Advent 10 | Wood Frog

Advent 10 | Wood Frog

All creatures are like syllables in a song which God is singing. Everything that is, is just a little syllable in this song which God is continually singing. —Thomas Merton, 1915–1968 American Trappist monk, writer, theologian, and mystic

This is the place on the trail to the pond where I very nearly stepped on him. Who could blame me? He’s painted in the precise colors and patterns of the leaf litter, twigs, and weeds, made to be invisible, especially to snakes. A breath before my boot came down on him, I saw him—only because he lunged into deeper leaf cover.

That was in September. Another year’s leaves layer the ground now, all of them the color of wood frogs. And over the leaves, three inches of snow. If, by X-ray vision, I could see under which single leaf the wood frog sits in the shallow bed he’s dug, if I were to reach beneath his leaf-and-snow blanket, he would not leap from me. I could place him in the palm of my hand, a perfect fit, and trace the robber’s mask drawn across his jaw; I could stroke the sun-yellow belly.

Because his sun has gone out. His arteries and veins are frozen canals, the spaces between his cells filled with ice crystals. His summer-supple skin has turned crunchy. His heart is silent as a stone. Not even the weakest current crackles in his brain. And he is not dead.

He is what scientists call “extreme tolerant.”

Before his tolerance was put to the full test, he had a couple of weeks to practice. In late fall, when temperatures after dark first dropped below freezing, he felt the chill seep in and snake through his body, every atom of him stunned. Whatever was moist tended toward ice. But first his liver surged, sending a thick sugar syrup into his cells, plumping them, to keep them from the collapse of internal frostbite. He took fewer and fewer breaths, and then. . . .

Woke, gulping, in the next day’s warmer daylight, his blood moving like a sticky river, cell walls slippery and wet again. When light and temperature dropped away again that night, a cold thumb again suspended his every animation. His world, and he in it, faded to black.

And with the morning light, came back. In and out with the light, thawing and freezing, the wood frog kept time to the quickening and cooling of air molecules.

One day he didn’t wake. Though the morning air brightened, it didn’t warm; it stayed the slow cold of ice. So he, tuned precisely to his milieu, stayed ice.

As he is now and shall be, until the rhythm shifts. When the air warms, he will too, if only for a day or a few during a January thaw. He’ll find himself in his leaf bed, alive and well, and stretch his stiff frog legs. Then he’ll let himself go as-good-as-dead again when the cold comes back, as it will.

There will come a warm day in spring when the ice goes out—of the ponds, of his blood—and doesn’t return. Then with dozens of other wood frogs he’ll hop to the pond and send up a thrilling chorus: Death, we’ve robbed you of your ruin, we’ve taken you in.

All Creation Waits: Gift Edition by Gayle Boss

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