Sunday, January 14, 2024

Reflections From The Frog Pond

 As long as I live I won't forget 

when I first saw it
Just a kid of 8 or 10 
I was seldom indoors
No my natural habitat 
was the woods and creek beds
that edged our little town
extended by intermittent visits 
to the nature section 
of the school library

My niche included the rabbits 
blue jays monarch butterflies 
giant tree fungi fossils and minnows 
that I stalked each day 
and read about every evening
Then I found the frog pond
It was nothing of note
just an old muddy pool 
on an abandoned farm
where cows had likely 
drunk in better times

I was attracted by the growing ends 
of cat tails emerging from 
drying and shredded leaves 
at the interface of ground and cloudy water
It was about one foot from this edge
that I saw the jelly-like mass
that would frame my entire life
There gently undulating 
just beneath the pond's surface
warmed by mid-spring sunlight
was a clutch of frog eggs

I returned to the pond each afternoon 
on my walk home from school
alone so as not to expose my precious discovery
to the clods I otherwise considered friends
They would not understand
They would stomp splash 
destroy laugh and leave
Alone I observed for the first time 
that incredible first phase 
of every life
embryonic development

I brought the old magnifying glass 
that my grandmother who was nearly blind
used to see the Sunday funny papers
Through that bulging eye I watched amazed 
as the randomly assorted eggs
white on one side black on the other 
rotated to position all of their black halves
upwards capturing the sun's warmth
Over the next several weeks 
I watched them divide
and grow into spheres 
elongate into rippling crescents 
and hatch into swimming tadpoles
Each evening I read about 
amphibian embryonic development 
and natural history in the growing collection 
of overdue library books 
that accumulated in my small bedroom

This nascent understanding of 
the connection of things living now
and things that will live in the future 
was the point of departure 
for my entire life's passion and journey 
On subsequent visits to the pond
I watched the tadpoles transform into frogs 
resorbing their tails to grow legs
I began to note new relationships
connecting the embryo/tadpole/frog 
and its pond environment 
My evening reading shifted to books 
on conservation and the environment

Looking back this first glimpse of 
one of today’s most vexing problems
came from extending 
my young boy's glance 
of frog embryos and their environment
I began to perceive mammalian embryos
including human embryos
in their environments
I began to perceive the interrelation between 
the emerging individuality 
of a developing human fetus and 
the individuality of a pregnant woman
I began to understand 
a dramatic tension between 
interdependence and autonomy 
of fetus and mother

I began to recognize 
the incredible responsibility that 
even this glimpse of the human reproduction 
had placed on me
It wasn't until I was a teenager 
that I heard about contraception
It wasn't until I was in college
that I learned about abortion
It wasn't until graduate school 
that I became aware of population issues
I worked most of my life
in the turbulent vortex of 
women's health population and environment

And even these controversial issues 
have always felt like sub-plots 
to that main mystery of 
emerging fetal and maternal life 
that runs through my mind 
whenever the noise reduces to a level that 
I can hear myself think
And when I can hear myself think 
this is what emerges 
People who have an abiding belief 
in the sanctity of life people 
who share fundamental beliefs 
in the rights of women people
concerned about population growth and people 
who care about our planet's future
all have a great deal in common
Yes there are dynamic tensions 
at the intersections of these issues 
But there is common ground

I return to that frog pond of my boyhood 
often in my mind
especially when the din of conflict 
rings loudest in my ears
And there with the sun's low glint 
on muddy water
with iris shafts slowly bending 
to gentle surface ripples
with the trill of tree frogs 
or chirps of leopard frogs
or croaks of bull frogs

I see this common ground with precise clarity.
And it occurs to me that each of us 
must have such places
deep springs where fundamental values
and universal interconnections 
flow free and clear
And it seems to me that in these times 
when harsh diatribe 
is screamed from the furthest poles
it is essential for each of us 
to find our own frog ponds 
hidden somewhere in memory
And, visit there often.