Our heat wave continues. We have been hotter than Florida, at times. Also it is dry as a bone. Each day some thunder grumbles in the distance, but they are small showers and miss us.
I am losing some seedlings in the garden, as I can’t devote as much time to watering as I’d like, and the sprinkler only waters a small patch at a time. I think I can recall some years when the soil has been baked this dry by late August, but I can never recall soil being like powder in June before.
It makes me think we are in for a cold winter. It is odd, but often the places most above normal in July are most below normal by the next January, (I have noticed this because Global Warming Alarmists always point out the places most-above-normal, which makes them like sitting ducks for the ruthless counterpoints of Skeptics, who are highly skilled at pointing out when places that “proved the world was warming” in July seemingly “prove a new Ice Age is coming” by the following February,) (It has happened too many times to mention, but the time that stands out in my mind was a few years back, when the Siberian tundra and taiga baked, and fires raged in the conifers and smoldered in the bone dry sod to such a degree that the smoke was visible from outer space, and smoke’s haze gave Moscow very bad visibility, which of course caused Alarmist hoopla, yet the next winter saw the the same tundra and taiga set a new Northern Hemisphere record for the coldest temperature ever recorded. [nearly minus 90 Fahrenheit; minus 68 Celsius.] This whiplash from above to below normal makes me think that, rather than attempting to water my baked garden, I should be cutting firewood!)
Not that I have time for either watering or sawing. I have to do my taxes. Usually they are due by April 15, but due to the Corona Virus the due date was extended to July 15. So I of course put it off. Don’t lecture me. If you had any idea how busy my life is, you would be on my side. And what side is that? It is the side that states bureaucrats should be put in jail for cluttering the lives of active people with the demand that we waste precious time keeping tedious, nitpicking records.
When I do my taxes I basically face a giant heap of receipts and bank statements and credit card bills, in many cases wrinkled and/or faded by a dashboard’s sunshine and/or stained by coffee. Amazingly, I am adept at putting the deplorable disorder into chronological order and in all the proper stacks and columns, but God knows I have better things to do. Children are crying and my goats are nagging and my seedlings are withering and the ducks, chickens and rabbit demand feeding, and my dog sighs deeply, and also I am a poet and need time to write. But lazy bureaucrats with nothing better to do insist, so I comply.
Actually it is fun, in a strange way, to look at all the receipts and remember all the stuff you hardly noticed doing at the time, in your rush. (Or in my rush, at least.) It becomes obvious to me that bureaucrats are cursed not only because they plague the innocent, but also because they miss so much that is rich and beautiful.
It might be fun to some day be audited, and to then watch the face of the IRS auditor as he gradually woke up to the richness of my life, going through my receipts. Where he looks at a drab screen and clicks a dull keyboard day after day, my receipts hint at a wider world. True, a receipt is not the same as the actual event, in the same way seeing a bear in a nature-documentary does not increase your pulse in the same manner as meeting an actual bear in the actual woods. But a documentary can open your eyes.
For example, the auditor might note a couple of suspicious receipts for things that seem to have nothing to do with running a Childcare; a tiny aquarium dip-net and an adult book about toads. Then the auditor might make the mistake of asking me to explain, for all that is scrawled on those two receipts is “tadpoles to toads.” I’d then lean back and grin and get garrulous; the audit would take days, if the auditor wasn’t careful.
Tadpoles to toads? Well, in the sweltering heat I had to quit my heap of receipts and do my best to continue a theme of one branch of my so-called “curriculum”. My hard-working staff appreciated having fewer hot-and-bothered children in their groups, as I collected some older and more-inventive rascals to go to the nearby flood-control-reservoir in the oppressive heat and humidity, to check up on the tadpoles.
Small kids have a strange mixture of tenderness and heartlessness towards small creatures, one moment ripping legs off to see how an insect responds, and the next cooing terms of endearment to a crippled “pet”. (Sometimes they kill frogs by hugging them). It is a hard job to teach them to respect life, and to teach a great Truth: Sometimes the way to be loving is to not touch. This is especially true concerning blondes, and also tadpoles.
Wood frog tadpoles look a lot like toad tadpoles, and I bored the kids exceedingly by telling them the difference, during the cooler days back in April when the last ice melted and the amphibians awoke. Both wood frogs and toads spend their lives in the woods away from ponds, but the wood frog’s mating music sounds like a cross between a plucked banjo string and a duck, while the toad has a beautiful, long trill. The frog lays eggs as a mass, while the toad lays long strings. The wood frog lays eggs in vernal pools away from a pond’s predators, while a toad lays eggs in the shallowest water where predators seldom go. The children yawned. As far as they were concerned a tadpole was a tadpole.
When the small children get haughty with me I know I likely deserve it; (children have little time for an old man’s garrulous yammering), but one approach I have is to be just as haughty right back at them. I lay it on thick, slapping my forehead and staggering about exclaiming, “Oh! How could you say such a thing! A tadpole is just a tadpole? Incredible! Simply incredible!” The kids find such antics amusing, and then tend to actually listen.
This year I ranted, “You call these piddling things tadpoles? Now, a bullfrog tadpole, that’s something to see, and takes two years to mature. It’s got to swim like a fish, to live so long. These little pathetic black blobs can barely move with their tiny tails; I’m surprised they don’t drown, but they will be turning to frogs in just a few weeks. Better to just call them pollywogs, not tadpoles.”
