what I hoped for


Everyone was getting ready to go out to Egmont to the Backeddy Pub for lunch and I was half-listening to them, half paying attention to the job I was doing, which was misting the greenhouse with a hose. I’d watered the tubs of peppers and eggplants and I was giving the interior the benefit of cool spray. The scent of water on dry plants, on the concrete pavers we used for the floor, and on the cedar bench John made from a wild-edged plank was lovely. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw something moving. It was a tree frog, a medium-sized one. You can’t see it in this photograph but it was climbing along the black metal base edged by beach stones. I was so glad to see that it had made its own way into the greenhouse–I leave the door open on these summer days–and I called the children over to see it. They crowded around the exterior of the south wall and peered at the frog. Maybe Henry leaned too hard against the plastic but he’s 5 and extremely alive. The frog tucked itself into a corner of the base and the children ran to join the others who were getting into their cars. I finished misting and thought to myself, This is what you hoped for. Not just showing the children frogs. There have been several sightings in the past while. Two reliably perched above the kitchen window. Another in the basil on the upper deck. One on the trim around a window right by the table on the deck where we’ve been eating most of our meals this summer. That one chirped a little on the day it rained.

But I hoped that a frog found the greenhouse on its own because I want the utility of them in the plants, eating small invertebrates, and I want the beauty of them. In a way I think of frogs as my familiars. I don’t mean this in a New Age way, or maybe I do. I mean that they appear on windows, once on a mirror, sometimes on the leaf of a rose I am about to prune. They draw my eye to the thing itself and they draw my inner eye, asking me to take the time to look, to think, to love, if that doesn’t sound too sentimental. Because I love these small creatures with their wise eyes and patience. They are intermediaries in my garden, a link between me and the plants. If I could stay still on a leaf and simply observe the world, I’d do that.

In a very practical way, they are an indicator species. They have thin skin, which they breath through, and they need clean water and air. Every time I complain to companies devoted to glyphosates, I remind them about this–the highways ministry eager to spray Round-Up against orange hawkweed on the roadsides, many of them adjacent to water sources. I could feel the person on the other end of the phone rolling her eyes as I politely but maybe garrulously registered my objection to the recent application on the highway below my land. It’s often like talking to rocks but I do what I can where I have my own jurisdiction: keeping clean water in bowls for frogs, maintaining an old cast-iron bathtub pond for them near the compost, and never using herbicides or pesticides.

greenhouse frog

After I saw the frog in the greenhouse, I went up to give the basil a drink of liquid kelp, and there on a leaf was a brand-new tree frog the size of my thumbnail. I put a yogourt container near it and it hopped in. I took it down to the greenhouse, hoping it would stay around, because I noticed aphids on one of the pepper plants the other day. When I returned an hour later, it was still sitting in its tub. I’d love for it to live on the olive tree to remind me to take my time, to pay attention. This is what you hoped for, I reminded myself, filling the big bucket of water in the corner of the greenhouse and leaving the frog to its peace.

古池や 蛙飛び込む 水の音

The old pond

A frog leaps in.

Sound of the water.

–Matsuo Basho, composed in 1686


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