Greeting to all and welcome new friends to the EastWing.
There seems to always be something magical about the first as well as the last snow every start and end of winter. The first snow brings a special excitement that the world has turned white and beautiful. The magic part of the last snow is you’re never quite sure if you are looking at the last or maybe next to the last, or maybe second from last. While always hoping you’re looking at the last.
And so it was as I looked upon the EastWing gardens that early morning of April 15th, was I looking at the last snow of winter. Here goes hoping.
Back in January I was asked to retell the story of the “Peeps of Springtime”. Last week I was asked did I forget the promise to do so. I did not forget. And so below is a reprint from 2009 when I said:
Received a gift Friday last, a dandelion, that pretty little springtime friend of mine. She always comes back to grow and play in the green, green grass of the gardens. Maybe we’ll just make the dandelion the official flower of the EastWing. “So shall it be written, so let it be done”. That’s an old Pharaoh saying that kinda fell out of vogue after Yul Brynner died.
I’m so enjoying the sounds of springtime nights. So much so that the other night I decided to go out and visit with those little sounds in the darkness. They’re frogs, ya know, those sounds that come to your ears in the nighttime. Those sounds come from little frogs called Spring Peepers.
Little fellers, those Spring Peepers, smaller than your thumb. But happy little boys indeed, happy to be alive in the springtime. All the sounds from all those little boy frogs remind me of sleigh bells ringing. In fact, these little guys are also called the Bells of Springtime. They’re certainly music to my new ears, those Bells of Springtime. This year, with my new electronic hearing aids, it’s pretty music to my ears.
When the crushing cold of winter starts to yield to warmer times, as it does every year, even when we think it’ll never end, it does, and on a cold night, the wind is still, and the frost is heavy. The moon, a bright yellow ball hanging in a cloudless sky. While the air is so crisp ya could break with a hammer a movement starts under the dead leaves of autumn past. Life resurrecting.
First one eye, then the other, one leg moves, then the another. In a matter of minutes everything is working just the way he left ‘em when he dug deep under the leaves to freeze to death for the winter. The little frog is coming back from a place between death and darkness, the twilight zone of frogs. A little Bell of Springtime is tuning up to ring.
I almost forgot to tell ya an interesting thing ‘bout not only the Peeps but all frogs. It’s the way they survive the winter. Now frogs have the ability to make their own special kinda anti-freeze. I’m already starting to see some of my emails next week, laughing ‘bout the frog anti-freeze joke. Before ya start laughing, ya better check it out, ‘cause I’m telling ya I know a lot ‘bout frogs.
One time when I was starting to grow up ,’cause I was already seven years old, my Uncle Hagins took me frog hunting when I was at Southfork in the summertime. Now we didn’t go hunting for Peep or regular frogs, oh no, we went hunting for the Giant Bullfrogs of Southfork.
Now ya gotta hunt these Giant Bullfrogs of Southfork in the creek bed where it’s dark and almost scary. To the place where the air smells like snakes and the sun never shines ‘cause the hills are too close together. The only thing there is the water, the smell of snakes, and maybe even the real snakes there too, and the Giant Bullfrogs of Southfork, and some times, just sometimes, empty pop bottles.
We went right there, my Uncle Hagins and me. We went to get the Giant Bullfrogs of Southfork. And it didn’t take long to find ‘em. We found their trail a long ways before we got to the place where the air smelled like snakes, ‘cause that’s where Uncle Hagins said the Giant Bullfrogs of Southfork lived.
When Uncle Hagins showed me the Giant Bullfrog Tracks, at first I thought that it was a person’s footprint in the mud, but Uncle Hagins showed me the difference, ‘cause he knew ‘bout Giant Bullfrog Tracks and stuff like that. Uncle Hagins said if we just kept following those tracks it’d lead us right to the Giant Bullfrogs of Southfork.
To tell ya the truth, I was almost scared, but I knew that my Uncle Hagins wouldn’t let anything bad happen to me, ‘cause I was his favorite nephew, and Lord knows he had a lot of nephews, so I just walked a little bit closer to him and didn’t tell him ‘bout me being almost scared and all. ‘Cause when you’re nine years old and out hunting Giant Bullfrogs of Southfork where it’s dark, that’s almost like being a man, so ya can’t say you’re afraid of anything. But I was, almost.
Then Uncle Hagins said “BobbyRay, you smell snakes?” That really, almost, made me scared. I said “yah” Uncle Hagins said “me too” I could hear my heart beat in my ears, but I wasn’t scared.
Uncle Hagins had in his hand a gig. Now a gig is a long stick with a prong on one end and it’s used to catch fish or frogs, and today we were gigging the Giant Bullfrogs of Southfork. Well when I thought my chest was gona break from my heart beating so fast in my ears, but Uncle Hagins throws his gig into the water, runs over and pulls up this Giant Bullfrog of Southfork, stuck right there on the prongs of the gig. Uncle Hagins takes the Giant Bullfrog of Southfork off the hooks and no sooner than that, he throws again and in less than a minute we have two Giant Bullfrogs of Southfork. Uncle Hagins gigged two more Giant Bullfrogs of Southfork in just a few more minutes.
Then he said it’s my turn to gig a Giant Bullfrog of Southfork. Well, the pole of the gig was a lot taller than me, but I was bound and determined that I was gona gig a Giant Bullfrog of Southfork, or die from a snake bite trying right here in the waters of Southfork.
