Frog

All things big and small – grace among the wild things

Lenny climbs out of his crib

Leonard, the little castaway

Lenny climbs to get a better view

Lenny climbs to get a better view

I read an article today that actually caused me to stop what I was doing. I focused. This doesn’t happen often. It was called “When Nature Speaks, Who Are You Hearing?” The reason I mention it is that something about what I read compelled me to start writing. For this, I apologise. There’s a good chance that no matter how hard I try to keep this post from rambling off into the stratosphere, it probably will, despite my best intentions. I blame my befuddled brain.

If you’re wondering where I’ve been, to be honest, I’ve been struggling to write lately. Too much work, too little energy, too much pressure on myself to produce something of Pulitzer calibre. Which, let’s be honest, is not likely. I mean, it’s not like I’ve ever let my fear of not saying something profound keep me from saying something anyway. But lately I’ve been feeling…I don’t know. Pensive? Apprehensive? Doubtful? Not sure what it is. Maybe it’s all of the above. But I haven’t wanted to write. Or, better yet, I haven’t felt I had anything to say that anyone might care to hear. I’ve actually been feeling lost in my thoughts. Like I’m in a full-on lexicographic labyrinth and I have no idea where I’m trying to go. I cannot find the magic words.

Since childhood, I have had a tenuous and tumultuous relationship with writing. Throughout life, I found myself using writing as an outlet for every ounce of darkness and light I had tucked inside me. And it seemed to scare people a little. Or a lot, if you were my parents. So it was something I was comfortable with, yet afraid of, if that makes any sense. It was yet another thing about me that made me different, and I was kind of tired of being different. I just wanted to be.

For as long as I can remember, I have found myself unable to grab the right word out of my brain to say exactly what it is I want to say. I don’t like public speaking for this same reason. And I always get told I speak too quickly, which is equivalent to being told you need to chill out, you need to calm down, you need to be someone you are not. I cannot help that my brain moves faster than my tongue is capable of keeping pace. But whether it’s something I can control or not, hearing those words has kept me from opening my mouth in the first place. And by extension, it’s kept me from opening my thoughts up to scrutiny. I’ve held in much I would’ve loved to have bled out over the page. Lovely image, I know. But a verbal hemorrhage is sort of what I feel needs to happen.

What does this all have to do with me being in South Africa, loving my wildlife, and writing a headline such as the one this post has? Well, perhaps all the energy I’ve kept tightly bound inside has finally broken through some poorly defended section of my brain. Lately, I’ve felt like my entire body is on fire, reverberating with these wild vibrations that are pushing against my insides and squeezing my heart and lungs ever tighter and tighter. I often can’t breathe. It’s the closest approximation I have of what it must feel like to jump out of your skin.

Sitting here, listening to clicking stream frogs sending their unanswered love calls into the cool night air, I wonder some times whether I feel so tightly wound because I simply do not belong where I am. I mean that in a physical and a metaphysical way. I love the pulse of a city, but I melt in the masses of people, industry, technology and closed spaces. I don’t belong in cities. In nature, I feel like my whole being suddenly feels a release. And yet in the bush I’m still bound. I can’t just wander off, unless I have a death wish. I must stay within the confines of a small space, still watching the world from what feels like a large, wide-open window. I’m stuck in between.

baby monitor lizard

Morning with a monitor

It’s in times like these that I relish the small things. And I really mean the small things: the lizards, the frogs, the birds, the rodents, and yes, even the spiders and snakes. I feel more connected to the animals and invertebrates that cluster around the warmth of my home than I do the behemoths of the land that everyone comes to Africa to see. By no means am I implying I don’t like the big guys. Elephants, lions, rhinos, buffalo…I love them all. But I am disconnected from them. I cannot reach out and touch them. In many ways, they are as close to me as are the stars in the sky. I can watch, I can admire. But I cannot connect.

The smaller creatures come into my world, sharing my space with me. They sit with me, they chatter away to me, they eat my soap and my mosquitos. They keep me company in what can be a very lonely, cold world. And this unlikely friendship, if you can call it that, blesses my life with a sweet, gentle grace. I feel alive. I feel part of something. I feel real.

These little things never get the attention of their much larger wildlife cousins. For some reason, so many other people I’ve met seem to feel they don’t matter. Or they aren’t good enough to care about.

Before Waldo became an indoor frog

Waldo’s wilder cousin

I think about my little baby gecko, Leonard. Most people I know would not enjoy having geckos hatch in their clothes. I love it. I think it’s amazing that, regardless of all the things humans do to keep our species separate from everything else in the animal kingdom, the animal kingdom still sticks up its middle finger to us and finds a way in. I don’t like getting bitten or stung, but I also don’t begrudge other life from sharing this spinning blue and green ball with me. I say “Good morning” to my resident jumping spider. I usher ants, crickets and scorpions out of the way. People look at me as though there’s something wrong with me for doing these things. Why?

Perhaps it is exactly this question that has kept me from writing. Why? Why do we not love all things, big and small? Why do we discriminate against the creatures we don’t find appealing (for whatever reason, whether it’s their scales, their multiple legs, their ability to eat holes through our bags of flour, etc)? Who are we to choose what’s worth saving and what isn’t? What’s important and what isn’t? Are humans simply that shallow? “Why” is a very uncomfortable question for a lot of people in this world.

