The Water Wizard of Saskatoon © Andrew Gray
(Act 1) Tennison’s eyes filled with tears. No one knew that such a tiny frog could have such a huge heart. And no one would ever see Tennison cry, for as soon as tears rolled from his huge red eyes they were instantly absorbed into the delicate skin on his porous amphibian face. But the tears he cried today were something new.. I can’t tell you any more about Tennison, because I do not know him well, but others can tell you more..
Jaco - (Tennison’s old friend) chillin poolside at Lily Pond Water is so important to us frogs, as for all living things, but even more so for us because all our life involves water - we are born in it, we live in it, and we love to swim in it. Tennison used to love to swim, from the warm shallows to the cold depths right in the middle of the pond where no other frogs would ever go, afraid they might get eaten alive. But Tennison was different, he wanted to experience it all - every day something new! Many of the frogs here like to spend each day sitting so still, sunbathing on the warm lily pads at the sunny side of the pond. We frogs need the sun to warm us as we can’t generate our own heat like those strange human creatures can – but I must admit it seems to be getting hotter and hotter nowadays! Each frog here has its own big pad, the bigger the pad the more important they think they are, but Tennison chose to sleep on a different pad each night, mainly small ones, just large enough to support him was good enough. He liked to be on the move, ever changing he said was the only way to be, just as the water flows from the river to our pond and on again, and our life changes from egg to tadpole, froglet to adult, to when we disappear. Tennison loved changes, every single one. The older frogs said that him always being on the move with no future plans was because he was ‘insecure’, but now he’s gone we think maybe it was the opposite - that the older frogs were the ones who were insecure - needing familiarity and everything around them rather than being really out there enjoying life no matter what the risk! Nina says the old frogs here are growing more like those human creatures every day - those hunter-gatherers that just can’t stop gathering!
Nina - (Jaco’s sister) On her way to the daily sticky tongue wagging exercise class at Lily pond Me and my sisters like to confer – a lot! It matters what people think, and I would rather act on what others say if they have an outside view of what’s best for me. I remember Tennison when he was just a tad, he was the one who swam in the opposite direction to all the others in his clutch! He didn’t care, he didn't listen, he did it without thinking - like the air we breathe, how our hearts beat themselves, and how we frogs drink through our amphibian skin without us even trying. Tennison would say that thinking is good, but not full on – Not thinking gives our mind a chance to stop talking to us, so then it can learn new things. Mainly with that quiet mind we can then focus fully on the moment, and all that is in it - Tennison would sit there looking at the dragonflies, looking at the bees, looking at the birds,.. and not just looking, but really focusing on them, closing his red eyes to listen to the sweet bird song so he could really hear it clear, or opening them wide to observe the shining silvery body of the dragonfly as it swirled in the sunlight over the pond. At those times, that moment, without distraction, was all that seemed to matter to him. He still follows his own mind, not doing what others think best for him. Right now he is off somewhere, on ‘his journey’, instead of staying here with all the frogs where it’s totally safe. He is a strange frog that Tennison, everyone thinks he needs to change so that must be right. Just ask Louisa, she will tell you how spontaneous that guy is, that’s spells unpredictability and danger in my book. Louisa’s so very lovely, kind, and enthusiastic, she will tell you whatever you want to hear,.. but just be aware that she swims with the frogs and the toads that one!
Bosci - (Nina’s froglet) Listening to the Beatles (and those with Wings) at Lily Pond’s edge Frog-life is so simple, but so good! Well, at times it’s dangerous, exciting, scary, happy and sad, all in one day, or even one hour! That’s what makes a frog’s life so good - experiencing everything! Those humans think ‘Happiness!’ - something static, that is so weird to us frogs, it’s like the birds saying they want ‘Scariness' all the time, or the flies wanting to be ‘Excited’ all the time, it’s just not possible! My mum thought Tennison was a bit strange, but I thought he was cool, the coolest frog in the pond! I know I am only a young froglet and have quite a silly name, but Tennison never called me by the name given to me, I loved that. Who needs a name! Tennison once told me that ‘naming’ is something we frogs learnt from those human creatures, that they have names for everything, and not just living creatures! Labels, so they feel good in knowing what something ‘is’. Yep, they learn early on in life those humans, they know ‘a frog’ from a picture in a book without ever even seeing one. When they do see one for real they compare it to what they know, an image from the past, which distracts them from having the full pleasure of that real moment - the sun shining off our delicate skin, our reflective red eyes, the magical moment they see us for the first very time! That’s why Tennison didn’t like names. And those books the humans learn from have strange ‘straight’ pages – look, there are no straight lines around our pond or in nature hardly anywhere.. Ok, so some of those spiders like lines in their web J, but those humans like straight lines all over the place, they have them everywhere without even realising it! That’s so funny to us froglets - and even the spiderlings laugh out loud!
