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Bullfrog Lore

May 17, 2014

 

Last Wednesday night after prayer meeting I sat outside on our screened-in back porch. Thunderstorms were approaching, and the critters in our yard were stirred up. A lone male mockingbird sang a courting song from the top of an oak tree. Tree frogs and crickets joined in with their own melodies. Two feral cats darted across our lawn. A big fat possum ambled out of the bushes and disappeared into the woods. Dogs barked in the background, and two bullfrogs chimed in with bass notes from our pond. All of the activity was a prelude to the storm that followed.

Just a week earlier I heard a program on a local radio station. The talk show featured experts from the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources. Invited to call in questions, listeners kept the telephone lines humming throughout the hour.

Most callers were concerned about fishing regulations. They wanted answers about licensing requirements, size and number limits, and information about stocking ponds and streams.

Finally, near the end of the program, a fellow named Ralph was on the line.

“Ralph, where are you calling from?”

“From my pickup truck.”

“What’s your question?”

“What about frog gigging?”

The Game Warden answered, “The laws of South Carolina are completely silent when it comes to frog gigging.”

“You mean there ain’t no rules?”

“That’s right.”

“Hot diggity-dog!”

“You must like to eat frog legs.”

“Man, yeah! Fried frog legs are the best thing ever with a good vegetable like macaroni and cheese and a cold beer!”

Our garden waterfall spills into a pond lined with creek rocks. The water is recycled back to the top of the hill by a pump, creating a continuous flow.

On a visit to our garden last year, a friend sat by the pond watching the goldfish dart among the plants. “You need a couple of bullfrogs,” he observed.

I recalled the pleasant sound of bullfrogs from fishing and camping adventures as a boy and agreed that a couple of bullfrogs would make a fine addition to our small pond. A few days later a man from our church gave us six big croakers from the abundant population in his own pond. “I wanted to be sure you had at least one male and one female,” he chuckled.

After our gift of frogs arrived, I learned several interesting bits of information: bullfrogs can live up to fifteen years, and female bullfrogs can actually lay as many as 20,000 eggs at one time. In a year or so more, I have no doubt that their croaks will be deafening.

I have enjoyed hearing their deep resonant voices singing after dark along with the symphony of tree frogs, crickets, and a persistent whip-poor-will. The cacophony conjures up thoughts of bullfrog tales.

In 1865, the budding journalist Samuel Langhorne Clemens, better known by his pen name Mark Twain, was living in a cabin near Angels Camp, California. He frequented the bar at a local hotel, listening to yarns spun by prospectors from the nearby hills. It was there that he heard a tall tale, which he later crafted into a short story. Twain wrote about a bullfrog named Dan’l Webster, which fails to hop even once during a jumping contest. His dismayed owner, despondent over losing a bet of forty dollars, later discovers an opponent had filled the big frog with lead quail shot. Twain’s legendary amphibian helped make him famous. “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” has become one of the best-known bullfrog stories.

Perhaps the most famous tale about frogs was written by the Brothers Grimm. “The Frog Prince,” which has been told and retold, usually recounts how a princess finds a conversant frog. The frog asks that she kiss him in order to break an evil spell and change into the handsome prince he was prior to the curse. Though in the story’s original form the princess does not actually kiss the frog, it is most frequently told so that her kiss transforms the frog into a prince.

This theme has many variations, even one for liberated women.

Once upon a time, a beautiful, independent, self-assured princess happened upon a frog in a pond. The frog explained, “I was once a handsome prince until an evil witch put a spell on me. One kiss from you and I will turn back into a prince. Then we can marry and move into the castle with my parents. You can prepare my meals, clean my clothes, and bear my children. We’ll live happily ever after.”

That night, while the princess dined on frog legs, she laughed, “I don’t think so.”

Another variation for senior adults places an old man – wearing a tattered long-sleeve shirt, khaki pants, and a straw hat – on a log. Fishing with a cane pole from the riverbank was slow. As the late summer sun began to set, a bullfrog hopped up on the log next to the elderly gentleman and asked, “Are you married?”

“No, my wife died five years ago,” the man answered, surprised to be speaking with a frog.

After a pause, the frog offered, “I am really a beautiful princess. If you kiss me, I will become a young woman and marry you.”

The old gentleman considered the offer. Without a word, he gathered his fishing equipment, put the frog into his straw hat, and walked through the dark woods back to his pickup truck.

“Are you hard of hearing?” the frog demanded.

“No, not at all.”

Annoyed at the man, the frog repeated, “I really am a beautiful princess. Kiss me, and I will become a gorgeous woman. I will marry you.”

“I understand,” the man answered.

The frustrated frog shrieked again, “I really am a beautiful woman! I’m offering to become your wife. Why won’t you kiss me?”

The old man paused a moment, then explained, “At my age, I can have a whole lot more fun with a talking frog than I can with a second wife.”

 

Kirk H. Neely
© May 2014

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