Look, learn, remember
Tunes for a Monday Morning

Frogs, toads, and days of gold

The Frog Princess by Gennady Spirin

Bumblehill frog

I've spotted the first frog of the season in the little pond in front of my studio. He's a bold, friendly fellow, pictured above blending perfectly with the color of the leaves. In honor of the start of frog season here at the Bumblehill Studio, this is a piece about the history of the pond, first posted in 2014:

In her beautiful memoir A Circle of Quiet, Madeleine L'Engle explored the murky subject of creative struggle and failure by drawing on the fairy tale "Diamonds and Toads":

A detail from The Frog Bride by Virginia Lee"Just as we are taught that our universe is constantly expanding out into space at enormous speeds, so too our imagination must expand as we search for the knowledge that will in its turn expand into wisdom, and from wisdom into truth.

"But this is violent, and therefore frightening.

"Children are less easily frightened than we are. They have no problem in understanding how Alice could walk through the mirror into the country on the other side; some of them have done it themselves. And they all understand princesses, of course. Haven't they all been badly bruised by peas? And then there's the princess who spat forth toads and snakes whenever she opened her mouth to speak, and her sister whose lips issued pieces of pure gold.

"I still have many days when everything I say seems to turn into toads. The days of gold, alas, don't come nearly as often. Children understand this immediately; why is it a toad day? There isn't any logical, provable reason. The gold days are just as irrational; they are pure grace; a gift."

Gennady Spirin

Arthur Rackham

Warwick Goble

Thumbelina by Lizbeth Zwerger

Now me, I've always liked frogs and toads, and I want to tell you my own little story about them. There's a tiny pond outside my studio door, but it was mud-choked and rank when I first moved in, housing nothing remotely so interesting. I cleared out the trash, the dead vegetation, stocked it with plants to re-balance the water, and then asked a friend, knowledgeable in these matters, how I might get frogs or toads. 

"You don't need to 'get' them," he told me, "just create the environment for them, and they will come."

Weeks passed. Months passed. The frogs didn't come. What was I doing wrong? I asked.

"Just be patient," my friend told me gently. "These things take time."

Froglessness, 2011

And yet time, I'm afraid, was not on my friend's side. He died the next winter (too soon, too young), my little pond remained stubbornly empty, and I wondered if his advice had been right. He'd been a folklorist, after all, and perhaps this was just an old wives' tale.

Buddha and frogs, 2014

Another summer passed. No frogs. No toads. In deference to my friend, I did nothing more than tend the pond, keep the pondweed in check. I could say I was patient, but really I was busy and distracted and I stopped thinking about it.

Then one day I looked through the studio window and saw my husband crouched by the pond. I put down my pen and notebook and went outside to see what he'd found.

The Frog Prince in my pond

A frog? Oh yes. Not one, but dozens. Frogs and more frogs, everywhere we looked -- hiding in the weeds, sunning on the rocks, bobbing together in the golden pond water. How had we'd never seen them before? And how could one tiny pond hold so many? Big frogs and small frogs, brown, red, and green, all looking like they'd lived there forever.

Frog companions

Now the frogs re-emerge in the pond every spring, grinning up at me from the water and weeds, watching the studio's comings and goings from their sun-dappled kingdom nearby.

I wish I could tell my friend he'd been right. Create the environment and they will come. He'd also been right when he answered every inquiry with, "Terri, just be patient."

Frog King and Queen

I believe it's the same with creativity. Feel dry, uncertain, empty of ideas? Then create the proper environment: a space you can work in, the right tools at hand, and good work habits, regular and steady. Inspiration will come. Be patient, and it will come.

It's pure grace; it's a gift.

Why, hello.

The Frog Prince by Arthur RackhamWords: The Madelaine L'Engle quote is from the first volume in her Crosswick Journnals: A Circle of Quiet (HarperCollins, 1998).  Pictures: the art above is "The Frog Princess" by Gennady Spirin, a detail from Virginia Lee's "The Frog Bride," "Darwin's Frog" by Gennady Spirin, "Alice and the Frog Footman" by Arthur Rackham, "The Frog Prince" by Warwick Goble, "Thumbelina" by Lizbeth Zwerger, and "The Frog Prince" by Arthur Rackham.

