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SPEAKING FOR THOSE WHO CAN’T SPEAK FOR THEMSELVES

SPEAKING FOR THOSE WHO
CAN’T SPEAK FOR THEMSELVES

Lessons from the Lower Level

By Laura Moretti

I can’t say why I’ve always had a fondness for, well, frogs, but it’s been a lifelong fascination. Or for snakes and ants and spiders, for that matter, either. Maybe it’s their way of removing me from what was and what will be and keeping me right smack in the middle of what IS, in that tangible moment in time, and not a second before or after. Frogs are like fish for me: liberators. I can watch them for hours.

My first action for animals in my direct care occurred when I was about 13 years old. We were living in a neighborhood with a large field behind our house, one that hosted a rather significantly sized pond, full of an assortment of insects, fish, tadpoles, and their parents. The dog and I would hike out to the water along a worn path and, while she romped in the tall grass along the banks, I’d sit on a rock or in the sand and watch whatever happened to chance my way.

I was fascinated by tadpoles. In fact, some seven years earlier, I’d gotten in trouble for going out to the neighborhood creek and bringing home a bucket full of the wiggling little critters. My father explained to me that the frogs-to-be wouldn’t survive the ordeal I’d caused them because they’d been removed from their life-sustaining environment—and that devastated me. I never meant harm to a single living creature, especially a frog. Better to sit on a bank and study them from there. So I did. For hours. And the thing about watching tadpoles is that, over time, they lose their tails and they grow legs and they miraculously become frogs. They then grace the nighttime with their timeless choruses.

On one particular jaunt to the pond, I came upon a most disturbing scene. A neighborhood bully had used frogs for target practice with his BB gun; many of the mortally wounded frogs still writhed in death throes in the water and on the bank. It was a very bloody, gruesome scene, and one I’ve apparently never forgotten. The boy leveled his carnage on more than one occasion—and I knew I had to take action.

I filled my little red wagon with water and rocks and algae from the pond. I hadn’t forgotten the lessons of my earlier youth. If I was going to remove the beasties from their natural environment, I had to recreate it as best I could. I emptied my collection of flora into a cement mixer my father stored in the backyard and then went back for the fauna, gathering up as many frogs and their tadpoles as I could find. And when I thought I’d gotten them all, I went back for their eggs.

Needless to say, our backyard was filled with the hoppers and their nighttime songs, but my father was mortified, imploring me on more than one occasion to be more like my brothers and leave the natural world to itself. “Go find yourself a Prince,” he’d say, “and leave the frogs alone.” But I paid him no heed. Rescuing animals had become my life.

I sat by the mixer each day and kept the water level high enough to make sure there was enough algae to sustain my charges, and I’d count my eggs as they hatched into tadpoles. Eventually they became frogs. There were so many of them that my father didn’t like going out at night because he was afraid he’d step on a frog on his way to the car. He’d cuss me beneath his breath and hope the critters would eventually return to their homeland. They did. And I was never happier to see them go back to where they belonged. I had done my job.

So I guess it’s only fitting that I share my backyard, still, with frogs.

After hours of horse care and ranch work, and sitting here in front of this computer more than I think is healthy sometimes, I broke down one day and bought myself a hot tub. It means I don’t have to go far to get away from it all. When I feel weary, I climb in and send my mind up to the sky, day and night, into other universes. I’m brought back only by the natural sounds around me: the owls and the nightingales, the crickets and the frog choruses; in daytime, it’s the occasional jackrabbit scampering past, or an investigating honey bee. And then back my mind goes, far away from the physical and emotional pains that mark the life of a weary animal rescuer and rights activist.

It was sometime during this past winter that I got my first company in the hot tub. A tree frog appeared under the hood, snug up against the lip where the warmth was most comforting. I think we startled each other fairly good that first time, but we soon settled into our routine: I open the hood, stand at just the right angle so Frog won’t jump into the water and, after he turns away from the too-warm liquid, I climb in. For the first few weeks of our communal bath, Frog would seek refuge elsewhere during my mind-sending dips, but not too long after, he began to stick around. In fact, about midway into our “courtship,” Frog brought along his friends: two and then three frogs under the hot tub hood. And they filled my nighttime with their concert—with me right there to applaud it.

