By David George
Granddad swung back and forth on the two-seated rocker on his deck, taking in the dusky view. In the distance, the grassy ridges of Mt. Diablo shone with a pink-orange sunset glow, the lower hills already in shadow. Mourning doves, which had only minutes before lined the high tension wires by the hundreds, now flocked to their nests. Distant frog song carried on the evening breeze.
High-pitched shouts rose from the lawn below. Little Jeremy could be heard working on the rustic hut of branches that they had built together earlier in the day. Jeremy had spent all morning collecting smaller sticks while Granddad had provided larger support limbs. These branches had been staked several inches into the lawn, then bent into a dome shape at the top. Smaller sticks were anchored to the supports with twine. But not all had been strong enough with some branches cracking midway up. Construction had taken all afternoon. What started as a teepee had ended up looking more like a land-locked beaver den.
Jeremy let out a yelp. Granddad raised his tired bones off the swing-rocker and walked to the back railing to make sure his three-year-old grandson was okay. Jeremy worked on the hut doorway, which had collapsed. He yanked at one edge, but then the top of the frame bent off-kilter. Jeremy groaned and slapped his sides in frustration. Granddad smiled. Great builders they weren’t.
“The hut’s not holding up, Big Guy?”
Jeremy looked up at the railing where Granddad stood. He shook his head and gave Granddad a sad face. The breeze tossed Jeremy’s fine hair in all directions, and his blue jeans had half-fallen off his behind. Jeremy’s sweatshirt was stained with black gunk. His mom would read Granddad the riot act. Can’t you two do something together that’s CLEAN once in a while?
“Jeremy, I think it’s best if we call it a day,” Granddad said. “The wind’s picking up and your mother will be back soon to take you home.”
“Help me, Granddad,” Jeremy replied, turning back to his task. “I can’t get it to stay up.”
Granddad huffed down the stairs and helped Jeremy tie the supports back in place. Jeremy stepped back to admire the work, but this hideaway would not stand up to a brisk breeze. He only hoped it would last until Jeremy went home.
“Pretty fun project, eh?” Granddad asked. Jeremy nodded his head up and down.
The croaking of a lone tree frog came from the big water lily pot nearby. Jeremy looked up when he heard the “ribbit”. Another frog nearby began its energetic call. “Ribbit, ribbit, ribbit”. Soon, the air filled with a chorus of tree frogs, all trying to out-croak each other. Jeremy’s face lit up with a crooked smile.
“Is that birds?” Jeremy asked.
“No,” Granddad replied. “Frogs. Remember me showing you yesterday the two little frogs living inside my irrigation box? Those two have about two-hundred cousins hiding in other spots around us. They lay low and stay quiet until the night moves in. Then they croak all night.”
“Why?” Jeremy asked.
“It’s their way,” Granddad said. “If the boy frogs sing long and loud, their true loves will follow the song back to them, and then they’ll have lots of little frog babies.”
Granddad knew where this line of questions was headed. He took Jeremy by the hand and led him over to the water lily pot. The surface of the dark water moved with activity.
“See here in the water?” Granddad asked. “See those little black tadpoles swimming about? Those are baby frogs that will one day grow up and hop out of the water to lead their lives.”
Jeremy peered into the inky water and tracked several of the tadpoles as they bobbed along the edge. A larger one floated in the middle on its back, skimming the nutrients from the water with its mouth. Jeremy pointed into the water, his chubby index finger poking at the large, backstroking tadpole. In a flash, it disappeared into the depths.
“Where did the frog babies come from?” Jeremy asked.
Hmm. Granddad’s mind worked to put the right words together.
“Now there’s an interesting story, Big Guy.” Granddad lifted Jeremy onto the bench seat beside the lily pot and sat down next to him. Jeremy shivered. Granddad wrapped his arm and the flap of his green windbreaker around the tyke.
“When Oma and I first moved to this home,” he began, “we never heard a single frog in this whole valley, except for one. I only saw it once, but every mild spring night it would let us know it was there. This tiny frog, no bigger than the tip of my thumb, would croak his little heart out all night long near the fountain. But none of his kind would sing back. He was the last frog in this valley and I expect very lonely.”
Jeremy squirmed off the bench and peered into the water lily pot. His eyes tracked a tadpole squiggling between two round, floating leaves.
“Like these?” Jeremy asked.
“No,” Granddad said. “He was an adult with four legs and no tail. I was worried about the little green guy because he had no friends. For many months, I would look out over the greenery and wonder how far his croaks could be heard. Could his frog song carry to the wetter spots of the ravine or into the woods? Into the neighborhood of homes beyond where others may hear?”
Jeremy craned his neck and squinted to see into the inky water. He returned to the seat next to Granddad.
“Where were all the lady frogs hiding?” Jeremy asked.
“Well, I don’t know, but I knew they could not answer with a song of their own. Only the boy frogs can sing. I hoped that if only a lady frog could hear his distant call, she would hop right over here and into our little frog’s heart.”
Jeremy sat back down next to Granddad, his bright eyes shining in the fading light. Granddad paused for a moment to listen to the frogs and to smell the scents of California springtime, the sweet jasmine flowers, and spicy sage.