Two times I tried to throw the spear, but it didn’t go far enough. So Uncle Hagins said that maybe if we both held on at the same time maybe that would work. Now don’t ya know, the very first time me and Uncle Hagins threw that spear together it struck a Giant Bullfrog of Southfork. We had to throw five or six more times before we got another hit, but finally another trophy.
With 6 Giant Bullfrogs of Southfork in hand, Uncle Hagins said that he thought that was ‘bout all we could carry home. We started out for home with Uncle Hagins carrying his four Giant Bullfrogs of Southfork and me carrying my two Giant Bullfrogs of Southfork. That didn’t last long, after ‘bout a hundred yards or so, I had to stop and rest, ‘cause these Giant Bullfrogs were ‘bout to weight me down to the point where I couldn’t go no more. We rested a little while an started for home again, but same thing, ‘bout a hundred yards or so, I’m wanting to stop and rest from the heavy weight of these Giant Bullfrogs of Southfork.
Uncle Hagins said, the way he figured it, at the rate we were going, we’d get home ‘bout Christmas Time, if we were lucky, so he had to do something different. Uncle Hagins cut down two Willow Trees, one bigger than the other. On the bigger one, he cut a notch on each end. He took the smaller tree and took all the bark of it, and threw the skinned tree away. Uncle Hagins took the bark strips and tied up three Giant Bullfrogs of Southfork into two bundles, he then hooked these bundles over the ends of the pole with notches. He raised one end of the pole with the Giant Bullfrogs of Southfork and told me to help lift the other as he raised it to his shoulders. And I did, as Uncle Hagins picked up all the six Giant Bullfrogs of Southfork on his shoulders. We didn’t have to stop any more on the way home.
Talk ‘bout being surprised. Well they sure were surprised to see so many Giant Bullfrogs of Southfork. Uncle Hagins told ever body how good I was at gigging Giant Bullfrogs of Southfork, and how he was just lucky to get two and how I gigged four, I didn’t tell anybody the difference. I just thought maybe Uncle Hagins forgot who got who.
One of the down sides of hunting the Giant Bullfrogs of Southfork, is when ya catch ‘em, ya gotta clean ‘em. I’m not gona talk much ‘bout that, ‘cause that’s not as much fun as the gigging part. When ya do the cleaning, it’s kinda like cleaning fish, but ya don’t hear your heart beat in your ears though.
Now the thing that people eat from Bullfrogs are Bullfrog legs. Now regular Bullfrogs have little Bullfrog legs smaller than chicken legs. Not the Giant Bullfrogs of Southfork, these Bullfrog legs were the size as big hams, each one weighing maybe 10 pounds apiece. Since the Bullfrog legs were so big, Lou said we should smoke ‘em in the Smoke House like Uncle Hagins did the hams when it was time to kill the pigs. Everybody thought that was a good idea. That night we put the cleaned Giant Bullfrog Legs of Southfork in the coldspring and went to bed. I could hardly sleep, thinking ‘bout me gigging those four Giant Bullfrogs of Southfork just like Uncle Hagins said.
The first thing in the morning me and Uncle Hagins wrapped the Giant Bullfrog Legs and hung ‘em up on hooks from the top of the ceiling in the Smoke House. Then Uncle Hagins build the fires under the Smoke House, he knew how to do all that stuff, my Uncle Hagins knew how to do a lot of really neat stuff. He was my favorite uncle, and like Uncle Hagins having a lot of nephews, well I had a lot of uncles too.
I don’t remember how long they had to stay in the Smoke House, but we left Southfork and went home, and I started into the first grade at Weeksbury. We didn’t go back to Southfork till Thanksgiving. When my Aunt Gladys and my Mama cooked our Thanksgiving Dinner, we didn’t have turkey, and we didn’t have goose, we had two Smoked Giant Bullfrog Legs. There were ‘bout 15 or 18 people there for dinner, and most everybody took leftover Smoked Giant Bullfrog Leg home for supper. Big frogs, those Giant Bullfrogs of Southfork.
But getting back to this frog anti-freeze thing, during the winter, a frog’s body temperature falls and its metabolism drops. Its heart can even stop beating and start again in the future. Too bad we the people can’t do that little trick. And we think we know magic. ‘Course we can do a lot of other things that frogs can’t do.
Many frogs dig into mud or deep holes to escape the killing frost, but some do practice controlled freezing. They produce excess sugars or starches to prevent damage to sensitive tissues while the remaining water in their bodies turns to ice. The North American wood frog, including the Peeps, live as far north as Alaska. They can survive with 65% of the water in their body frozen solid. I guess ya could take those little fellers, put ‘em on sticks and have Peepsicles.
Now those Giant Bullfrogs of Southfork, to this very day, don’t ever worry ‘bout freezing in the wintertime, no, they just build themselves a campfire, sit around and tell stories ‘bout how a little boy used to wade in the waters of Southfork, with his most favorite uncle, looking for ‘em in those warm nights of the summertime.
Setting on the back of my chair, Sophia read the story as I typed, laughed so hard she damn near fell off the back of the chair, twice. Said she never knew frogs got that big. Told her they don’t in Indiana. It’s a Kentucky Southfork thing.
Stay safe in Afghanistan.
From the EastWing, Magic Snows First & Last, Retelling The Bells of Springtime, Me & Uncle Hagins And The Giant Bullfrogs of Southfork
I wish you well,