I don’t always send my mind up to other universes. I focus it again on the microcosm. I get close to Frog’s face. Study those large-pupiled eyes. The thin line of his mouth. His bumpy toes and tiny elbows. The pattern and rough texture of his skin. His little throat vibrates. I wonder what he’s thinking, what he’s thinking about me. I move and his head turns to follow me. What does he see? I got behind him once, there in the hot tub, and looked over his shoulder at the world beyond him, seeing it from his perspective. An amazing place. Crickets chirped. Did he hear them as loudly as I did? A night bird winged past us and caused him to cock his head and watch with a brilliantly wide, curious eye. Did it scare him? Or was he sending his mind into other universes, too?

There were no haunting images of vivisected rats in Procter & Gamble laboratories to disrupt the view. No wolf decimations. No puppies in breeding mills. No wildlife slaughter. No pig factories. No ivory wars. No caged birds. No kangaroo massacre. No wild horse roundups. And there was no magazine deadline, no fight to wage on behalf of the voiceless suffering and the unheard dying.

All there was in that exchange was a “lowly” tree frog to catch my attention and share the world with me in that moment and that moment alone. The gift from the “lower level.” If only we could stay there, he and I, forever and one day. Oh, but Frog is giving it his best. For the first time, he appears to have found the control panel on the hot tub. It is lit and shiny, and he sees, or so I believe he sees, his reflection in the “glass.” He cocks his head again, bends it downward to peer straight into the eyes looking back at him, and steps one way and then another, eyeing himself with every move. He makes me laugh—taking me one step further into the microcosm—the way his kind has done since I was a child.

I’d thank him for the reprieve with a kiss, of course, but I’m terrified he’d turn into a human being—and destroy the liberation.

Lonely? Me? No. My Prince, you see, IS a frog.

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Lessons from the Lower Level

By Laura Moretti

I can’t say why I’ve always had a fondness for, well, frogs, but it’s been a lifelong fascination. Or for snakes and ants and spiders, for that matter, either. Maybe it’s their way of removing me from what was and what will be and keeping me right smack in the middle of what IS, in that tangible moment in time, and not a second before or after. Frogs are like fish for me: liberators. I can watch them for hours.

My first action for animals in my direct care occurred when I was about 13 years old. We were living in a neighborhood with a large field behind our house, one that hosted a rather significantly sized pond, full of an assortment of insects, fish, tadpoles, and their parents. The dog and I would hike out to the water along a worn path and, while she romped in the tall grass along the banks, I’d sit on a rock or in the sand and watch whatever happened to chance my way.

I was fascinated by tadpoles. In fact, some seven years earlier, I’d gotten in trouble for going out to the neighborhood creek and bringing home a bucket full of the wiggling little critters. My father explained to me that the frogs-to-be wouldn’t survive the ordeal I’d caused them because they’d been removed from their life-sustaining environment—and that devastated me. I never meant harm to a single living creature, especially a frog. Better to sit on a bank and study them from there. So I did. For hours. And the thing about watching tadpoles is that, over time, they lose their tails and they grow legs and they miraculously become frogs. They then grace the nighttime with their timeless choruses.

On one particular jaunt to the pond, I came upon a most disturbing scene. A neighborhood bully had used frogs for target practice with his BB gun; many of the mortally wounded frogs still writhed in death throes in the water and on the bank. It was a very bloody, gruesome scene, and one I’ve apparently never forgotten. The boy leveled his carnage on more than one occasion—and I knew I had to take action.

I filled my little red wagon with water and rocks and algae from the pond. I hadn’t forgotten the lessons of my earlier youth. If I was going to remove the beasties from their natural environment, I had to recreate it as best I could. I emptied my collection of flora into a cement mixer my father stored in the backyard and then went back for the fauna, gathering up as many frogs and their tadpoles as I could find. And when I thought I’d gotten them all, I went back for their eggs.