“All that spring and into summer,” Granddad said, “our lonely tree frog sang. We knew that no lady frogs heard his song because no frog babies or jelly egg sacks showed up in our little fountain’s pool. After a particularly hot spell in June, no more frog song filled the night. I did not hear from our lonely friend again.”
“Did he die, Granddad?” Jeremy asked. Sad eyes looked up from his long face. The boisterous chorus of croaks shouted from all directions, but now the crickets and an occasional hooting owl joined in.
“You know, Oma and I worried also that our lonely frog had died. Fall and winter came and we didn’t hear a single ‘ribbit’ from our garden. We were sad to think that a whole species of animals, that used to be everywhere in California would disappear.”
“But that’s not the end of the story, thank goodness. Our little boy frog must have been very busy all summer and fall finding a better spot to sing. The next February, just as the first flowering trees bloomed, so did his song. ‘Ribbity, ribbit, grock-grock’. He sang right in this spot where we’re sitting.”
Jeremy looked around to the end of the bench, trying very hard to spy the thumb-sized creature. But the frog and his little green friends stayed well-hidden in the vegetation.
“How did you know he was right here?” Jeremy asked.
“Oh,” Granddad replied, “he sang louder than ever that February, and almost all the time. He sounded very happy. Turned out to be a very wet month as I recall, just perfect for frogs. Our original frog had a very recognizable song. I remember it went something like, ‘grrockkk, gurocky grock-grock!’”
Jeremy laughed. His hand flashed up to Granddad’s mouth to stop the odd noises.
“Yes,” Granddad said, “that spring he sang long, loud and clear. And you know what?”
“What?” Jeremy asked, raising his hands in the air.
“A week or so later, his song was joined by a second ribbit. And then a third and a fourth. By March, we had four boy frogs trying to out-croak each other. A couple of weeks later, we had eggs and then tiny tadpoles in this water pot. What we thought was our last, lonely frog turned out to be the granddaddy of hundreds of little croakers. His voice had been heard after all.”
“Yay!” Jeremy stood up and clapped.
“In fact, if Oma left the windows open, our bedroom would fill with frog song at night. By the next spring, our little croakers had spilled into the ravine, our little pond, and past the banks of Oak Creek. And by the next year, the whole neighborhood echoed with new songs from hundreds of eager young frogs.”
Granddad knew that this part of the world was a happier and healthier place now that the frogs had returned. But what he wanted now was for this moment with his grandson to last, for this snuggly three-year-old to stay next to him, a curious newcomer to the natural world. He leaned closer to Jeremy and whispered.
“So you see, Jeremy,” he said, “our lonely friend taught us to never give up. If we keep calling and calling like he did, sooner or later someone precious will answer.”
Jeremy nodded his head twice, the slow, knowing nod of a much older child.
“Dad, where are you?” Jeremy’s mother had arrived. He looked up at the deck and spied Lauren leaning over the railing. He shrieked, sprang off the bench, and ran up the stairs to her.
“Hi, honey,” Granddad said. “Jeremy and I were having one of our natural history lessons.”
His daughter looked at the jumble of limbs and twine on the lawn.
“Let me guess,” she said. “Rustic Native American architecture? I remember you helping me build my own teepee when I was his age.”
By then, Jeremy had wrapped his arms around her legs. She squatted down to his level and gave him a big kiss. Jeremy didn’t seem to mind.
“No,” Granddad lied. “Not a teepee this time. A stick hut. Uh, I was just telling Jeremy the story about our lonely little frog.”
Granddad rose from the bench by the lily pot and worked his way up the stairs. The sky had completely darkened now, but the lights from the house illuminated the steps.
Just then the frog song ended. Granddad craned his good ear to listen. Not a ribbit or croak could be heard from near or far. Funny how that happened.
“You liked Granddad’s frog story,” Lauren asked Jeremy.
“Uh, huh,” Jeremy said. “Granddad said the little frog croaked and croaked, and then they all showed up to have little frog babies. How do they get little frog babies, Mommy?”
“Uh,” she said, “time to go, big boy. Run inside and get your things.”
Jeremy stuck a finger in his cheek, dropped his head down, and slumped into the house. Lauren turned to Granddad.
“Thanks a lot, Dad,” she said. “Now I’ve got a whole lot of ‘splaining to do on the way home.”
“You’re welcome, Sweetheart,” he said with a straight face.
As suddenly as it had ceased, the frog song resumed, filling his valley with croaks, ribbits, and buzzes. The vibrant sounds of life, and the promise of more to come.
About the Author
Residence: Lafayette, California
Married with two grown children, one grandson.
David George has written several dozen short stories and poems exploring the ironies he experienced during his 30-year high-tech business career and his encounters with the wildlife of rural California. His non-fiction has been published in local newspapers and periodicals and has won several writing awards, including First Place in the Jack London Writing Contest. David has participated in writing critique groups for over ten years, actively contributing his perspectives and suggestions to aspiring and published writers. Visit his writer’s group Find David’s blog here:
David is currently completing two longer works, a novel based on his Irish ancestral roots, The Lord of Larkin Street”, set in Ireland and 1950’s San Francisco, and “Granddad’s Place – An Anthology of Modern Day Fables about the Natural World”, set within a framework of adventures exploring nature with his grandson.