Along the back wall of the largest Asian market in Falls Church, Virginia, was a meat section where they sold live bullfrogs. When I needed to stock my fishpond, I bought them by the pound. Although it was nearly 15 years ago, I remember how stinky the meat department was. There were lots of body parts, live and not. The tiny container where the enormous bullfrogs were kept did not allow them space to move or swim. It was sad knowing only two would be saved.
Some didn't look very healthy or even alive, but the two I chose seemed in good shape.
The butcher made that universal slitting the throat signal at me as he held my new pets up by their long legs, froggy water dripping on the floor. The frogs were strangely still, as if they anticipated the end was near.
“No,” I screamed. “I want them alive.”
The butcher smiled an axe murderer kind of smile, mistakenly assuming I would be slitting their throats myself at home and somehow enjoying it.
He placed the two frogs in a paper bag, folded the top, and gave me another weird look as he handed it to me; there was no use explaining my intentions because he didn't speak English. As the warmth of my hands began to reach the frogs, the bag began to jiggle. By the time we got to the checkout, they were bouncing about, trying to come out of the folded-down top.
On the conveyer belt, the bag moved up and down; a frog appendage appeared.
The checkout clerk made a gasping noise and put her hands to her face. She didn’t know what to charge us and had to find out the price per pound. I tried to explain that we were not going to eat them but instead to liberate them. She didn't care and wanted them off her space, all two pounds of them.
Because frogs are wet and they pee everywhere, I put the paper bag inside a plastic one. It still gyrated all the way home. Soon they would be free, ready to face the wilds of the backyard and the challenges of life in my urban pond where raccoons, errant blue herons, and an occasional snake would be their worst enemies.
My son was concerned about contamination of the existing pond inhabitants. We isolated the new residents in an aquarium for a few days where an antibacterial solution in the water would disinfect them by the time they were released.
Finally, the day came to release them. My son picked the first one up and put him on a rock that jutted out into the pond. The poor frog had probably never sat on a rock in frog position and had no clue how to jump; we gave him a shove and he swam multiple strokes for the first time since he was a very tiny frog back at the frog farm. It must have been exhilarating.
We noticed the second one had a damaged eye, probably poked during his time in the meat department. He became known as “One Eye, the Pirate Frog.” We went through the same routine with him, ending by pushing him into the pond.
It must have all been so overwhelming for them at first, having never been outdoors and free to do what they wanted. Both Lucky and One Eye regained their Olympic swimming strength. Soon they were making noise each evening, beginning at dusk, and not long after that there were tadpoles and baby frogs. One of them must have been a girl.
Liberation for $3.99 a pound was a bargain.
The frogs were happy and prolific for many years. Neighbors a block away used to tell me they could hear Lucky and One Eye and their friends on summer evenings. I certainly could. It was a special place and the frog pond sold with the house six years ago when I moved to Florida. Now I have a completely different backyard habitat minus the pond -- for fear of attracting alligators and water moccasins.