Zen and the Art of Tadpole Rescue

Vashon Nature Center - Pacific Chorus Frog Tadpoles

I have been engaged in a ritual the last couple of weeks that involves such focus, attention and agility, that the world drops away and I go into a near meditative state. It’s not a wise Eastern tradition, drugs or hypnotherapy, but it is mind-expanding and therapeutic. It is pollywog patrol at our little pond. The Pacific Chorus Frogs’ spring symphony was well attended, and our tiny pool is brimming with their wriggling progeny, all in various stages of development.

Water flows into the pond from a nearby spring, and when it hits a certain level, it flows out of a pipe on the other side. This is what has become for some extreme young frogs what my daughter and I call “the waterslide.” As in high-water years past, daring or inattentive tadpoles get the ride of their lives if they get too close to the lip of the long pipe (which is lined with tempting layers of algae—like a sushi bar perched on the edge of a waterfall—with suction). We can hear no cries of delight or fear, so we don’t know if they like it or not. But regardless, after a 12-foot-long ride they unceremoniously splash down in a ditch at the side of our driveway. This is where one or two times daily I find myself squatting and searching, scooping up the wayward offspring into plastic containers for return to their more hospitable nursing grounds.

Vashon Nature Center - Tadpole ready for release

Ready for release.

The first time on duty, I collected 30 or 40 little swimmers and called it good, but lately there have been many more. Either this sport is catching on, the water table has changed, or there is a new sushi chef. There are hundreds of little froglets in this “holding pool” morning and night! It becomes a game to see if I can find and catch them all. Their sizes range from the tiniest newly hatched beings—with heads no bigger than this letter “a”—to their older siblings with bodies the size of my thumbnail, distinctly athletic back legs, and a narrowed head shape that signifies near frogdom.

Some of the older tadpoles’ bodies are patterned in metallic gold—flashing beauties seemingly readying for their coming out soirees. I marvel at their instinctual fear of my lurching hand as I swoop down to save them. Their camouflage is near-perfect as they scuttle among rocks, leaves and other pond detritus. Sometimes I strain the water between my fingers, holding their near-weightless, tickling bodies for a moment before plopping them in with the others.

After I awaken from my trancelike state (or my leg falls asleep), I take the teeming masses to the re-entry ledge at the edge of the pond. After gently pouring in the evacuees, they stay stunned and still for a minute or two, probably dizzy from the constant swirling that accompanies the catch-and-release procedure.

I’m sure there is an engineering solution to this problem. But I’m not sure I want one. Today on the way up the driveway from the bus, my teenager called me on her cell, “You’ve got to come help me save them!” She was down at the ditch, corralling wayward tadpoles with her bare hands.

Tadpole Collection Station - Vashon Nature Center

Busy at the tadpole collection station.

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