Needless to say, our backyard was filled with the hoppers and their nighttime songs, but my father was mortified, imploring me on more than one occasion to be more like my brothers and leave the natural world to itself. “Go find yourself a Prince,” he’d say, “and leave the frogs alone.” But I paid him no heed. Rescuing animals had become my life.

I sat by the mixer each day and kept the water level high enough to make sure there was enough algae to sustain my charges, and I’d count my eggs as they hatched into tadpoles. Eventually they became frogs. There were so many of them that my father didn’t like going out at night because he was afraid he’d step on a frog on his way to the car. He’d cuss me beneath his breath and hope the critters would eventually return to their homeland. They did. And I was never happier to see them go back to where they belonged. I had done my job.

So I guess it’s only fitting that I share my backyard, still, with frogs.

After hours of horse care and ranch work, and sitting here in front of this computer more than I think is healthy sometimes, I broke down one day and bought myself a hot tub. It means I don’t have to go far to get away from it all. When I feel weary, I climb in and send my mind up to the sky, day and night, into other universes. I’m brought back only by the natural sounds around me: the owls and the nightingales, the crickets and the frog choruses; in daytime, it’s the occasional jackrabbit scampering past, or an investigating honey bee. And then back my mind goes, far away from the physical and emotional pains that mark the life of a weary animal rescuer and rights activist.

It was sometime during this past winter that I got my first company in the hot tub. A tree frog appeared under the hood, snug up against the lip where the warmth was most comforting. I think we startled each other fairly good that first time, but we soon settled into our routine: I open the hood, stand at just the right angle so Frog won’t jump into the water and, after he turns away from the too-warm liquid, I climb in. For the first few weeks of our communal bath, Frog would seek refuge elsewhere during my mind-sending dips, but not too long after, he began to stick around. In fact, about midway into our “courtship,” Frog brought along his friends: two and then three frogs under the hot tub hood. And they filled my nighttime with their concert—with me right there to applaud it.

I don’t always send my mind up to other universes. I focus it again on the microcosm. I get close to Frog’s face. Study those large-pupiled eyes. The thin line of his mouth. His bumpy toes and tiny elbows. The pattern and rough texture of his skin. His little throat vibrates. I wonder what he’s thinking, what he’s thinking about me. I move and his head turns to follow me. What does he see? I got behind him once, there in the hot tub, and looked over his shoulder at the world beyond him, seeing it from his perspective. An amazing place. Crickets chirped. Did he hear them as loudly as I did? A night bird winged past us and caused him to cock his head and watch with a brilliantly wide, curious eye. Did it scare him? Or was he sending his mind into other universes, too?

There were no haunting images of vivisected rats in Procter & Gamble laboratories to disrupt the view. No wolf decimations. No puppies in breeding mills. No wildlife slaughter. No pig factories. No ivory wars. No caged birds. No kangaroo massacre. No wild horse roundups. And there was no magazine deadline, no fight to wage on behalf of the voiceless suffering and the unheard dying.

All there was in that exchange was a “lowly” tree frog to catch my attention and share the world with me in that moment and that moment alone. The gift from the “lower level.” If only we could stay there, he and I, forever and one day. Oh, but Frog is giving it his best. For the first time, he appears to have found the control panel on the hot tub. It is lit and shiny, and he sees, or so I believe he sees, his reflection in the “glass.” He cocks his head again, bends it downward to peer straight into the eyes looking back at him, and steps one way and then another, eyeing himself with every move. He makes me laugh—taking me one step further into the microcosm—the way his kind has done since I was a child.

I’d thank him for the reprieve with a kiss, of course, but I’m terrified he’d turn into a human being—and destroy the liberation.

Lonely? Me? No. My Prince, you see, IS a frog.

If you liked this article Please share it!