The Golden Frog

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  I am biased and think this is an outdated lesson and frogs are worthy of a better fable.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.

Footnotes:

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!)

The Big Harvest

six different veggies & flowers for the table, a harvest to share!

The definition of  the word harvest includes the phrase, “the season’s yield”.  This brings to mind philosophical thoughts, such as – what are the yields of the seasons of our lives?  This morning I enjoyed a tiny harvest from our small garden. For those with big gardens, lots of sun, great soil, and able bodies, eating out of the garden and having a bountiful harvest is part of everyday life throughout the summer and fall, the harvest seasons.  My physical challenges, and our solar challenged site, make our few beds, (raised for easier accessibility) of compost and store-bought soil to augment our ‘native’ clay, produce far less than the gardens of my dreams. However, this morning was no less joyous when I harvested enough veggies to make dinner for company.

One of life’s most essential lessons is to appreciate the gifts we receive, even when things don’t turn out as we’d planned…..or hoped for.  I have learned this lesson many times, at each turn in the journey that went a different direction than expected.  The dreams of my youth included living on a farm; the dreams of my young adulthood included self-sufficiency, with plenty to share. The reality of my ‘mature’ years is a small little plot to enjoy the thrill of eating a carrot freshly pulled and peas just picked.

This may be my ‘big harvest’, the only meal all season made entirely from the yield of our garden, (usually supplementation from local organic farms is needed), but for this one meal, this one day, I feel blessed with abundance and taste the satisfaction of my dreams being fulfilled…..with enough to share.

May your harvest be plentiful!

Footnote: So what’s on the menu with this gathering of veggies?  Quinoa with chopped carrots, beets and zucchini, cooked with spices and served with a tahini sauce;  steamed beet greens; and salad.  Also from the garden will be chives to garnish the quinoa dish, nasturtiums to add more color and pizzazz to the salad, mint and lemon balm tea.

Berry Bonanza

Red Elder Berries
(the heavily laden bushes are now berry-less!)

There is an all-you-can-eat berry feast going on outside our house, and no doubt all over the northwest. The cloudy cool summer has not affected the berry harvest, and harvesting is exactly what is happening in treetops and bushes all around our house.  The treat for us is the variety of feasters who show up.

Early in the summer I love looking out and seeing a rotund red-breasted American Robin with a big juicy yellow Salmon Berry in its beak.  But it is when the Red Elderberries begin to ripen that the action really begins. Plump Band-tailed Pigeons are heard before they are seen, their flappy wing sounds and owl-like cooing tell us they have arrived.  Years of over-hunting, almost to extinction, have left these beautiful gray birds shy, but they are persistent and if scared off by our presence, they return, weighting down branches as they pluck the small red berries.

Elderberries also attract the most colorful of our northwest birds, the Western Tanager.  Flashy yellow-black bodies with orangey-red heads move fast through the bushes, eating here and there, not sticking around and chowing down like the Band-tails.

Cascara Berries
Just beginning to ripen, the feast has just begun!

The party really gets going with the ripening of Cascara berries. These tiny purple-black berries ripen a few at a time, each berry cluster having reddish and green berries along with ripened ones.  I’ve seen Evening Grosbeaks eat green berries, they are usually the first to head for the treetops of the largest Cascaras. But as more berries ripen, the diversity of diners increases. Finally, considered one of the most beautiful of American passerines, the Cedar Waxwings arrive.  Their tanish gray bodies, soft yellow breasts, characteristic yellow-tipped tail and scarlet tipped wing feathers are just part of their unique characteristics.  It is a mystery to me why they are so beautiful, they have the same masked look as a Raccoon, and the feather head-dress of a Stellar Jay, both these characteristics should give them a more roguish look, like a masked robber with a slicked-back do.  But somehow they pull it off as stunning beauty.

I’ve done a bit of reading about Cedar Waxwings, having had a remarkable ‘nature experience’ years ago involving their eating habits.  While walking on a nearby logging road I came upon a small (by conifer tree standards) cedar tree, 20 to 25 feet tall.  It was completely covered with Cedar Waxwings, there was barely room for them all, resulting in some jostling for position.  I stood mesmerized.  Though I could barely see the tree branches through the mass of bird bodies, I did notice it had bumper crop of small green cones, the ‘berries’ of the cedar tree.  Returning the next day, thinking there might be some birds still around, I saw nary a bird and a tree completely void of cones (binoculars helped confirm this).

Thus the cedar part of their name.  These are the only birds who can exist almost solely on berries.  This is to their advantage in some unusual ways, such as, a Cowbird egg laid in a Waxwing nest is not likely to survive once hatched because, unlike the Waxwing chicks, it cannot thrive on the predominately berry diet. Waxwings do feed their young some bugs, but not enough for a Cowbird to survive.  An endearing behavior of Waxwings is the passing of flower petals and small twigs back and forth during courtship, as well as ‘snuggling’.  What’s not to love?  A handsome, roguish looking bird who brings gifts when courting, loves berries, and likes to party (they are often seen in large flocks, though I have never again seen a flock as large as I did that magical day on the logging road.)

This year we seem to have a family of three Cedar Waxwings flitting from tree to tree, they have been here for days, though I think there might be more.  They are birds on the move in the treetops, elusive to my photography equipment and skills. Looking at a photograph of one, I attempted this drawing of a Cedar Waxwing, but neither photographs nor drawings seem to portray accurately their loveliness. (Even Sibley’s Waxwings look fat and unfriendly, not the sleek beauties I see in the treetops).

Waxwings are not the only feasters in the Cascaras.  I watched a territorial Robin try, unsuccessfully, to bully the Waxwings out of one tree.  The Pigeons, having finished off all the Elderberries, will now chow down on Cascara.  There are other birds, not yet identified, flitting in and out.  Fortunately a few Cascara trees just outside our front window have lower branches so we will be watching and identifying these avian berry connoisseurs the remainder of the summer, the staggered ripening of Cascara berries makes them an available food source for the entire month of August.

It is also a bumper crop year for Red Huckleberries, and I was wondering, as I picked berries from the heavily laden bushes to give my chickens, who think they are the crème de la crème of treats, why I don’t see wild birds eating these little tart berries.  Then yesterday I saw out the window a Stellar Jay doing contortions while plucking the red juicy berries.   I was delighted to see a Jay back amongst our feathered friends, (they tend to disappear and be elusive during breeding season) and happy to know they enjoy huckleberries!

Red Huckleberries

To see a photo and read more about Cedar Waxwings: Cornell Lab of Ornithology. You can look up the other birds I mention on the same web site and hear the calls of each one, very helpful when trying to identify birds high in the treetops!

(Footnote:  Our raspberries are also abundant this year. Interestingly, wild birds don’t seem to care for the sweet domestic berries, given the surrounding wild harvest. However, squirrels are ravaging the canes, knocking berries on the ground, and eating them right in front of us! Grrrrrr!)