Mr. Toad at Swope Park

When big events happen, we not only remember where we were at that moment, but can recall innumerable small details about that day that create context for the larger memory. November 22, 1963 was a Friday, and there was a bazaar at my elementary school that afternoon where, among other things, they were selling Barbie clothes my mom had donated. I would probably never remember that bazaar otherwise, quite possibly not even remember that my mom learned a lot about sewing by constructing Barbie clothes, but I certainly do now. I have no memory of the televison coverage or the funeral, but I do remember the bazaar and walking home afterwards. Such it is for September 11, 2001.

Llywelyn and family left the previous Saturday night for South Carolina. I had kept the pool open on the chance it might be warm enough to swim; it seemed a bit rude to close it up precisely before their arrival. But other than dipping our toes in once, the pool remained unused while they were here.

Though I can do almost all the work of closing alone, I do need help for one task, so I could not do it on Sunday. Cindy returned late Sunday night from the wedding in the Catskills. On Monday, while eating dinner, I noticed the tell-tale concentric waves of something larger than a bug swimming. It was another toad, our second this year (and much larger than the first). I fished him out (toaded him out?) and placed him in a plastic tub awaiting an opportunity for release. We usually bring our wildlife to Burr Oaks (we have released snakes, toads, turtles and frogs there over the years) but there was no opportunity for such a trip soon. I had to drop him off Tuesday morning; he needed to find a new home now. The blood bank had called me Friday asking me to donate again, and on Monday I had resolved to stop in on my way to work Tuesday, but plans had to change as I could not perform both toad release and blood donation and get to work at a reasonable time.

Tuesday morning, September 11, I left early (8:10 our time) and headed to Swope Park, where there is a lake that is somewhat on my way to work. It is quite beautiful on autumn mornings; a swirling fog on the water is often illuminated by the low sun coming through the trees, creating strong shadows in a picture perfect way. I do not usually choose to see this though, as Eanna and I often admired it when I drove her to school, and it always reminds me of those innocent days. Yet it was the best spot between here and work, so there I headed. And it was especially glorious that morning. The serenity of fog is remarkable; somehow the world looks completely at peace under a misty blanket. I pulled into my parking spot and admired. A fisherman was vaguely visible through the haze, and I wished I had brought my camera.

This is not a familiar place for me. Though I have driven by many times, I have never been out and had no idea of potential release spots. So I went up the first path available, looking for a haven to release my toad, and the ugliness of the world slammed into me, dispersing my fog-induced reverie. There were cheap liquor bottles, malt liquor cans, cigarette butts and packs, condom packages, and trash all over. How disappointing that people would squander such loveliness. Obviously they didn't see it; this was merely a place to drink privately, as it was not a picnic area, just a narrow, winding path. I walked much farther than I had intended, hoping to get beyond the reach of ugliness, knowing that the same people who tossed liquor bottles in such a setting would not treat a toad kindly if they found him.. Eventually, though the trash diminished, it was not gone, and I released the toad, who seemed a bit baffled, as he just sat when I placed him on the ground. I gathered a few of the bottles and cans into a bag I found to store in my trunk until they could get to the recycling center. But I felt sad at how little I could accomplish; there was so much garbage, so much disregard and selfishness, so much cheap, sordid decay, and my slight efforts would have little effect.

I got back to the car and drove away, saddened at the possible fate of the toad being released where people who toss their trash might also harm a little chap like that. I generally listen to books while I drive, and got back into "For Whom The Bell Tolls", Hemingway's painful tale of little people sacrificing their lives in a futile effort to combat evil. The tape ended about 6 minutes from work, and the radio popped on. Before I could get a new tape in, Bob Edwards on NPR was stumbling through something about a plane hitting the World Trade Center, but he clearly had no idea what was occurring.. They went to a commentary, but before it completed they cut into it to describe the evacuation, and I arrived at work wondering what on earth was going on, but assuming plane meant small plane and evacuation was their silly over-reaction. Everyone was watching a small television, purloined from who knows where, and I gazed in open-mouthed horror as I saw and heard for the first time what had occurred.

All I could think of was at almost the very moment I was releasing that toad, hoping to return him to a happy, wild life away from lawnmowers, cats and swimming pools, thousands of people were dying in an attack. Gestures are all we have, but boy did it seem little that morning.