I had to spring-clean the little patio pond today. Normally I aim for a sunny day after the ice has melted but before the frogs come loudly back to life. But because of this apocalyptic weather, frog-song erupted on the patio two nights ago, about the same time the peepers started yelling in the big pond way down in the woods. Our pair of pond frogs have clearly been doing more than singing, since this morning there was a substantial mass of frog eggs floating on the water.
At last year's spring cleaning, there were a number of frog cadavers
to dispose of (my frog funerals consist of flipping the rubbery bodies
over the fence into the chicken yard, for the hens to feast on). I didn't want this year's tadpoles to hatch in water polluted by their relatives' remains. Before things went any farther, I figured I should partially drain the pond, get the worst of the muck and the winter's frog casualties out of the bottom, fertilize the water lilies, and refill the pond with clean, cold well water for the tadpoles to grow in.
When we built the pond, we made sure that one end of it was 3 1/2 feet deep. This is supposed to be below the frost line, and to ensure that hibernating critters don't get killed by the encroaching ice. After last year's tragic spring, I learned that even if there is water below the ice, unless gases have a way to escape, frogs and salamanders and fish will suffocate. The only way to prevent this is to keep an opening in the ice by electrical means, and since we don't (yet) have an outlet on the back wall of the house, despite the mild winter, the pond was solidly frozen for months.
I was expecting quite a frog holocaust today. There had been dozens of frogs in the pond last summer. In the fall, before the pond iced over, three or four of them had died, floated to the surface, and been skimmed off and fed to the hens. Today, however, when my spouse-installed siphon started to lower the water level, a lot of dead leaves surfaced, and quite a few dead caterpillars, but not a single dead frog.
The two live frogs, alarmed by the receding waters, clung to the lily pots, their eyes popping with alarm. I had previously scooped the mass of spawn into a bucket and put it out of harm's way in the shade. As I skimmed the year's detritus, I brought up one very lively tadpole and three salamanders (two of whom were in flagrante). When the water level got quite low I also saw, swimming in the murky depths...a fish!
I have documented in these pages my sad attempts to introduce fish into the pond. For two summers I have decanted, first, shubunkin (the Japanese gold fish that look like koi), and then, when these perished, plain gold "feeder" fish into the pond. Every single one--or so I thought--floated up or disappeared, victims of my pond's unsatisfactory ecology. And yet today here was a fish, not gold but mud-colored, and definitely alive. Had it dropped from the sky? Had it emerged by spontaneous generation from the bottom muck? Was it one of the originals that had somehow survived? Was it a mirage spawned by my fevered brain?
When the pond was about a third empty, I started pouring in clean water from the hose, and decanted the frog spawn into it. Both the mass of eggs and their parents disappeared into the depths. As the pond filled and I installed the solar-powered fountain and bubbler, then poured in the barley straw pellets and the rotten-egg-scented solution intended to keep the water from turning into a fetid jelly, there was no sign of life on the surface. I wondered if I by insisting on this belated cleaning I had murdered my pond pets.
But as soon as the sun went down somebody on the patio started playing the amphibian castanets with gusto again, and I feel reassured. If we don't get a blizzard in the next few days, the frogs, the salamanders, that ghostly fish and I will probably be o.k.