land, warming a cold blooded body on a rock and looking up at the bottom of leaves in the same way as those bulging frog eyes do is forever beyond us. We could only grope toward this experience as toward some Platonic ideal of frogginess. The achievement of such an exercise is in the effort, the being is the doing and the benefit, ultimately, is in what we learn about ourselves.

To be judgemental and personal, I also know I’d rather not be a frog. Frogs don’t do E-Mail, a metaphor for a wider range of experiences frogs can never know. I heard Gary Snyder, a noted poet, give a commencement address at Reed College in Portland, Oregon in which he used the "wilderness" as a theme and urged respect and love for animals and stressed the need to develop "trans-species eroticism," a theme which he did not elaborate but I’m sure he was not referring to baser instincts but more to a true love of nature. This is something we can achieve.

In the end, though, when I think of frogs I return to death as a theme. A classic underground short film known as "The Trouble With Fred" is based on increasingly close pictures of a wooded pond with reeds and rocks. As we get closer we see a frog on one rock and as we get closer yet we see the frog is dead and shrivelled in the sun. The final caption reads. "The trouble with Fred? He’s dead!" The audience all laughs, of course, which once again underlines the comic and tragic nature of frogs. In that sense, I suppose, they are exactly like us.