A short story
Is this story about a frog? No, but let’s start with him anyway. He’s sitting on a lily pad, not moving. Why? Because there’s a possum sticking her nose through the reeds at the edge of the water. The frog is hunched down, as flat as he can go but he can’t stop the quiver of his throat as he breaths.
The photographer had her lens focused on the rare amphibian, the only male dusky gopher frog seen in the area for years. She caught the possum in her wide view when the frog took the freeze pose, a clear sign of imminent danger.
Now the dilemma. As a naturalist, Stephie should not interfere with the going’s on of the wild creatures she filmed. But, a species was at stake while the possum was nothing more than a local pest and one far too prolific these days. A rising problem since the roadway near the pond was shut down due to flooding damage. As crazy as it sounds, speeding cars and trucks were part of the checks and balances between births and deaths for the giant rat population. Once the possum was fondly the subject of Stephie’s photographic studies. Then it was cute with it’s beady eyes and elongated raccoon face. The attention the mama showed to its young, carrying her mini-possums on her back, adorable. Photography Central magazine agreed and the shot won her a first award which launched her career.
But really if she was honest, the only reason she went chasing possum with her camera was from another day when her father rescued one from the road. It was a young thing, scared, hiding in the crook of her father’s arm. They named it Polly. Stephie fed it peanut butter on the end of a carrot stick. Her father convinced her to give up her baby blanket, soft and worn to go into the nest box. Polly stayed with them overnight with Stephie taking vigil next to the convalescing animal. The next morning they brought Polly to the wildlife refuge center amid many tears. Her father explained that Polly would be well taken care of and would go back to the wild when she was grown up.
A few days later, he came home from work with a stuffed possum toy. It was the same day he shared the news that he was sick. He died that year, aggressive prostate cancer, diagnosed and gone within six months. She gave up her baby blanket, but she could not give up that stuffed toy, ever. It was in her closet, in a Coates Brother’s shoe box, wrapped in tissue paper. She took it out every so often and hugged it as though it were her father. Weird, yes for a thirty one year old who long since processed the untimely death of her father but once in awhile, she needed to go back and be that little girl, doted on tenderly by her dad. It was no wonder that this present situation left her heart conflicted.
The nameless frog that the possum sniffed with its nose in the air, would not be seen again except in the footage from a camera if she did not do anything. At what point does one set aside the course of nature and tip the scale on behalf of one being and not another? What if that possum were carrying young and without a good meal she and her babies would die? Was keeping a species alive when the environment it needed disappeared from the earth just hiding from the harsh realities of life and death? Who was she to play God? She could not allow sentimentality to drive her or blind adherence to a code which could cause a great loss for no good reason. In that moment of hesitation, the possum reached forward, mouth opened wide, teeth glinting. The camera still clicking, caught it all. The frog in a split second was gone. He slipped under the lilly pads without even a ripple on the water. He hadn’t made it this long by being slow. Mother possum got a mouthful of grasshopper instead, a tasty snack she did not look upset to chomp on. Sometimes when it looks like there is only loss ahead, another possibility emerges. Stephie smiled. “Thanks Dad!”
There are dilemmas round every corner. Cross-roads with choices that are not stamped clearly with ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. I believe because in those instances we need to tap into our hearts, search within and listen then take a step forward and live. Of course as in the case in this story, sometimes in the thinking we arrive at the destination where we need to be.
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