Dear Readers, I was back to work today, though clearly my brain is only operating at about 60% capacity – I look at my spreadsheets with considerable befuddlement, and don’t be asking me to calculate anything more complicated than the bill for my cappuccino. Still, I did at least find time to pop out to the garden to have a look at my tadpoles. I love the way that they turn from little full stops to little commas – you can see that some of them are already getting their tails.
There is so much frog spawn, though! All those little lives just waiting for the jelly around them to dissolve so they can venture forth and start munching the algae. And pretty much all the adult frogs have gone, as if they were never here. So that’s the amphibian excitement over for the year.
Or maybe not. I just rediscovered Seamus Heaney’s poem ‘Death of a Naturalist’. I hope you love it as much as I do. Just for a bit of background, flax-dams were used to rot down bundles of flax for making linen. I love that the frogs are ‘poised like mud grenades’.
Death of a Naturalist
BY SEAMUS HEANEY
All year the flax-dam festered in the heart
Of the townland; green and heavy headed
Flax had rotted there, weighted down by huge sods.
Daily it sweltered in the punishing sun.
Bubbles gargled delicately, bluebottles
Wove a strong gauze of sound around the smell.
There were dragonflies, spotted butterflies,
But best of all was the warm thick slobber
Of frogspawn that grew like clotted water
In the shade of the banks. Here, every spring
I would fill jampotfuls of the jellied
Specks to range on window sills at home,
On shelves at school, and wait and watch until
The fattening dots burst, into nimble
Swimming tadpoles. Miss Walls would tell us how
The daddy frog was called a bullfrog
And how he croaked and how the mammy frog
Laid hundreds of little eggs and this was
Frogspawn. You could tell the weather by frogs too
For they were yellow in the sun and brown
Then one hot day when fields were rank
With cowdung in the grass the angry frogs
Invaded the flax-dam; I ducked through hedges
To a coarse croaking that I had not heard
Before. The air was thick with a bass chorus.
Right down the dam gross bellied frogs were cocked
On sods; their loose necks pulsed like sails. Some hopped:
The slap and plop were obscene threats. Some sat
Poised like mud grenades, their blunt heads farting.
I sickened, turned, and ran. The great slime kings
Were gathered there for vengeance and I knew
That if I dipped my hand the spawn would clutch it.