Hugh Paxton’s blog is bracing for the Call of the Wild. Frogs!
Before explaining this, I must first bore you with a BBC Award Winning Nature Writing Essay, called Helltoads!
Helltoads Essay starts:
I’m afraid this one has to read like a diary. It started on a date I can’t precisely remember, but it definitely began like this.
DAY ONE: Two blobs of stuff in a footprint in the mud with barely enough water collected to cover the base of either. The tops of the things sag in the sunlight towards the heel-print made by the shoe. In the day of the drain, this is what passes for standing water in our neighbourhood. Small wonder the Japanese student with me doesn’t know what laid these beaching jellyfish of eggs.
“Frogspawn,” I explain.
“Ah,” he answers. “From a frog?”
DAY ONE (later): There’s not much room in your average Japanese house and now there is less room than normal in ours. My wife, Midori, has removed clothes from one of our plastic storage drawers. It sits by the television filled with water. The coils of jelly have expanded.
DAY THREE: The pet shop has everything a pet shop should be inspected for before being shut down. Agama lizards, chameleons, young sturgeon, pine martens, chicks dyed blue and pink for the fun of it. Accessories. Bags of leaves to feed your rhino beetle larvae. Each bag of 30 leaves costs 180 yen. A bit more than a pound.
I ask the counterman whether there’s something special about the leaves, something added or subtracted.
“No, no,” he reassures me, “these are natural.”
I leave with 10 equally natural strands of pond weed. A snip at just under eight quid. As I said, there’s not a lot of standing water around. Pond weed-wise, tokyo’s a seller’s market.
DAY FOUR: Eggs hatching. Thin, brown things, leech-like, tentatively emerging. Our landlord’s agent phones to politely remind us that we are contractually obliged not to plant trees in the garden. This is unfortunate. We have just planted five Japanese maples. Midori asks, not unreasonably, why, given the aforementioned contractual obligation, the actual contract failed to mention anything about trees?
The agent says he’d understood that it was understood. He compromises. We can keep the trees but when we move, we must uproot them and take them with us.
“Perhaps the next tenants would like the trees?” Midori suggests.
The agent admonishes her for being selfish. “Not everyone likes what you like.”
Hard to believe anyone could dislike a tree. Not with the going rate for leaves.
DAY TEN: Three of our plastic drawers are now wiggling with exuberant life. We have borrowed two books on amphibia. The first largely confines itself to the sort of experiments that, when applied to humans, incurred stiff penalties at the end of the last World War. The second book has been written by someone who actually likes frogs. Refreshing. My wife and I read it together as the radio burbles away in the background about 50 kilometer traffic jams, catastrophes, and busy, dismal human affairs. There is something hypnotic about watching tadpoles. I have discovered that I can do it for hours.
“This is what we’ve got,” says my wife pointing to a photo. It’s an education, that photo.
DAY ??? No precise day what this is – I’ve let this essay/diary slip. We are now surrounded by water-filled plastic drawers – fifteen in all. June humidity fogs the air, and the rainy season is so close you can almost breathe it in. The tadpoles are unrecognisable. No longer the discrete little black blobs that wiggled so delicately, our drawers now bulge with brawling adolescents. They write and fume and gape their mouths, and thrash.
“Man,” says an American visitor, “That’s horror movie material. Frogs from hell.”
“You don’t know the half of it. Those frogs are’nt frogs. They’re gamagayru. Giant Japanese toads. When they’re fully grown you’re looking at a heavily muscled ambhibian the size of a cow pat. We’ve got 2,000 of them.”
“Wow,” he murmurs. “Biblical.” Then he poses a good question. “What are you going to do with them?”
FOUR DAYS LATER: The first arms are appearing. It’s an odd shock seeing those arms. Like having a young daughter who starts growing breasts. Tempus fugit. we’ve added some tanks, and more drawers, half-filled with stones and earth, half-filled with water that’s gone the colour of strong green tea. Our neighbours are intrigued. They have also started planting their own trees. Lord knows what the landlord’s agent will say if he gets wind of the precedent set by Operation Toad.
TEN DAYS LATER: The time has come for bold, mildly illegal, action. Japan’s civil engineers (and construction companies with dubious links to government ministers and yakuza cement salesmen) have an obsessional love affair with concrete. Tokyo has no real rivers left. Just drains. Small wonder that proud batrachian parents have to leave their offspring in boot marks. What is needed are ponds, and I’ll be damned if we aren’t just the people to dig them.
Our house, incidentally, is is surrounded by hundreds of cemeteries. cemeteries are the single largest local industry. The bootmark that began this saga was left in a muddy path through scrub between two cemeteries, one, somewhat incredibly, a multi-storey affair – a sort of final car park. It is in this area of scrub that we will commence digging, and it’s in these ponds that we hope future generations (and our generation) will spawn. As we set off, shovels on shoulders and with a horned moon sickle sharp in the heavens, we refrain from conversation. Midnight, shovels and cemeteries are a combination open to misinterpretation. The security guards though are not alert. They would rather stay in the entrance gate houses with sake and incense. They are frightened of ghosts and demons and gods in this cemetery town.
TODAY: Ponds dug, but not as many as initially planned. A bit of field research has found some perfect, if unexpected, release sites. The most unusual is an underground WWII aircraft factory staffed, if that’s the word, by Korean slave labour. It’s under our house. Several hundred meters under our house. No way we are sticking our toads in a cavern labyrinth. But cave seep leaks out from the hidden entrances. Nobody’s going to drain them. Ghosts of history keep these pools and permanent puddles safe. On the higher and more dangerous mountain ridges we’ve found springs. And more pools.
Invitations have been sent out to like minded friends.
“We are going to have a release a (small) giant toad party. Date uncertain but likely to be at the end of the month. Bring beer and panniers for carrying toads.”
As I write this, the drawers squirm and churn with amphibious life, impatient to be off. I won’t miss their food and weed bills and that’s the truth.
And it would be really nice to get our drawers back.
Bassho, the Edo poet, wrote something that every Japanese learns by heart.
It is, apparently, the definitive haiku, although it suffers a bit in translation.
“A frog jumps into a pond. Plop.”
Bassho Edo Poet
Here’s one from my Japanese wife, also, I am sure destined to become a classic:
“A whole bunch of giant toads get kicked out of my damn drawers and then get hurled into a pond and spawn and if this happens again, Hugh Paxton I’ll…”
BLOG ED NOTE: That’s not quite how the BBC award winning essay ended. But Midori’s increasing ire with having no storage space has remained a fairly consistent theme. This year, in Thailand, Hugh Paxton’s Blog raised and released 10,000 or so tree frogs. Their mother had dropped her foam into a swimming pool. Obviously we had to rescue them, nurture them, remove storage drawers, fret about them, then release em or more accurately let them find their way and climb up and off at their own pace. We’ve just heard them begin to sing. Or squawk. The monsoon is a few weeks away yet. But mozzies? We haven’t been bitten this evening.
As I write this