Things are really starting to heat up now! Ash and Rainy and I are traveling all the way to the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) in California tomorrow for a big meeting of all the Antarctic expedition members. We will get the answers to some of our questions, of which we have about a bzillion. Rainy is anxious to meet the biologists, especially since some of them are girls. Wait. Women. Ash is anxious to meet these two guys who are planning to take pictures of icebergs from the air using remote controlled model airplanes. I am totally not joking.
I want to meet everybody. They all sound way cool. But I especially want to meet the guys who are working on the underwater robots. That’s right. We are going to have robots on the ship, and they are going to go underwater. Maybe we will even get to see them on Tuesday or Wednesday. Plus, we are going to stay at this really great hotel right on the beach. Yessss!
However, getting back to the story of how we got here…
So. The apparently dead frog thawed out during the night and started croaking like the Duck from Planet X and about gave me a heart attack. When morning came, I looked over at the windowsill and saw the frog hopping and stretching in the bug jar. Every now and then, it put its front feet against the glass and said, “Grack,” as if it were totally confused, which I suppose it was. I mean, it went to sleep in the forest on a snowy day, and it woke up on some kid’s windowsill in a bird’s nest.
It was still really early, and nobody else was up. So I got dressed and went out to the garage in search of Roxy’s old aquarium, which had once held a really dumb goldfish that accidentally killed itself by jumping out of the water and landing on the floor, where Doofus ate it. I took the aquarium outside and shoveled in some dirt and leaves from the garden, enough to cover the bottom a couple of inches deep. This I had to do in a big hurry because it had snowed a little in the night, and I was thinking so much about the frog that I forgot to put my shoes and socks on.
Hopping around on one foot and then the other, I brought the aquarium in and set it on the kitchen table. I needed a bowl deep enough to hold some water, but not so deep that the frog could drown in it. One of the weirdest things I know about frogs is that when they are baby tadpoles, they have gills and can breathe underwater. But when they are grown-ups, they stop having gills and start needing to breathe regular air.
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this guy I know
Now, let me say right here that Mom hates it when I use her kitchen stuff for experiments. Luckily, she is trying to save the planet single-handedly, so she never throws anything away. This includes plastic things which, in the store, hold stuff like salsa, or cheese dip, or olives; but which, in our house, hold stuff like one leftover lamb chop or two spoonfuls of putrid sauerkraut. Which is sort of OT, but does mean there was a stack of not-too-deep plastic containers in the cupboard, one of which I grabbed and filled with warm water for the frog’s new clubhouse. Then I went to my bedroom to get the frog.
By the time I got back, Roxy was peering over the edge of the kitchen table with a puzzled frown.
“Gib. Gib! Why did you put dirt in my quarimum, huh? Why is there a little thing of water in there, huh? What’re you gonna put in there, huh?”
“Look what I’ve got,” I said. I held the jar up for her to see.
“A froggy!” she said, clapping her hands and jumping up and down. A second later, though, her smile disappeared and a shadow crossed her face. “Wait a minute, is that the dead one?”
“Yep,” I said as I opened the lid and dropped the frog into the aquarium.
“Gi-i-i-b, don’t trick me! That’s mean!”
“I’m not tricking you. We thought he was dead, but I guess he wasn’t. He thawed out in the night, and now he’s good as new.”
“Really?” said Roxy, scooting up for a closer look.
“Grack, grack,” said the frog.
Doofus rushed in, skidding across the floor. “Rrrf, rrrf!” he barked.
“Oh!” cried Roxy, jumping up and down again. “I know what to name him! His name is Donald. Donald Duck Frog! Hi, Donald.”
While Roxy was busy naming the frog, I went into Dad’s den and dragged one of his books off the shelf, Palmer & Fowler’s Fieldbook of Natural History. It is huge and old, and Dad says it is sort of outdated now because of the Web. But I still like it because it’s full of pictures of every kind of plant and animal, and it’s still the easiest way to figure out the name of whatever you’re looking at.
I looked up “frog” in the index, and went to the start of the “Phylum Chordata, Class Amphibia” section. There were entries for about a bzillion kinds of toads and frogs from all over the world. There were spadefoots and peepers, bullfrogs and green frogs. The list went on and on. But Donald’s big eye patches and the stripe on his back helped narrow it down. Pretty soon, I had him nailed. Rana sylvatica, the common wood frog. According to the Fieldbook, only the male croaks, so Donald was a reasonable name, sort of. Also, “adults eat small animals of the forest floor.”
