Said & Done: The travails of frog farming

  • A New Hampshire man attempted to start a bullfrog farm, but his endeavor was quickly ended by a lurking water snake. Courtesy photo/Creative Commons


Monday, May 14, 2018

The old gent had a track record as long as your arm. It seemed as though he’d been everywhere, seen everything, and done all that was worth doing.

From mice to moose, he had trapped and shot every legal four-legged creature on this continent. His Winchester Model 70 African had raised its voice more than a few times on the Dark Continent.

It was no surprise, then, when he set his mind to frog farming, and we saw him set back on his heels by a half dozen paunchy amphibians.

He waited weeks for his unusual delivery to arrive, until finally, the time came to go to the rail center in Fitzwilliam, N.H., where his precious cargo was sitting, needing only a signature upon receipt to make it his.

He’d dug a big hole for them, which was no picayune undertaking in that corner of New Hampshire. For every shovelful of earth, there were two of rock. But he got it done, and erected a chicken wire fence around it to keep out the curious, and the hungry. Gradually, the hole filled with water and their home was ready.

You’d have died watching him get the cover off. For all of his world wisdom, he was as anxious as a child, his hands bumbling and bungling the job. Two thumb screws stood in the way. He finally managed to turn them in the right direction and free the lid.

When we turned the box over, out flopped six of the most monstrous bullfrogs we’d ever seen, or hoped to see, great soft-bodied long-legged creatures no more like your New England lily-pad croaker than a Boeing 707 is like a Piper Cub.

They’d come all the way from Louisiana. Lord, with those great legs, they’d have hopped the distance quicker than the train delivered them.

Mark Twain’s Calaveras County frog might have been a distant cousin, but these were bigger.

After he sat a while and contemplated these “juggernauts from the South,” we decided to get them into their new home. They made a mild effort to elude us, but with their great soft bellies anchoring them in small turning circles, they were no match for us, and we soon had all six fenced inside.

After that, it was a waiting game. The colonel was used to waiting. He’d lived for years in a tarpaper shack, a home so uniquely decorated by attractive and legitimate memorabilia we boys failed to see that it was, after all, only a shack that housed him and his stuff.

The truth is that the colonel suffered a chronic case of cabin fever, and his frogs and dreams of a lucrative frog-farming venture were substantive evidence that he’d lived alone through too many cold winters and too many unproductive summers.

So we waited. Often when we visited him, we’d find him sitting contemplatively outside the fence at the edge of his hole in the ground, looking in at six sets of bullfrog eyes lined up in the mud, contemplating him.

You just knew that something was going to happen. Farming is no bed of roses. Bullfrogs are not what you’d call quick movers on the New England market.

Then there were five. It took the old man a day to be sure of it, but that’s the way it turned out. He chucked stones into the hole to get the frogs swimming, and stirred up the place with a stick. When the roiled waters settled and the troops lined up on the bank, only 10 eyes looked back at him. Not a single pair reflected his deep concern.

We saw it. He thought one of the town boys had filched his seed frog. It was a costly loss. Each of us came under suspicion. You couldn’t blame him.

Then there were four. It was no longer a matter of concern. Alarm spread and an odd light shone from the old man’s eyes.

Then there were three. He checked the fence. He cut back the brush around it. He doubled the pegs that kept it snug against the ground. He kept a daytime watch with the same diligence he had brought to bear when he donned a World War I hat and searched the skies over Richmond for Nazi bombers during the 1940s. By God, he’d get that crook!

And then there were two. He walked to our house to tell us. His arms hung limp at his sides. There was no animation in him. Hopelessness was consuming him.

Then, early one day, the puzzle was resolved. The colonel went out from his shack to make his customary morning check and found a water snake stuck in the middle of the mesh. The thief had been caught.

Rat wire around the fence at its base kept out further marauding snakes. Somehow, the hawks left the sole survivor alone. He and the frog made it to next winter. The frog took to his mud and the colonel to his woodstove. And thus, they hibernated.

We loved our colonel. We were glad to see the old man again when spring’s sun encouraged him to do more of his living outdoors. But we failed to respond to his loss with sorrow that his single surviving frog hadn’t come out of the mud.

Paul Seamans is a permanent resident of the Charlene Manor nursing home. A window on his room’s west side gives a full view of Shelburne Mountain, a continuing inspiration for “Said & Done.” Some of his columns will have been previously published.