Thursday, June 23, 2016

Critters: Featuring Frog & Toad

I sojourned briefly in Jersey on the way from Philadelphia to rural Massachusetts. The reason for the trip: I hadn't seen Jason since January and hadn't visited Earthdance since 2014, and when he finds himself with two consecutive days off at the border of spring and summertime, the wise wage slave takes advantage.

I was only in town for a few hours, but made a point of checking up on the situation out in the woods. Three weeks made all the difference: the ebony jewelwings are out and about, and I know precisely where to find them. With the water level of the pond decreasing over the last few years, my favorite odonata have taken their domain from its edge (pictured hereabouts) to the brook the overflowing pond used to spill into.

I wish I possessed the time and imagination to convey the quiet joy and wonder of the damselflies' grotto. Verdure and water-flattened stones; the only immediately perceptible movements above the creek's surface are committed by antediluvian insects that look for the world like living automata, equal parts tensile muscle and silent gearwork, chitin and lapis lazuli, engineered by an anonymous forgotten Daedalus for Babylon's royal conservatory or the temple gardens at Rhodes.

You see? I cannot explain it without resorting to silly metaphors. But there really is something splendid and otherworldly in the scene—a statement which might express less about the event itself than imply the estrangement of its author from the world that shaped him and the insects both. (Postscript thought: it is the pale cast of anthropocentrism—events that have no clear analogue within an anthropized setting are called "otherworldly," as though the city and the wild green exist independently on separate planets. It is a dangerous way of thinking.)

*          *          *

On the dry bed of the defunct anastomotic channel between the pond and the brook, I met a frog.


Again, I find myself at a loss to convey it: the sense of spooky action at a distance as I raised my leg and set my foot down, prompting the frog to propel itself in a smooth arc through the air and kerplunk! into the pond. Modern science has pretty much disavowed the facile "cause and effect" narrative in favor of describing events in terms of dependent and independent variables, but the ineffable simplicity (and irrevocability) of the sequence left me standing in the mud and scratching my head for some minutes.

Maybe the real cause of my astonishment was the hitherto unexperienced and perfectly unlabored elegance with which this my latest advance was rebuffed. Rejection stings, but it's the ones who spurn you gracefully whose demurral really eats at you.

*          *          *

The solstice. The forest was so quiet the only sounds any of us could hear were our companions drawing breath.

*          *          *

Jason and I spent like twenty minutes that night standing over and observing this toad on the deck.

"I am prepared to urinate all over you if you pick me up. Try me."

I named it Hercule. Jason, purist that he is, insisted on Mr. Satan. I deferred to Jason, because the longer you looked into the toad's face, the more you sensed an implacable malevolence emanating from it.

That night I learned to respect the toad as what it is: a rapacious shark, a sangfroid sniper, and a ninja killer, a komainu translated into the world as a diminutive amphibian. This was the first time I'd witnessed a toad actually launching its tongue to snare insects. It was great. And there was no small abundance of prey; Mr. Satan positioned itself under the porch lamp and its cosmopolitan bevy of bugs, waiting for stragglers to descend to the planks. Waiting is the operative word here: Mr. Satan could sit motionless for several minutes at the time, only striking when it was assured of snapping a bug with one rapid and unbroken movement. Leap, flick. Wait. Pivot, flick. Wait. Turn, pounce. Murder, devour, hop, wait.

The myth and attendant tropes of Jiraiya suddenly make so much more sense to me.

*          *          *

The solstice. The full moon cast the shadows through the apple orchard, the lightning bugs lit it up.

I realized that if I searched my memories, my fondest recollections of meaningful kisses are resplendent with fireflies.

*          *          *

I don't expect people to understand.

Exchange from The Dating Website:
[Her]: Nothing much. Just working on business. Yourself? ​

[Him]: looking over and trying to edit a few things. i'm more interested in watching this fly that landed on the counter and is busy preening itself.

[Him]: flies don't really have a posterior to their heads. from behind it looks like they're wearing giant masks.

[Him]: odd?

[Him]: the flies or that a person should take such interest in them and their habits?
That was two weeks ago, and I'm still waiting for an answer.

No comments:

Post a Comment