Comments

Frogs!! We are sung to sleep each night with their serenades and have been for weeks now. When we spent our very first night in our Vardo for Two on a ledge overlooking another pond (much bigger than the one now). it was the unexpected BOOM of thousands of frogs that shifted our whirling world and opened us up to EVER.

So like you, I love the frogs and their messages of an environment suitable for patience, the right tools and practices.

You must not have any raccoon visitors there. They frequently clean my parents' ornamental pond of both frogs and fish.

I am happy to report seeing a few toads thus far this year. They are an indicator species of the health of the environment, so I worry the years when sightings are lean. You obviously live in a very heathy area to have so many froggy visitors!

this was just what i needed this morning! also, i love the froggy and toady friends, too.

Now I want a frog pond! What a wonderful environment to live and work in. And once again, valuable and much-needed creativity advice. I always feel so uplifted when I read your posts.

Delightful post and much needed this cloudy Friday. Thank you for this story and for reminding us the virtue of preparation and patience.

L'Engle and Windling and little toads and frogs. Good pause to the day.

We don't have raccoons in England, the local cats try but don't do well!

The Frog's Story

I hopped to her, with wild hopes!
Just toss me, darling, oh please.
Just swing me, among the trees.
Just please don't wrap me with ropes.

You're such a princess, lovely eyes.
Snooty as a princess needs to be.
I love you, not this wet green now me.
I am wealthy, kind, quite a prize.

Oh snarl on, my love, in this lovely, quaint
On your pillow, your eyes flame with hate.
Now, dear, please, grab me leg, Not late.
I fly! I change. I bow. "OH< OH!" You faint.

I love Frog, she sings the rain. And I love the wisdom your friend shared.

I love to read and now reread Madeleine L'Engle's books. She used to visit our Rector at St. Ann's so we knew her. I also visited her at St. John the Divine in New York. A wonderful very intelligent woman.
When my husband and I first lived in West Sayville, NY, there were toads all over. There also had been seahorses along the Great South Bay. Now we have more people than the island can support, and getting more. No toads or seahorses.

I have just read the link you included to your friend, Thomas, who encouraged your patience with your pond and the frogs. It was a re-read of the story on Rima Staines' blog for me, and such a beautiful remembrance of such a kind-hearted and unside-down hearted special man. Somehow it fits so wonderfully here as I try to piece life together in my world. The frogs are quiet in our pond. The stars are loud with their quiet too as I sit beneath them with a small lamp to write. How odd. How fanciful that I could even be doing all these things at once.

I am waiting for clarity to come to my sketched future, my dreams still barely a promise. Is it gold I seek or a cozy family gathering where frogs leap from the mouth of babes? From some treetop in the woods not far, birds begin their songs. "Don't let this lamplight fool you," I caution then not to wake yet. But they are not a naive bunch those birds. They know the differences between light. They must feel the sun coming even though I do not.

Its magical when frogs show up. Two of my favorite forest songs are the song of the tree frogs and the toad chorus on warm evenings. Something in their songs transport me. Tom gave sage advice.

Thank you.

TOAD
A sagging fleshy sack,
A portmanteau packed with the needs of its life;
Heavily hauled through the world’s detritus,
Yet rising above it like a Buddha
Made fat by the wealth of its spirit,
Content in the knowledge
That this too shall pass.

I prefer toads, though frogs are good too. I lived in Lincolnshire many years ago and the garden of the house I stayed in was full of toads, quietly making their way through life. They're amazingly heavy for their size and their eyes are a breathtaking filigree of gold and liquid crystal

We have a resident frog who lives buried in the large pot that holds one of my oak trees (going to plant them out this year, yay, they can grow properly!). We've never seen him, but he's incredibly loud, croaking away there. I'm presuming he's a HE, calling out to attract the ladies, but hidden from the snakes. The property next to us has a quite large dam, so at night you can hear the frog chorus. I'd dearly love to put in a small dam, and have ducks and frogs, and maybe even Marron! Frogs mean Tiger snakes though, and I'm not sure we want to open a restaurant for them!

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