Thursday, September 5, 2019


In Japan, frogs are revered as creatures 200 million years old that bring prosperity and abundance and have appeared in haiku poetry for centuries. Consider the most famous haiku penned at a haiku gathering by Basho in the 17th century: “The old pond/a frog jumps in/the sound of water.” Simple lines about a critter in the Amphibian family that often evokes in humans a fascination with movement. 

My entire family, dating back to my mother, who painted a watercolor of a frog posing in the woodlands beside an elf, was fascinated with these long-legged, webbed-toed/fingered creatures. I’ve had a long-time interest in frogs, especially bullfrogs, one of which bellows under the bushes beside my bedroom window in New Iberia, Louisiana. It has a vibrant bass voice that field guides describe as “jug-a-rum,” and I miss its sonorous songs when I sojourn here on The Mountain at Sewanee, Tennessee. I was excited when I thought I heard a frog singing last week, but my mid-80 ears often deceive me; most of the time I hear the incessant buzz of insects.

At seven, my youngest daughter, Elizabeth, spent hours during summer vacations catching frogs at water’s edge of a camp in Toledo Bend, Louisiana that we once owned. And Elizabeth begat Joel who developed an abiding interest in frogs and other reptiles. He was preceded by Martin, my oldest grandson who, at nine, became fascinated with the different songs frogs sang when he put on boots and walked into a small swamp near my home in New Iberia, Louisiana.They included the grunts of pig frogs, bleats of sheep frogs, the chuckling trill of southern crawfish frogs who resided in holes where the usual chimneys atop them had disappeared, and, of course, the bass notes of the singing bullfrog.

Joel is the family member who inspired me to write a long poem about the Beelzebufo frog or devil frog, the largest frog ever to live on earth. This frog’s fossil remains were found on the island of Madagascar, according to an article I discovered through NSF News. The poem I wrote was not average book-length but was made so by the illustrations of Ben Blanchard. Ben is a talented young friend who, at the time of my discovery about the Beelzebufo frog, had just graduated from a Raw Food Preparation and Organic Gardening School sponsored by Tree of Life and was living in Sedona, Arizona. He had returned to Louisiana to visit his mother, then residing in the Ginger House next to us, and had just treated us to his “Third Eyes Cream,” a dessert made with frozen bananas, raw chocolate, and Goji berries.

The story of the Beelzebufo frog inspired Ben, and we later exchanged ideas about a book we’d name The Beast Beelzebufo at a meeting in Starbucks, Broussard, Louisiana. Ben’s illustrations were entirely his interpretation of the poem inspired by the giant frog, and his art work aptly embellished this story about a creature with thick-armored skin. The illustrations in this blog showcase Ben’s talent, and I was sorry to see him forego his interest in illustrating children’s books (he later wrote and illustrated his own, Willameena Moonbeam, while living in Austin, Texas) to follow a career in film. 

For those interested in catching frogs, Roger Conant outlines the slapping down process in A Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians: “Slap your flattened hand over the frog, pinning him down while you grasp a leg, or legs, with your other hand. Don’t slap too hard or casualties will occur. You will have the best success in stalking your quarry if you don’t look directly at it. Move in at an angle, watching it out of the corner of your eye.” I can’t imagine Elizabeth or Martin, my amateur herpetologists, being so cautious about stalking a frog and wish I’d observed them in the act so I could recount their methods. However, I did get a firsthand look at some slippery bullfrogs before advising my intrepid frog lovers to let them go as the innocent critters needed to leap about spreading the good luck attributed to them. 

I look forward to hearing the bullfrog’s serenade when I return to New Iberia in October. I’ve read that the songs of frogs symbolize the rebirth of self. “Jug a rum, jug a rum.”

Artwork by Benjamin Blanchard, the ultimate “renegade and road scholar,” now living in Austin, Texas. 

Photographs by Victoria I. Sullivan

1 comment:

Jo Ann Lordahl said...

Terrific - And great pictures - Jo Ann