Outside my window a mob of young, pale yellow-breasted Grosbeaks’ are picking at a late season, second-bloom of flowers in the osier dogwood and taking turns bathing in our bird bath. Cedar Waxwings and a few Western Tanagers are in the treetops, a variety of other yellow birds are flitting around – Goldfinches, Wilson Warblers and Townsend Warblers – a colorful, busy day in the (avian) neighborhood!
A day of yellow birds, but today I write of a golden frog. Frogs play an important role in many Native American stories, and other traditional cultures, but as I browse my books of Egyptian Myths, Northwest Native American Tales, and Asian Fables, I do not find anything about frogs. There is an Aesop’s Fable about a frog and a scorpion, to show (Aesop’s Fables were written to teach lessons) that negative characteristics in one’s personality cannot be changed (the Scorpion stings the frog after promising not to, as the frog carries him across a river, causing the death of both). I am biased and think this is an outdated lesson and frogs are worthy of a better fable.
I pursue this frog-in-myths search because last week a magical frog appeared on our porch and I can’t stop thinking about it. His, or her, likeness is now my computer desktop picture, allowing me to study him/her up close and personal and re-live that brief encounter that felt like I had stepped into a fairy tale.
How do I know it was a magical frog? It was gold, very gold, the picture doesn’t show just how gold. I have a witness, my sister-in-law Linda saw it too and was amazed at how gold it was. Don’t we all know from many myths and fables that gold means magic (or greed)? Golden eggs, golden feathers, golden fur, any time gold appears on the animals of myths there is magic. What else was magical about it? It was a 90+ degree day, in the shade, and he was on our sunny front porch where it was likely in the upper 90s. Not a place for a frog. How did this frog get there? Climb up the six steps, in the heat? I have no clue. I helped Mr. (or Ms) frog off, gently cradling it in my hand, from there it jumped to our rhody bush, poised until I got my camera and took a picture, then disappeared.
We have toads and little green tree frogs. We do not normally have golden frogs. I have surmised it is a Cascade Frog, but it might also be a Red-legged Frog. Any frog experts reading this might make a more positive id. There is actually a frog called the Golden Frog, but they are from Panama, look quite different than our modest little gold frog, and sadly, like many frogs, the Panama Goldens are endangered.
I feel compelled to write a story worthy of ‘my’ golden frog, I called in the frog spirits to help me create a Golden Frog Fable, but it isn’t coming to me just yet (this is why I write non-fiction). In his book Animal Speak, Ted Andrews writes that frogs represent transformation through water and sound, and coming from the water and living on the land, are considered a link between those two worlds. Andrews says a frog coming into ones life might mean we have been bogged down, perhaps by emotions, maybe there are stagnant waters in our life needing to be cleaned up. He states “frog people have strong ties to their mothers.”
Frogs are an ‘indicator’ species for scientist and those of us who care about the environment. Their decline in numbers and the increased mutations found in many species have made them a litmus paper of how humans impact the natural world.
I see frogs as magical as butterflies. Their metamorphosis from egg to polliwog to frog is a remarkable process and symbol of transformation (metamorphosis, the word, comes the Latin and Greek words for transformation and shape changing). We might think of them as tough little amphibians, but sensitive, absorbent skin is what makes them vulnerable to water and air pollutants. I find them remarkably optimistic when I see tadpoles in puddles that are likely going to dry up before they all transform into frogs. Moving from water to land, they adapt to a new home environment as their body and survival needs change, a lesson I am trying to get my mom to understand at this time in her life.
Not sure where the golden frog is, have not seen him since, though I did see a member of the same species a few days later on a shady trail behind our house, it was not golden, but still a special sighting. Frogs have definitely come into my life at a time when things are a little mucky and uncertain and I am sensitive to the shifts and changes in my mother’s life and mind. The frog calls us to water, so I soak in my warm tub and try to calm my concerns and disquietude.
Perhaps the Golden Frog Fable will come to me in a dream.
An informative page about frogs in Washington state: Washington Dept. of Fish & Wildlife: Frogs
There are frog stories and myths, as well articles about frogs and pollutes, on line, search at Duck Duck Go if you are interested in reading more. After all, ducks know more about frogs than something called Google (whatever that is!)