Last Tuesday evening, torrential rain ripped out of the sky. My mother hung behind me, trying not to get washed away on the trails of Tollymore Forest Park. The place was empty as we made our way towards the lake, carrying a small kitchen bin. Inside were two tadpoles, practically jumping up and out to feel the cool rain on their slimy faces.
Their day had come.
There had originally been five of them. Discovered in a dried sheugh outside Aughnacloy, the poor crayters were lying limp on the grass. But with the help of an empty coffee jar, some pondweed, and a drop of water from a cow’s trough, they were thankfully rejuvenated.
Find a suitable location for your tadpoles. Their original home was on top of the toilet cistern, but for some reason this was not a popular choice. Toad in the Hole, anyone?
Don’t overfeed the tadpoles either. After a few weeks, my fab five were growing grand – but they soon developed horrible distended red bellies which didn’t seem good. I hadn’t the stomach for it. I’d been giving mine cheap goldfish food, but apparently, this leaves them ill-equipped to survive in the wild.
Be aware of your security setup. One night my wife had to phone the pet police: a criminal cat had been caught fishing with his hairy hands, and droplets of water hung on his whiskers. “I should cut those bad paws off you,” I told him. The tadpoles survived the scare.
A friend of mine has gone one step further and set up his own tadpole farm. It’s a huge plastic storage box with 40 froglets! The other day his wife told us he was in the kitchen clattering pots and pans. He makes boiled lettuce and spinach, which he then deposits into their waiting mouths… the mouths of the frogs, that is. He’s since gone on to buy live water fleas from England as a side project. Dedication, dedication, dedication.
The definitive word on the tadpole experience must always go to Seamus Heaney, of course. His dark and teasing exposition on rural life in ‘Death of a Naturalist’, and its wonderful image of a sinister frog army, perfectly captures both the beautiful and haunting side of nature.
After two days of frogotten neglect, my own experiment came rushing back to me in a frenzied panic: “Where the hell is the fish food?!”
Peering inside the bin, I groaned.
Three of them had croaked it. Amidst the green sludge, they floated idly; horrible streaks of white now marked their little bodies. They had been my invincible warriors, but their corpses now lie under the laurel hedge, the cat staring from the window, tail swishing. I felt genuine shame that I had let them down.
Naturally, the fish food was found soon after – in the drawer of the bathroom vanity unit.
Two remained. One had grown little long legs, and its knees were clearly defined – I swear in hindsight that I could count some toes. The tail was now a stump-like afterthought, whilst its facial features were positively reptilian. I know frogs are amphibians, but this one looked like a wee Godzilla as it darted round its bleak bucket.
It was time for them to go, too much responsibility. The cat is bother enough with his asthma – the tadpoles were the tipping point (the tipping point incidentally being the duck pond in Tollymore Forest). It was Celine Dion who told us that goodbye is the saddest word, and this liberation of my mates was definitely tinged with melancholy.
I hopped all the way down and around to the lake, and let them loose into the big wide void. Both seemed to pause and take in their new surroundings. Suddenly, with a twist of the tail, they were gone.