Not that I intended to keep him very long. Because when I went and looked up “wood frog” on the Web, I found out that what they mean by “small animals” is stuff like bugs and snails, which are hard to catch even in the summer, and dead ones won’t do. Sure, I had raised frogs before, but mostly while they were still tadpoles and would eat any old thing as long as it was green — pond algae, old lettuce, whatever. I’ve never kept one very long after it turns into an actual frog, because cripes, what do you feed them? We had to set Donald free. But if we did, for sure he would freeze again. So it looked like maybe we were going to kill him whether we wanted to or not. I can not describe how slimy this made me feel.
There was only one thing to do, and that was: call a meeting of the Three Musketeers.
But now, back to the mysterious creature quacking in the night.
As you might remember, on the night Doofus brought us the frog, I took it out of the freezer and laid it in the bird’s nest on my windowsill. The moon was high in the sky when a sound like a quacking duck awakened me. In the frosty light that streamed through the window, I saw something moving in the nest.
The longer I lay there listening, the more I wondered how a duck could have gotten into my room and the harder my heart thumped. I strained to hear the sound better. It wasn’t a normal quack. It was more of a grack, like the duck had mushrooms growing in its throat or something. I had a sudden, powerful desire to pull the covers over my head and yell for Dad. Though I did manage to pull the covers up, I couldn’t get any sound to come out of my mouth. I was breathing fast, gasping for air, and there didn’t seem to be enough of it under that blanket. It was either face the thing in the nest or suffocate. I closed my eyes and sat up.
The dreadful, dry rasping still filled my room. And there was still something moving in the nest. The windowsill was a little too high and a little too far away for me to have a good view of what was happening. So, very slowly, I stood up. It was still too dark to see perfectly, but I could tell that whatever was in the nest was small. So if it was a duck it had to be a baby. Then I began to really wake up, and as I did, I felt dumber and dumber. I hadn’t put a duck in the nest. I had put a frog in there. And the sound wasn’t a weird quack; it was a weird croak. I let go of the blanket and walked up for a better look.
There was a frog in the nest. Not the dead shriveled one I had placed there a few hours before. This was a real live frog, small but plump, stretching its legs and croaking its funny, ducky croak for all the world to hear. I reached down and picked it up. Its skin was damp. It was cold but not icy. Its tiny feet tickled my hand. It moved slowly, looking from side-to-side, wobbly as if…well, as if it had recently been frozen solid. Even in that colorless light, it was beautiful. It had a thin white stripe down its back, and dark patches around its eyes that made them look huge and mysterious. It looked up at me, tilted its head, and said, “Grack.”
“Hi,” I said, gently stroking its back, smiling as it stretched in response. “You’re a miracle frog, you know that? You were frozen solid.”
“Grack grack,” said the frog.
I was beginning to think about how to keep it warm and safe through the rest of the night. If I say so myself, I am not exactly an amateur when it comes to taking care of frogs. I have raised a lot — well, maybe three — from tadpole size. I knew the main thing was to give it water, because their skin needs to be wet, and they dry out fast if they can’t keep it that way. I put the frog back in the nest and made a dive for a dark corner of the room where I knew there was a bug jar buried under gazillions of comic books and old toys. I should have turned the light on. It would have been faster. But I did find it eventually. It was glass, and had once contained about a quart of mayonnaise. It had a metal lid, which I had punched full of holes with a big nail.
After I had put a quarter-inch of warm water in the bottom, I dropped the frog in. It croaked happily. “Okay, see you in the morning. Now be quiet, okay? I’m tired.”
Of course it didn’t be quiet. I guess I wouldn’t be quiet either if I had just had a near-death experience and was just plain glad to be alive. It didn’t really bother me all that much, once I knew the gracking wasn’t coming from an alien duck with murder in its heart. In fact, I dreamed about summer, and the creek that runs through the ravine, and tadpoles swimming in the sun. I was as happy as the frog, because I knew that in the morning, I would have a huge mystery to solve, and in my opinion, nothing is better.