Frogs

Since writing yesterday’s post in which I told you about the frogs I’d not yet been able to catch by photograph, I’ve been watching them more closely.  There are scores of them in the pond, and this morning when I went out earlier than usual there were scores on the path.  Half of them hopped away underneath the accommodation block, half pretended they were stones and sat stock still.

Ready to jump off

They made my flesh crawl; my apprehension is that I will accidentally step on them.  So, when I go out this evening I’ll be banging about loudly as I leave my room and shining a bright light on the ground in front of me.  Hopefully they’ll all get the message.  The potential problem is that their minds are frequently on something else: many of them are locked together in pairs.  I expect soon there will be frogspawn everywhere, as there was when I was here at the end of March last year.

I’ve just realised that the constant thrumming sound is not, as I had assumed, coming from some construction at the nearby base, or a far off helicopter, but is the sound of an army of frogs, a choir croaking and rumbling, ready for Spring.

The circle of life is here to observe.  I’ve just watched a large black crow land on the grass by the pond, dip its head sharply into the water and extract a frog, holding its back leg in its beak.  I could see all the other three limbs of the frog flailing until it was thrown to the ground and repeatedly pecked at by the bird.

All this watching of nature started me thinking of the ways frogs and toads appear in our culture and literature; they are creatures that must appeal to our sensibilities in some way.

Pretending to be a stone

The first that comes to mind is The Frog Prince fairy tale.  The Disneyfied version has the Princess kiss a frog which releases him from enchantment and he turns into a Prince.  I recall that when I tried to find the origins of the princess kissing the frog, I couldn’t find it.  In the Grimms story, the petulant princess throws the frog against the wall at which point he turns back into a Prince.  A fundamental difference it has always seemed to me; and yet it is the ‘character shines through despite ugly appearance’ morality tale that is the one that has more currency.

Simple anthropomorphic tales are deemed suitable for Victorian and Edwardian children in ‘The Tale of Jeremy Fisher’ by Beatrix Potter, and as Toady in ‘The Wind in the Willows’ and ‘Toad of Toad Hall’, by Kenneth Grahame, a loveable if accident prone rogue, filled with too much enthusiasm.  It seems that a frog can look good in a suit, Prince or not; maybe it’s something to do with their long limbs?

I think possibly the first reference in literature to frogs may have been in the play ‘The Frogs’ by Aristophenes, a comedy in which frogs barely appear except as an eerie chorus to a crossing of the river to Hades.  Stephen Sondheim took the theme of poetic competition from the original and wrote a musical also called ‘The Frogs’, in which George Bernard Shaw and William Shakespeare are brought back to life and are required to compete with each other in debate for the right to improve the quality of contemporary drama.  In this piece too, the frogs themselves provide merely an uncomfortable background sound-scape; rather like here, this week.

Pretending to not be there

Some years ago I spent New Year’s Eve in Vienna.  The restaurant table was strewn with glitter and tokens, including small green ceramic frogs in various poses, and the menu was rolled into a scroll, secured by a clothes peg to which was glued one of the china frogs.  I have always assumed (being a bit too lazy to look it up) since then, that there is some good luck and prosperity attribution to frogs in Austria.

I still don’t want to step on one in the dark.

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