Friday, September 5, 2008

Leo the Leopard Frog

I first met Leo on a stormy morning in June. I awoke to the low rumble of thunder and quickly made my way to the living room and the wall-length picture window that overlooks the town. I saw a flash of light in the distance. Within minutes, a soft, soothing rain was falling and I sighed deeply. Thirty days without rain and 105 degrees. Even the lizards were choking on the dust.

As soon as it was light I carried my houseplants into the mist outside. I could hear a cardinal singing in the oak tree that canopies over the back gardens. I set the pot on the ground and glanced at a nearby rock, making eye contact with a rather somber-looking Southern Leopard Frog. He was tan with chocolate brown patches and a pointed snout. I gave him his space, but he didn’t seem particularly threatened by my presence.

I didn’t see him for a few days. I went about my usual routine, hand watering the containers, setting up the soaker hoses. I have a container of morning glories that wind up a vine. I used a watering can to give the plants a drink. I noticed a dried leaf beneath the leaves of the vine and thought of moving it, then was distracted. The next day, I again noticed the leaf beneath the vine. On the third day, I gently moved the vine aside. The dried leaf was actually a spotted frog. He was enjoying the daily shower.

I left for Colorado for a month, and when I returned, I did my usual cleaning of the ponds. I dug two small ponds in front of the house, positioning them carefully so they could be seen from each bedroom as well as the living room, which has three large picture windows. When I’d finished with the guest bedroom pond, I ran into the room to check the view from the window. It is a quiet, rectangular pond surrounded by rocks and miniature plants. It is beneath a spreading tree and for months now, deep pink rose-like flowers have been tumbling into the water where they form a floating scarlet blanket. I was turning from the window when something in the corner caught my eye. I bent over, looked closer. It was the frog! He was sitting in my window!

The following morning I rushed from the bed to check on the frog. Sure enough, he was still in the window. I started watching him throughout the day. I noticed that he generally leapt into the pond at sunset, but really did seem to enjoy simply sitting on the window sill all day long. I found a wide plastic lid and filled it with water. I slid it onto the sill at night when he’d left for his evening bug feast. The next morning he was sitting in the plastic lid.

I finally identified the little fella as a Southern Leopard Frog. I called him Leo. A few days later, a similar, but smaller frog appeared in my bedroom window. I call her Sara and she has her own little plastic lid filled with water. Sara spends her evenings in the turtle pond, catching bugs while Crush, the turtle, sleeps.

One night I was awakened by Leo croaking loudly at my bedroom door. I flipped on the outside light and slide the door wide. The frog sat very still. I walked out onto the patio and knelt beside him. I touched him. Still, he didn’t move. Then the cat joined us and Leo took a flying leap. As I climbed back into bed, I wondered why he would suddenly appear at my door. I decided his pond must need cleaning. The next morning, when I prepared to clean the pond, I found a nest of frog eggs floating on the bottom.

That night, when I was getting ready for bed, my husband rushed excitedly into the room. “There’s a toad at the front door,” he said. “This is so funny. You can hear him, he’s so loud!” I ran into the room with him and peeked out the front window. Sure enough, there was a toad on the front porch, facing the front door, croaking loudly. I was not surprised to find a string of toad eggs in the frog pond the next morning.

The frog eggs hatched first and the pond filled with dozens of tiny, black dots. I thought this was a good sign because the frogs would be older than the toads, and the toads were supposedly more aggressive. A few days later the toad eggs hatched. The pond was filled with black dots. They munched on the algae on the rocks. They munched on the lettuce I tossed into the water. Soon, the frogs were joined by strange bugs that walked along the bottom of the pond. The strange bugs munched on the tadpoles. Within days, there was nothing left but strange, spider-liked bugs. I drained the pond and let it dry. I will watch for more eggs and this time, raise a few in buckets and release them when they’re big enough to defend themselves.

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