Pam's Musings

My writing nook at my house in Laramie, WY.

My writing nook at my house in Laramie, WY.

A long time ago or once upon a time, stifled by the desire to get everything right on paper, rendered immobile by my inner and nasty critic, I was encouraged to read Bird By Bird, by Anne Lamott.  I have read it numerous times and often wish I could commit it to memory.  Ah, the perfection that comes from the memorized verse.  Lamott strikes out at the need and desire for perfection.  Instead, she pushes me to embrace the messiness of writing, to muse.  She tells me to let go and not worry about destination or the big picture.  She set before me the creed by which my musings are written, by which my inner wild woman craves to live:  “Don’t look at your feet to see if you are doing it right.  Just dance.”  When I muse, and this is a necessary part of my writing process, I don’t look.  I just write.  I hope you enjoy these musings.  I hope you muse as well.  

The Frogs, June 2019

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On an unseasonably warm day not long ago, I marched through melting snow to the grocery store entrance.  A bumper sticker on a car of 60s or 70s vintage read:  I BRAKE FOR FROGS.  It was April.

On a spring night in 1968, they moved as one long, green thread from the grassy marsh on the inland side of the narrow strip of asphalt road that paralleled the Chesapeake Bay to the opposite side, the bay side.  We called a group such as these an army, but there was nothing military about them.  It was April, and whereas I was thinking about my Junior year Ring Dance, this large crowd had breeding on their minds. 

My driver’s license was a new item in my beaded strap purse, but my father decided that I might drive the short distance to Anne Grey’s house.  Anne Grey’s parents were FFVs, and my parents believed that Famous Families of Virginia ranked right up there with high-ranking US Naval officers.  I was, in fact, encouraged to strengthen my friendship with Anne Grey Jones.  

Anne Grey was coifed.  My hair frizzed in endless directions.

Anne Grey was refined.  I was clumsy and immature.

Anne Grey had career goals.  I wanted to marry Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin.

My mother, swirling her oft-replenished 3:00 cocktail, said Anne Grey would be good for me.

Dutifully, I hopped in my father’s Chrysler Newport, backed slowly out of the driveway and cruised past the street lights illuminating the wind-blown rain drops. I steered in the darkness of the narrow road that wound between two sets of massive concrete piles that supported the Bay Bridge just before it launched itself over the bay.  

As a teenager, I loved the bay.  It was part of my routine to steal across the dunes to the beach to see the sun sink below the bridge.  To walk the short distance to the piles and watch the waves argue with these obstructions and imagine the demons in the black depth at the base of the structures.  To kneel in study of washed-up horseshoe crabs, whelk casings, skate egg cases, jellyfish.  It was the beach, in any season, which afforded me and my high school girlfriends the necessary privacy for our breathy, heart-pounding, desirous dreams of encounters with long haired, pot-smoking musicians.  It was high tide that titillated me, low tide that soothed me.  It was surfing and water-skiing that provided risk to my otherwise timid nature.  

I never ventured to the backwater, its steamy, brackish pools giving rise to thick swarms of mosquitoes, to snakes, to jelly-like sand that sucked at your feet. No one dared let their dog run loose in the backwater.  The backwater, though, was where the frogs were. 

That’s where Lithobates Sphenocephalus live.  Also known as Southern Leopard Frogs, they’re only two inches long with green bodies and dark spots. These were the species of frog tossed at us sans dignity in Biology class, in a plastic tray, reeking of the sweet smell of Formaldehyde.  In horror, holding my nose, I was instructed to splay and stab with dissecting needles the little creature’s front and hind legs, given sharp utensils to slice at the tummy and assault the organs, all so that I might come to appreciate the workings of my innards.  My body rebelled.  I slapped my hand to my mouth, heard Mr. Koeppen shout “Go!”  I tore in the direction of the girls’ bathroom.   

Late on a summer’s night, we would stand outside and listen to the Southern Leopard Frogs vocalize.  They sounded like a group of opinionated young men, laughing in a guttural manner, their chairs creaking in the background.  In spite of the air-conditioning in our house, I opened my bedroom windows, crawled into bed and was lulled asleep by the raucous, green chorus led, I was sure, by a choral conductor in a tiny, black tuxedo.  In college, I would spend time between study sessions embroidering a large, complacent frog onto the back of a denim shirt, using a tedious but soothing chain stitch of purple thread.  The shirt wore out; the purple frog remains with me.

Just as I turned the Chrysler into the bend between the bridge piles, the wheels started to slip.  I thought I was hydroplaning, but there was more to it.  A draggy, slushy sensation.  I panicked, turned the front wheels harshly to the right, struck a metal drainage ledge with the right tire.  I shoved the door open, jumped out.  Onto slippery dead frogs.  A wide sheet of crushed little green Spotted Leopard Frogs.  The survivors were rushing to the bay side.  

I drove on that slashed tire to Anne Grey’s house.  Rain-drenched, my shoes caked with frog organs, I bawled that I needed to use the phone.  

“I killed them, Daddy. I killed so many of them,” I squealed.

“Is my car all right?”

“The tire’s slashed.  I’m a murderer!”

“I’ll come get you. Let me finish my Scotch and water.”

“They were little innocent frogs!  They weren’t hurting anyone!”

Anne Grey and her mother hugged me until the doorbell rang.  When Daddy appeared in the doorway, all I could think was that he had driven over the murdered frogs to get me.