Today’s prompt: “Write a mystery. Start with a question and write until you answer it.”
The first mystery that came to my mind when I saw this email — which is how I intend to try to answer these prompts, because I am otherwise prone to over-thinking — was: “I wonder if the frogs are in trouble.”
In the immortal words of Inigo Montoya, let me ‘splain. I work (for the next 3.5 days) at a place with lovely grounds. The grounds include a little pond, but that’s down a little hill. Up where we are, there’s grass and some plantings and a beautiful view down to the pond, which is a pleasant walk away.
I didn’t notice these guys at all for the first two years I worked here, but recently I realized that the puddles under the eaves of our building were teeming with tiny little frogs.
One of the reasons they’re hard to spot is that they’re absolutely motionless except for the moments they actively catch (or try to catch) a bug. They look like lumps of mud kicked up by the splatter off the gutters.
The thing that’s worrying me about these guys is that the puddles aren’t really very long-lived, even with all the rain we’ve been having. For example, the picture above is what I saw yesterday, but today this is what’s going on:
Even more confusing — there are still several frogs hanging out there. And the pond is far, if you’re a little frog. I think it would be like if I tried to hop all the way downtown, and you’ll just have to take my word for it that while I certainly could do that, I don’t want to when it’s 95 degrees outside.
So my first instinct was ZOMG I MUST SAVE THE FROGGIES. I was trying to think what I could scoop them into so I could escort them down to the pond and save their little skins from drying out. But… there are a lot of little frogs going on in the area. And I can’t tell if that would be helping, or a totally unnecessary and possibly harmful expenditure of what I think would be a lot of effort (and would probably make me look at least a little ridiculous).
Then I started thinking about the assistance we offer animals in general, and how handicapped we are by that whole thing where animals don’t speak fluent English. We have these complex relationships with our pets which, at least in my mind, include offering them the best medical care available (within reason). But they can’t or won’t actually tell us when they’re sick, and we have to guess based on symptoms. Some animals are into the drama and exaggerate everything, while others work to hide the fact that they’re about to pass a quarter-sized bladder stone with neither surgery nor painkillers (RIP Miss Ouiser Boudreaux). So it’s hard to know how to help and when.
Then we have the animals we should not help, because nature is what nature is and we would be interfering in an important cycle. When I’m at the zoo, I tell people all the time that if you find a box turtle you should leave it alone, beyond assisting it across the road. They’re very territorial and they don’t want to be moved to the nearest nature preserve, so don’t “help.” My wonderful neighbors and I were similarly quite concerned about poor little Trolley this spring when he appeared to be stuck in a tree:
I mean, we were ready to call the fire department, for reals. We had to be talked down by the bird guy at the zoo down the street, who kept telling us this was all perfectly normal.
And then there are the animals we do need to help. Like pandas. I love the big fluffly galoots, but y’all, evolution wants pandas to go away. They are the proof that evolutionary choices are random: at every evolutionary branch, they picked wrong. They are so super lucky they’re cute and we took an interest in them.
One of the stupid things pandas do is have babies the size of sticks of butter who are naked, blind, and delicate, and ask their big, bear-toothed mamas not to break them. Perhaps as a positive evolutionary backup, pandas actually give birth to two babies at a time about 50% of the time. But the babies have to be snuggled closely exactly 100% of the time for the first several weeks of their lives, and mom doesn’t have opposable thumbs, just these paddles with sharp claws. So almost all the time she picks one of the cublets and lets the other die.
Zoo Atlanta had twins born last year, and the talented keepers immediately nipped in and grabbed the cub Lun Lun had left on the ground. They cleverly (they thought) “tricked” Lun into surrendering her cub for “breaks” every 3-4 hours, at which point they would put the full, sleepy cub into an incubator and return the hungry, squirmy cub to its mama. I was pretty sure that Lun wasn’t fooled for a moment, not least because the apparently single cub required twice as much milk as her previous babies. And indeed when they finally gave her both cubs at once, she kept them on a rotational feeding schedule! It was really amazing to follow.
But I mention this because right now, as I write, Lun Lun’s half-sister Mei Xiang (a resident of our nation’s fine capital) is struggling. Well, perhaps Mei Xiang isn’t struggling so much, but one of her cubs is. Last weekend she gave birth to a healthy cub, and then a whole five hours later a second cub, which she rejected. And now she is not participating in the swap process, neither willing to hand over the cub in her arms nor to feed and nurture the cub in the back room. Here’s the picture from the National Zoo’s Facebook page today:
So that little cublet needs human intervention — and we want to provide it, because with only a couple thousand pandas left on the planet, every baby counts. And to the best of their abilities, the keepers at the National Zoo will help that cub pull through, although it’s going to be tough if Mei Xiang continues to refuse to help.
And that brings me back to my dilemma, standing in the break room as the coffee brews: which are the frogs? Are they stupid little guys who need some help getting to a safer, wetter area? Or are they rocking the normal frog lifecycle and doing what frogs do? Is it my responsibility either way? How do we go through life helping and not hurting, while still making sure we don’t exhaust our own resources? That’s a mystery.