Louisa - (Frogstarlet) Trying to decide if to go for the wet or the dry look today at Lilly Pond. OMG I love him, from the minute I set my red eyes on him I knew we were soulmates! Frogs need to be wet, but this guy, what can I say! He makes me so excited whenever I am around him – totally awesome. Tennison is different, he does crazy spontaneous things, you never know what, that’s what makes him exciting, and exciting to be with! It’s like the spark in life that the other frogs are missing. This guy doesn't care about the size of his pad, but he makes up for it many other ways! Those ‘Pad’ guys make me laugh, always talking about size, the sunny position, how many fruity flies they can provide, ha, one even had a vocal-sac enlargement just to impress! Nothing like Tennison, who can appreciate sitting on the biggest lily-pad but it doesn't make him who he is - he would never try to win me over with a Lang’s locust, he’d rather go skinny-dipping at midnight when the moon is overhead and the stars are bright! I love that guy, he’s like just so adorable, but I have not seen him for just like sooo long..
Sauvi - (Monkey-frog Wizard) Taking some rays in sunny Saskatoon Tennison came to see me again yesterday, as he has for the past month since leaving the pond over the hill. He is a smart chap, quiet and calm, comes to listen, which is quite unusual around here. Most frogs seek me out to try to tell me something new, which makes me smile, but Tennison just sits still and listens very acutely indeed. We have deep conversations, long into the night, and I actually do learn from things he says. He is an old soul, very stable, he reminds me a lot of Peregline. Last night he asked about stickystuff, where it comes from and when did it actually arrive, a very good question. There is an old tale that it came from a large noisy bird, which had straight wings, unlike any other bird anyone had ever seen. Then came the sticky stuff. It coated the leaves, the water, and any frog sat out of the water. All our food became scarce as all the insects touching the sticky stuff disappeared from their bodies and their bodies fell to the ground. That is the myth. The sticky stuff soaks into our skin, and frogs disappear from their still bodies just like the insects do. Once I got sticky stuff on my skin but luckily I was able to wipe it off quick with my legs, like how I am able to spread the special wax I cover my body with when I go sunbathing. I like waxing and being a monkey frog, sitting in the sun all day without me burning also helps clear all that nasty fungus off my skin. It also waterproofs me so water just roles off me and moisture stays within me. I can still drink through my tummy skin if I need to, not many animals can say that! The other frogs think I am special, magical, because I can also drink through my mouth and I don’t ever burn in the ever-increasing strength of the sun’s rays. Some can’t tolerate the sun for long so they cannot clear the fungus off themselves at all.. they disappear pretty quickly from round here. Maybe I will tell Tennison my secret someday, for the sun is getting hotter, the sticky stuff is getting thicker, the fungus is getting more widespread, and the insects just don't taste like they used to.
Peregline - (King of the Golden toads) Enjoying time out beneath smoking Mount Arenal Yes, I know Sauvi the Savvy, but I have never heard of a frog called Tennison. It’s been many years since I climbed from our mysterious mountain, out from the mist and clouds, to seek out Sauvi and tell him our secret. It took me far away from here, past the Black Pool, ‘that wretched hive of scum and villainy’, where no one with any sense would ever go. Be careful of the dreaded Exuls if you ever go anywhere near the Black Pool. Exuls, black toads, sleep by day, drink by night, and smell strongly of pond weed. They reproduce in numbers even more than the average human! Rather than work, they have fighting and reproduction on their minds – you can always tell an Exul from the north, they call you ‘mate’. Exuls, like the humans, think we are no more, but we are older than the dinosaurs, and maybe wiser that anyone gives us credit for. To us, all that glistens isn’t gold, unlike the way those humans think - always looking to collect what is rare and impossible for others to obtain, so they will feel special, more satisfied, or so they think. We now live in our humid underground caves, under smoking mount Arenal, where water is clear of sticky stuff and the heat of the volcano warms our gleaming golden bodies. As the clouds got thicker, eventually no sun could get through where we used to live and its now too cold for us to survive there - So, it’s no more reckless sunbathing or group outings to the annual wild pool party for us! I also lost my love from across the pond, one minute there the next she was gone. I returned once with everything I had, but that was that. Well, that’s the past, can’t change that, and now we have all we need. In our caves we feel sorry for those toads that are in need - the fewer ‘things’ we have, the better off we are. It seems to be the opposite with some creatures - they need lots of ‘things’, the more, the larger, the newer, the better. What an odd world it is on the surface - those humans can’t see below the surface of anything.. Sauvi once told me they even have a leader named after a fart! But Tennison, no, I’ve not heard of him, maybe someday we’ll meet - but that’s the future and anything can happen in the future, and usually does!
