This week's froggy friend is a long way from home... or are they?
The Problem with Writing about Florida by Kristen Arnett
Transcription of today's episode can be found here!
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What is Frog of the Week?
Every week we'll choose and highlight one frog to be the frog of the week! Doesn't that sound fun?
Episode Fifty Two: Greenhouse Frog | Week of May 9th
[LILLY BY BOQEH PLAYS THROUGHOUT]
Here we are. It's May 9th, 2022, I’m Kim, and the frog of the week is the Greenhouse Frog.
This frog is native to Cuba, the Bahamas, and the Cayman Islands, but it has been introduced to other areas, including Florida, Hawaii, Guam, and Hong Kong. It is believed that the Greenhouse Frog made its way to these new regions as a stowaway on tropical plant shipments.
This is a very small species, usually no larger than 1.2 inches in length. Its skin is olive brown or reddish brown in color, and it may have stripes or splotches on its back.
The call of the Greenhouse Frog is a high-pitched trill. I think it sounds like the squeak of sneakers on a gymnasium floor.
[GREENHOUSE FROG CALL PLAYS]
The eggs are not laid in water, but in sealed, damp locations on the ground. The young frogs skip the tadpole phase and instead hatch fully formed.
I like this frog because I think it reminds me of home.
[LILLY FADES OUT. 13 AM BY BOQEH PLAYS THROUGHOUT]
When I was a kid, my family moved from the northeast US to a small suburb in south Florida. Before it was residential, the land had been agricultural. Before that, it was wetland. Even today, the only thing separating the city from the Everglades are six lanes of highway. In practice, the borders are a bit blurrier.
There’s an author from Florida named Kristen Arnett, and I think she says it best: “Florida is no place for those who want to view it from a safe distance. This state is invasive. Creeping. Needy.”
Try as we might to keep it at arm’s length, the Everglades politely but bluntly rebuffed us. When it rained, for example, our entire yard would flood. These big flocks of white birds would gather on the lawn to feast on drowning worms.
Some mornings we’d find muddy footprints on the deck and I’d consult this little field guide to identify them- they were almost always possums or raccoons. Occasionally, we’d even hear about panther or gator sightings in the neighborhood, along with grave warnings about keeping a close eye on kids or pets.
A lot of the species we saw so often, I didn’t even realize they weren’t native to the area. That was the case with the Greenhouse Frog. I saw them all the time and I just assumed they belonged there. Mostly they spent their time in the rocks that decorated our landscaping, sometimes I’d find them in the screen room or the pool, and I’d try to relocate them to a safer place.
It wasn’t until I started researching this episode that I learned they were imports. It almost made me sad to learn that they weren’t native, but then I remembered: neither was I. I was just as much of an invader, probably more so. The Greenhouse Frog settled in and became part of the ecosystem, and for a while, so did I.
But the place that felt magical and full of life when I was a kid started to feel stagnant and oppressive as I got older. Maybe I was tired of humidity, the way it made the air feel heavy. Or having to fight through the stale standing water after it rained. Or maybe it's just what happens when you start to grow up, and you realize how much more world there is beyond the place you see every day.
As of this year, I’ll have spent as much of my life living outside of Florida as I spent living in it. I used to toy with the idea of going back, but in the last few years those thoughts have pretty much evaporated. In fact, I just bought my first home, on the complete opposite side of the country.
Arnett says, “former Floridians write about Florida like they can’t let go. Though of course, they already have. How were they able to disengage? What parts did they have to leave behind in order to get away?”
For my part, I don’t know. For years after I left, I still referred to Florida as home, but without even realizing it, I spent the last few years digging my roots into new earth, thousands of miles away. But no matter how much distance I put between myself and my former home, the fact remains that I spent the great balance of my early years drinking from the river of grass.
I hope whoever I was back then, I have pruned her to make way for new growth. I hope I trimmed away the rot. I hope what I kept is green and healthy and worth nurturing. And I hope a part of me will always be the little girl clutching the field guide, identifying animal tracks, watching at the window as tall, lanky egrets and squat ibis sink their bills into the wet dirt, finding little brown frogs where they don’t belong- in the screen room, in the pool, in the backyard of a suburb that used to be a farm that used to be the Everglades, more than 200 miles from where they first sprung to life.
And that’s the frog of the week.
[WIND FADES OUT]