IT'S A SNAKE-EAT-FROG WORLD

One day Emily called me over to check out what was happening on her porch. I marvelled at the audacity of this skinny snake thinking it could fit a whole frog in its mouth. I'd never seen a snake eat a frog before so I figured the snake would munch just enough to satisfy its narrow little tummy and then move on. I had no idea how patient snakes are. This one sat like this for a few minutes and then began the process of unhinging its jaw. The snake's mouth opened a bit more every few minutes, gradually pulling in more of the frog, who writhed around for a torturously long time, half in, half out of the snake's mouth. Less than an hour later there was nothing left of the frog. I assumed there'd be a frog-shaped bulge in the snake's throat, but the frog was digested as it went along, making it barely detectable in the snake's profile.

We learn in the jungle that the wonders of nature aren't always pretty. Before I moved here I don't think I could have watched this procedure. I would have chastised the snake for being a bully and tried to rescue the hapless frog, not considering the poor hungry snake. Or else I would have run away. I only wanted everything to be good all the time, which simply cannot be. For the snake to eat, the frog must die. How can a mere human pass judgment on the ways of nature? Without the lows there can be no highs, but only mediocrity, which will never serve to advance the human condition. When we can learn to accept whatever comes our way without any form of judgment we free ourselves to live fully in the present moment, even while watching a frog's excrutiatingly slow demise in the mouth of a snake. It's only my own bleeding heart issue that makes this into a problem.

When we first got here, I couldn't kill anything larger than a mosquito. It got exhausting trying to capture and release every living thing that ended up trapped in the house. Now I have no qualms about obliterating a scorpion if it's in my living space. I've even squished a big, furry, juicy tarantula because it was about to skitter under my couch. That's about as large a creature as I can handle killing.

This season when the troops of giant toads returned to frolick and poop around the pool, Bill declared that it was time to start killing them. In the past, we'd collect them in a bucket every day and the next morning, stick them in the truck and drive to the river to release them. We have nothing against the toads themselves; it's their lack of bathroom etiquette that makes them distasteful. Big toads make big poops all over the place. A few days into toad season I mentioned to Bill that I hadn't seen him taking a shovel to them as he had proclaimed he would. He mumbled something about not wanting to clean toad guts off the deck but I know it was only a cover-up for his own tenderness toward the abundant amphibians.

Even after living in such close proximity to giant toads all this time, I still can't pick one up. When they get into the house, I herd them out the door with a broom. When they're holding a water aerobics class in my pool and the net isn't nearby, I use the scoop-and-flick method to remove them. I plant my feet firmly about 18" apart, lean over the edge of the pool, lace my fingers into a little platform, scoop up the toad, and then frantically hike it through my legs, football-style. That way, it only sits on my outstretched hand for a few seconds before I launch it into the grass. Although I can now accept the dog-eat-dog aspect of nature, I don't think I'll ever be able to tolerate feeling personally responsible for any living thing struggling to be free.

I haven't caught a fish since 1972.