Our drought created a crisis for the wood frogs, for the vernal pools began drying up. This brought out the compassion in the children. Where they had been mercilessly poking and tweaking the tadpoles just days earlier, all of a sudden they were faced with a mass of squirming tadpoles facing certain death in the final remaining water of an evaporating puddle, and decided to conduct an emergency evacuation to the nearby flood-control-reservoir. Rushing back and forth with small cups of tadpoles kept them busy for most of a hot morning. I cancelled my hike-and-lecture for that morning, for they obviously were having great fun, and also were displaying kindness (and were quite puffed up about how noble they were being.) One boy made a wailing noise like an ambulance as he rushed the small creatures to the pond. I didn’t spoil their party by mentioning what they were likely doing was feeding the bass.
They put the wood frog tadpoles in the shallow water where the toad tadpoles were just starting to appear, and, as the two species look nearly identical, (like black punctuation marks with tails too skimpy to be commas), there was understandable confusion, and they felt, in the following days, that the toad tadpoles were “their” wood frog tadpoles. I didn’t puncture their illusion, as they had slightly more consideration for the creatures by taking ownership, though they still managed to kill a few by scooping them from the water in cupped hands.
Toad pollywogs crowd the shore in amazingly shallow water, at times seeming beached like miniature whales. This made them easy to catch, and I tried to dissuade the kids from “rescuing” them by pushing the tadpoles out into deeper water. Not only did this compassion accidentally smush some of the tiny creatures, but it put them out where fish lurk, and even though toad tadpoles have the same poison adult toads have in their skin, and can kill some fish, other fish either have iron stomachs, or don’t mind dying. In any case the pollywogs wriggle in the slime of algae by the shore. Not only do they eat algae, but algae grows on their skin, and in some weird way having algae grow on them helps them grow faster. Yet, even as I tell the kids all this interesting trivia, I can see the little cartoon thought-balloons above their heads saying, “Too much information” and “Who cares?”
In yesterday’s heat and humidity they cared less than usual about all my talk about toads. All they wanted was to wade, the deeper the better. I stated they could wade up to their thighs, and they tested that limit constantly, and also squatted down to be immersed to their necks, so I became more of a frowning lifeguard demanding they retreat to shallower waters, than a professor of toadism.
Even though I never had to get wet saving anyone, it is surprisingly cooler right next to water in a hot spell, and eventually the cooled children grew bored of getting wet and started to meander down the shoreline, as I trailed along behind. At one point they came rushing back due to seeing a water snake, but it turned out to be the inner tube of a bicycle, that somehow wound up in a remote spot. I didn’t scold them for being fooled. It takes a professor like myself to spot the difference.
They were fascinated by the sunfish-nests just off shore, sandy areas cleared of all algae and protected by a jealous fish. They were puzzled by how few tadpoles there seemed to be, all of a sudden. Then they were grossed-out by what seemed to be lots of fleas, hopping about the shore. But they were not fleas. They were incredibly small baby toads.
We had lucked into wandering the shore during the brief period when toads all rush inland together as a minuscule stampede. Not one toad showed the slightest interest in fleeing us back towards the water. They headed inland even when it involved climbing steep slopes and cliffs. They were so numerous the children could hold four or five in the palm of their hands, despite my instruction that baby toads are too fragile to be picked up.
A toad’s metamorphosis must be amazingly fast, for there were still some tadpoles in the water, yet I only saw a single example of a tadpole in an intermediate phase, with both tail and legs. Perhaps my eyes are less keen. Someone should study the subject. But I did have the brains to not start talking about “metamorphosis” with the kids. They seemed entranced, without needing my help.
I felt I was seeing a sort of verification of my personal philosophy involving children and nature, which seems completely opposed to some socialist views. Socialists seem to feel it is best to herd children into indoctrination centers and to badger them with a guilt which suggests that man hurts nature, and they should never hurt nature by treading on its dirt, and therefore the only moral response to nature is to only experience nature in dark auditoriums via videos.
An odd thought occurred to me, and it was this; A socialist would have a hard time with the relationship between toad tadpoles and algae. They would either see the toad as the bad guy, for eating the algae, or see the algae as the bad guy, for growing on the toad and in a sense “eating” the toad. What is hard to intellectually grasp is that both the toad and the algae benefit, (and they even have the audacity to benefit without obtaining permits from bureaucratic socialists).
In like manner a small-minded socialist shudders at the sight of a child ripping the legs off an ant, or accidentally killing a tadpole, and cannot see how nature could benefit from such an experience. However nature does benefit from the interaction, for in the process the child is awakened to the marvel God has created, and falls in love with nature. Watching the children marvel over the tiny toads made me feel they were becoming people far more likely to preserve a woodland than to tear it down.
I also felt that perhaps I was demonstrating to socialists everywhere that sometimes a small business can do what Big Government cannot. A thousand small, independent neighborhood schools is better than a single vast institution. Having a field trip of several thousand kids on the shore of the flood-control-reservoir would have trampled the experience utterly.
In an odd way it seems to me that socialists, with their love of organization and order, are the ones ripping the legs off little ants.
They fail to see the Light, and therefore are enamored of shadow. And that seems worth a sonnet, before I get back to my taxes.
. SHADOW SONNET
What fools these shadows seem, approaching
The Light with swords drawn, yet all shrinking
The closer they get. The Light’s reproaching
Their arrogance, but they go on thinking
They’ll snuff the Light, dreaming darkness rules.
They think in darkness no one will see
Their plots, but darkness makes them the blind fools.
Without the Light they will simply cease to be.
Without a Creator, the creation can’t
Continue. So it goes. As they persist
The Light reveals their nature. With each rant
They get smaller. With a toddler’s small fist
They approach Light shrinking like shadows at noon.
Worms under rocks shrink from even the moon.