Friday, November 06, 2009

Animalia Chordata Amphibia Driedoutada

"She was, in a word, weird."
-- Robert McCammon

When I was a little girl, my parents took me to Kauai, Hawaii for a week. I wasn't sure whether or not to be excited about it, because all of the cool kids were going to Maui or Honolulu or Palm Springs. Kauai? None of my friends had ever even heard of Kauai. But then I realized that they had also never heard of Molokai, the Isle of Lepers, or Kaho'olawe, the Isle of U.S. Military Practice Bombing, so I decided to reserve judgment.

Kauai was incredible. A tropical paradise dreamed up for a hungry suburban child, thanks to the total lack of tourism. We visited a ranch where ducks and geese and chickens ran free and where I spent the whole day trying to catch a duckling I planned to smuggle home. We went to a luau, ate kalua pig, watched dancers swallow fire and learned how to put a chicken to sleep by twisting its neck. We snorkeled and hiked, we drank coconut milk from the actual coconut and slurped freezing shaved ice. The week was idyllic, but the very best part wasn't any activity or attraction. It was the frogs. They were everywhere. Beautiful fat brown frogs with slick, cool bellies. Their croaks were a chorus that lulled me to sleep then guided me from dreams in the morning. I could step off any road into jungle, and at my feet would be a carpet of wet, belching frogs. At night when we walked to dinner I chased frogs along the road, and in the morning as we walked to breakfast I used a long stick to pop their flattened bodies off the road. Lord, if the roads weren't paved with hundreds of their pancaked bodies. I'd never seen anything like it in my entire nine years of life.

When it came time to pick a souvenir, I wanted one thing.

"But WHY?"
"Do I really need to spell it out?"
"Because it's dead and rotting and filthy. No."

A couple of years later my parents sent me to horse camp for a week. It was heaven. In addition to riding and jumping, I learned all about taking care of a horse. I learned how to braid the mane and tail for shows. I learned how to feed them and muck out their stalls, something I actually thought was fun. One day, a farrier came and let us watch as he removed the horse's old shoes, trimmed his hooves and hammered new shoes on. While the other little girls ran around collecting discarded horseshoes to hang in their bedrooms for good luck, I ran around collecting hoof clippings for my own little collection.

I hadn't even been home from camp for a day when my mother came sniffing around my room.

"What is that?"
"That smell."
"I don't smell anything."
"I do. It smells like something in here is rotting."
"No it's not."
"Where's your suitcase?"
"I haven't unpacked it yet."
"Open it."
That was when I flung my body across my suitcase and cried, "But it's for my collection!" Then I pointed to the shelf where I displayed my deer jaw, the mouse vertebrae I found in coyote scat and the leg bones whose previous owner I hadn't yet identified.
"We agreed. Nothing that rots. Open your suitcase."

I thought the hoof clippings smelled wonderfully gamey, but Mama said no, they were rotting, they had to go.

A few years ago my parents went back to Kauai. They called me after their trip and we had a nice visit. They asked if I'd gotten the gift they'd sent. I hadn't, but I'd definitely keep a lookout for it! They told me all about how the island had changed, how tourism had exploded; there were more hotels, more paved roads, more mosquitoes, and they only saw one frog the entire time they were there.

The next day I checked my mail and found a small padded envelope addressed to me in my father's neat hand. Along the bottom of the envelope my mother had scrawled, "This was your father's idea. I give him all the credit."

I carefully tore open the end of the envelope and right away got a good whiff of something fishy. The smell wasn't unpleasant, just surprising. "I think they sent us some fish jerky!" I called out to Mike, who was in the next room. I shook the contents of the envelope out onto my kitchen table, wondering why the jerky wasn't in some sort of packaging. And then I realized it wasn't fish jerky. It was a frog. A perfect, beautiful, flat Kauai frog.

I finally found the right display case for him. Isn't he lovely?


Kim said...

You are totally weird, in an awesome, awesome way. Kauai was not full of frogs when Will and I went last October, but it was lovely all the same. I'm glad you got your frog, after all these years.

Hawk said...

I agree with Kim. Sick and twisted WITH family support!

On a side note I spent nearly 10 years riding around in a station wagon explaining to people what the bumper sticker: "Wouldn't you rather be riding a mule on Molokai" was all about.

'Cita said...

Awww - now I'm all teary.

Tara said...

I hope he is covered with a piece of glass, otherwise the cats might get ideas.

Anonymous said...

I love this story so much. I'm glad finally blogged about it. Thanks Frosty.



Frosty said...

Yes, Tara, he is!! And he's also completely dried out now and doesn't smell like anything at all. :)

'Cita said...

Hey, it didn't smell like it was rotting - it smelled like you were storing a thousand mildew'd mops.

Hawk said...

Just noticed the 'Boy's Life' quote, woo! :)