We never called them tadpoles. The word tadpole was for outsiders, the uninitiated. Our city cousins quickly learned. They were only too happy to drop the staid, formal word tadpole and use polliwog in its place.

During the summer, thousands of tiny black polliwogs wiggled in the moss and weeds along the sides of the big irrigation ditch that ran along the east end of our farm. My brother and I scooped them up with a coffee can we had nailed to a long piece of wood and punctured with a nail so the water could drain out. We brought the polliwogs home in cloudy quart jars, and released them into a special container in the shade under our walnut tree. The container was a big round concrete pipe that our father had sealed at one end. We filled it with water and likely vegetation so the polliwogs would feel at home.

The big cement pipe had a slow leak. Partly to maintain the water level but mainly for aesthetics, we would occasionally fill another punctured coffee can with water and set it on a thin strip of wood that spanned the pipe, then watch as the tiny stream ran into the pool below. The polliwogs loved it. They were attracted to the bubbles.

In time, the polliwogs grew and sprouted hind legs. We watched carefully for this to happen, checking several times a day. Soon they all had hind legs, and then one or two sprouted front legs, and before long more of them did, and then their tails began to melt away, until one day, we would notice a young toad floating proudly on a leaf, ready to start a new life in one of our mother�s flower beds. There were literally hundreds of these little toads hopping in the shade near the foundation of the house. In the course of the season, we brought more and more polliwogs, and there were more and more toads. We knew there couldn�t be too many. And they grew quickly. These were hardy, happy toads. And they were intelligent. They knew a good arrangement when they saw one.

At the end of the summer, when the irrigation district would stop diverting water into the ditches, our ditch slowly dried up. As the muddy clay bank stiffened and cracked, we would walk down to the bottom, where a tiny bit of water still remained. In some places, the water was literally black with the season�s last hatch of polliwogs. We saved as many as we could and mourned the rest, along with the crawdads and snails that would soon be gasping for air, then baking in the sun when the last of the water had finally evaporated.

After we had observed and participated in this glorious cycle for several years, the toad population was so high around our house that it became dangerous to walk at night. Toads were everywhere � big, meaty, rugged toads, snacking on bugs and leaving their distinguished cylindrical waste behind on our sidewalks and paths. Every morning, it looked like dozens of cigarettes had been discarded and had burned down to ash. Our father would regularly sweep or hose off the sidewalks, muttering under his breath that something had to be done. Our project was that successful. Finally, he cracked. He gave us each a five-gallon bucket and ordered us to fill it with toads. Each time a bucket was filled, he took the toads and dumped them into the ditch. This really happened.

There was so many toads that the water in the ditch backed up for miles. While the town waited nervously for the toads to disperse, it was necessary to reinforce the ditch bank with sandbags supplied by the county emergency crew. Risking his life, the editor of our local weekly came out and took pictures of the scene, and of my brother and I standing proudly beside the ditch, while our father glared at us from behind. This didn�t happen. But it might have, had we been allowed to continue for another year or two.

August 28, 2005

Previous Entry     Next Entry     Return to Songs and Letters     About the Author

Also by William Michaelian

Winter Poems

ISBN: 978-0-9796599-0-4
52 pages. Paper.
Another Song I Know
ISBN: 978-0-9796599-1-1
80 pages. Paper.
Cosmopsis Books
San Francisco

Signed copies available

Main Page
Author�s Note
A Listening Thing
Among the Living
No Time to Cut My Hair
One Hand Clapping
Songs and Letters
Collected Poems
Early Short Stories
Armenian Translations
Cosmopsis Print Editions
News and Reviews
Highly Recommended
Let�s Eat
Favorite Books & Authors
Useless Information
E-mail & Parting Thoughts

Flippantly Answered Questions

Top of Page