Usually when I ask why, I receive anger. I receive vitriol. How dare I ask something that begs someone to think! To answer for their behaviour! To answer, period! Well, why not? People seem to have no problem demanding that of me. Why can’t I ask the questions?

So, with this in mind, I will have to find a way to keep writing. Because someone has to ask. Someone has to wonder. I hope you will wonder with me.

My morning alarm

my incessantly pecking friend

Friendly sea creature

in an octopus’ garden

Mantid vantage

World upside down

 

All rights reserved. ©2014 Jennifer Vitanzo

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Categories: Africa, American, Animal, Expat, Frog, gecko, nature, South Africa, Wildlife, writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

South African Adventure #77 – Waldo

Waldo, our foam nest tree frog, in his natural environment

Apologies for the delay on posts this week.  No power, no internet, no blog.  Anyway, I’ve saved one of my favorite topics for this particular post: WALDO!

Waldo greets me at least once a week, sometimes by throwing himself dramatically at me from the depths of the darkness of my tent when I open the door, sometimes dropping on my head while I’m brushing my teeth.  Sometimes when I’m sitting on the bed, working on my laptop, he quietly sidles up next to me and plops on the keyboard.  Always he is silent, and always he manages to blend into whatever he is sitting on.  I love Waldo.  He’s our resident foam nest tree frog.  He might be my favorite local, quite possibly because he poses no threats, doesn’t make any noise, and he keeps me company instead of hiding in the bushes or running away.  And he’s adorable, as frogs go.

Most of the other wildlife here turns and makes tracks before you even know it’s there.  The ones that don’t disappear are the ones likely to attack and quite possibly eat you.  I’m not sure if I’d prefer to see the wildlife, or take my chances with the Houdinis of the wilderness.  Waldo doesn’t fit into either category, though.  He disappears for days at a time, but then reappears and hangs around, watching us and keeping the mosquito population in check.  Again, I love him.

Most of the amphibians I’ve met out here are loud.  I didn’t realize how loud a frog could be until after the first rains, when it seemed every amphibian within a 10km radius suddenly convened outside my tent and decided it was time to defend territory/find a mate/auditioning for Frog Idol.  It felt like I was at the frog equivalent of a heavy metal concert, a surround sound barrage of deafening squawks and brrrps and tinks.  Waldo’s species does normally fit into that bright little chorus, but for whatever reason, Waldo does not partake in those reindeer games.  I’m guessing it’s because he is safe within the confines of our home, and doesn’t feel the need to announce his presence to the animal kingdom.  That’s good for us and for him.  Or her.  To be honest, I don’t know what gender he/she is, and because amphibians have the fascinating ability to change sex if necessary, he/she is a sort of hermaphrodite anyway, so I guess what I call him/her doesn’t matter.  I’ve settled on thinking he’s a he, unless I suddenly find little foam nest tadpoles flitting about in my sink.

I named him Waldo because, like his namesake, I always find him blending in to different places in the tent.  Until recently, every time I came across him, he had staked claim to a new little patch in some random location amongst my clothes, books and whatever other random possessions were sitting around in our ‘house.’  He stayed in each location for a day or two at a time before moving on to new territory.  Once he was sitting on the vinyl chair outside, slightly hidden under my fiance’s t-shirt.  Another time, he was snuggling in the wires of our solar panel.  Yet another time, he was in a shoe, which makes me wonder if frogs have a sense of smell, because if they do, his clearly doesn’t work.  A few times he perched on my computer.  Then he found a very comfortable spot at the top of the solar panel converter.  Seemed like an ideal place for him – high vantage point from which to catch insects, good place to hide from potential predators.  Visible yet invisible.  He stayed put for a whole six days, which eventually started to concern me, and I thought he might’ve been dead.  Then one day when I was walking by, he jumped on my head.

He has become my favorite part of being out here.  Quiet, unobtrusive, and yet always a companion, Waldo is like that friend who listens and who sticks by you, no matter what.  He seems to prefer to fade into the background, figuratively and literally, and yet he finds funny ways to remind you he’s there, and he has your back.  When you work in an industry where you have almost no modern conveniences (and usually they don’t work anyway), no privacy, no set hours for your job, and no real time to yourself, having a little buddy like him is priceless.  Mastercard, where are you when advertising opportunities like this come about?  You might need to hire Waldo for your next commercial.  I’ll even let you shoot the footage in the tent for free.

Waldo, it’s time for your close-up.

A quick note about frogs.  They breathe through their skin, so you should never touch them if you have anything on your hands (like lotion, bug repellant, and even soap residue and perfume).  In fact, you really shouldn’t handle them at all if you can help it.  If you must, do so with clean, wet, open hands, and only for a very brief period of time.  I only held Waldo a handful of times, and that was only to remove him safely from my head or shoulder or thigh after one of his theatrical leaping forays.  Otherwise, I practiced a hand’s-free policy so I didn’t endanger him, very tough for someone like me, who loves to touch everything.  To be honest, frogs aren’t all that keen on being held anyway.  Makes them feel like they are about to be eaten, I guess.  And some of them excrete toxins through their skin, making them a hazard to you as well.  Best to simply observe from a distance, no matter how tempting it is to pick them up.

 

All rights reserved. ©2012 Jennifer Vitanzo

Categories: Africa, Animal, Conservation, Frog, South Africa, Wildlife | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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