Bosci - (Nina’s froglet) 1 week later at Lily Pond Early this morning I heard a strange noise, and saw a very unusual bird over the pond. It had straight wings and thick clouds coming from its bottom! Then something weird happened, the insects disappeared from their bodies and many of the frogs too. They are still floating in the pond but not swimming. Even the old frogs don't move, even those from the largest pads who have spent their whole life sitting there feeling comfortable now can’t be distinguished from the others - I bet they would hate that idea of that! Yep, seems it’s all change here again, I wonder what we might be changing into this time, exciting!
Sauvi - (Monkey-frog Wizard) Sunrise over Saskatoon the same morning Seems it’s going to be another baking hot day here away from Lily Pond, but I don't miss it at all, nor all the drama and gossip that goes with it - always someone left and right asking nosy questions so they can confer and share the answer in their own way. Anyway, I had another nice visit from Tennison last night, he said goodbye and told me he was heading back over the hill to the pond today. Seems he was in a hurry, very tuned into his instinct that chap. It will probably take him all day to get home. He gave me a big hug, first I have ever had, and at the same time I think some of my wax rubbed off onto his smiling face - it was shining as he left me so at least he won’t get his cheeks sunburnt on the way home! I like him very much indeed, he writes his own story.
Jaco - (Tennison’s old friend) Late that afternoon at Lily Pond I am finding it a little hard to breathe. I took my early morning dip but the water’s surface was thick with that sticky stuff that smells not so good. I think I am changing again as I can't move much now and feeling a little like a chrysalis as each minute passes - I hope this time I hatch as a beautiful butterfly! I just saw my old friend Tennison for the first time in ages but I couldn't even croak to him. I noticed him at the edge of the pond looking at all the floating frogs, and saw something I thought I would never see… he had a big tear running down his shiny face. How could that be? He had always wanted to have a tear that could run down his face, to experience it. He once said that all experiences are to be welcomed, the good and the bad, they are all part of what makes up a real life.
Sauvi’s Poem: Evaporation Amphibian skin, so smooth, so sleek, cutaneous in nature, so unique, Outside lungs, to water, to air, absorbing key elements, with key despair.. Toxic treatment, a new pesticide coat, chemical prey, sticks in the throat, The weather is changing, new rules now apply, a more cold blooded creature, now passes by.. Evolutionary pioneers, now facing their fate, populations dictate, who now dominate, too sensitive, too slow, adapt or die, too porous, too bad, no tears can you cry.. But some hear your plight, as you call through the night, For you they fight, to put things right, For you they glisten, to all who listen For you they shed that tear, before you disappear..
The Golden Toad, Incilus pereglines, is considered extinct. It was last seen in the Monteverde Cloudforest, next to Volcan Arenal, in Costa Rica. 1500 individuals were seen at the last known breeding pool. In 1989, one committed male went back, but not one has been seen since.
Pesticides banned in the USA and Europe are still being widely used in many other parts of the world, particularly sprayed into the air over large areas of forest and plantations owned by mainly American and European companies. Amphibians drink and breathe through their porous skin.
Huge oil spillages directly into the Amazon rainforest are still commonplace. Most are never made public. Rainforests cover 6% of the planet, they support more than 50% of the species living on it.
The Black Toad, Anaxyrus exul, is a vulnerable species that lives in a small very inhospitable place. (They do not smoke pond weed :)
The Waxy Monkey Frog, Phyllomedusa sauvagii, will open its mouth to drink raindrops when it rains in the hot dry areas where it lives. It has a waxy secretion in its skin that it wipes over its body to protect it from dehydrating. It can bask in temperatures over 40 degrees without a problem.
Amphibians were the first animals with backbones to walk the planet, long before the dinosaurs evolved. Amphibians are cold blooded so rely on the environment to warm or cool their bodies. Global warming effects amphibians in ways most humans will never realize, or care to realize.
Chytrid fungus blocks the pores in the frogs’ skin, so animals infected quickly dehydrate and die. Chytrid is highly infectious, lives in water, and is linked to temperature. At least a quarter of the world’s amphibians are now threatened with extinction. By 2050 the world population of humans on the planet will increase by a quarter, from 7.5 billion to nearly 10 billion. Extinction is permanent.
No one has ever seen a frog cry tears, but maybe if they could they would.
© Andrew R. Gray