Gib Finney’s sequel to THE POWER OF UN
Donald’s Heart Wins
19 May 2008, Finney @ 7:32 pm

Back again. Lately I have had some trouble sleeping. I keep thinking about Antarctica, and it’s like a combination of Christmas Eve and going to a new school. We might see whales and penguins and albatrosses. But it might be dark and scary, too. I have been reading this book, Shackleton’s Valiant Voyage, about Ernest Shackleton’s trip to Antarctica a hundred years ago or so. He went to the same place we’re going to — the Weddell Sea. Dude. Even though he loved Antarctica, the ice crushed his ship, and he had a horrendous time before he finally got home again. I mean, not that I think we’re going to get crushed by ice. I’m just saying. Plus, there’s Mom, who is still having a cow about the whole thing. Dude.

But that’s kind of off the track. What I really want to do this time is finish the Donald Frog story, which is taking way too long to tell. I have to finish it up, so I can tell you more about the things that are happening now, instead of stuff that happened months ago. So here’s the short version.

In our last episode, Ash and Rainy and I decided to put Donald back out in the freezing woods, because he wouldn’t eat the crickets we bought for him and we didn’t want him to starve. But when we got to the woods, we found a note from my future self, Old Gib, who has figured out how to travel through time and keeps getting in touch with me in various weird ways. To really understand all this, you will probably have to read The Power of Un. But for now, let’s just say I found out about Old Gib this last year in a pretty traumatic way. His goal in life seems to be to keep me on the right track in a world which, believe me, is full of wrong tracks.

The note said, “Donald is your ticket to the science fair. Don’t lose him. VTY, Gibson Finney.” At this point, we were only thinking about entering the science fair. We didn’t have a project, and we hadn’t been able to figure one out that wasn’t totally stupid. At the time, Ash and I weren’t hot on science fairs, because we thought they were kind of dweeby. But Rainy said we should do it anyway because if I don’t do science, how can I grow up to be Old Gib who invents time travel? And the note from Old Gib pretty well clinched it.

We were on our way back from the woods carrying Donald wrapped up in a ball of brown leaves when Rainy stopped right in the middle of the street and said, “Omigosh. Omigosh.” She was staring right at Donald, who was in my hands.

“What?” said Ash. “What? What?” He was looking at Donald, too, because she was. You know how it goes. “What’s wrong? Is he dead?”

Rainy punched him on the arm. Don’t ever let anybody tell you girls can’t punch hard.

“Ow!” said Ash. “What’d I do?”

“You guys, Old Gib is so totally right! Donald was frozen solid, but he’s still alive. How could that happen? I mean, all we have to do is figure it out, and we’ve got the science fair project of the century.”

Which, of course, was absolutely right.

So we spent the next two weeks basically living like totally deviant hermits instead of kids, rushing home or to the science lab right after school every day, wimping out of basketball practice, leaving Ash’s Wii untouched, not even stopping for Tang or hot chocolate. The first thing we did, of course, was go to the Web and find out everything we could about common wood frogs. We found this guy, Dr. Costanzo, who is an expert in Ranus Sylvatica wood frogs at a university in Ohio, and we emailed him and eventually even talked to him on the phone. He helped us decide how to do our experiment and answered other questions whenever we had them. Hey, Dr. Costanzo, how are you?

And we talked to our science teacher, Mr. Batcabe, otherwise known as The Batcave, what else? For a teacher, he is reasonably cool. Like, you could imagine seeing him at a baseball game, or eating in a restaurant, or someplace else that is not school. The Batcave was totally blown away by our idea for turning Donald into a science fair project.

And it’s a good thing, because he helped us with the hardest part, which was keeping Donald at a constant temperature of -4 degrees Celsius for 72 hours while we took turns watching him to see if his heart beat at all during that time. (BTW, scientists do temperatures in Celsius instead of Fahrenheit like average Americans. I don’t know why. Maybe I’ll find out on the icebreaker. But here’s a very cool thing that converts Celsius degrees into Fahrenheit degrees so you can see how cold we had to keep Donald.)

This involved filling a little Styrofoam cooler with ice and rock salt and setting Donald (in a nest of dry leaves we got from the woods) on the ice with a thermometer to make sure he didn’t get too cold. It turns out even a wood frog can die if it gets too cold. Out in the woods in winter, they stay covered with leaves under the snow, and it actually keeps them pretty warm — around -4 Celsius. Heh heh.

Every now and then, we had to add ice or add salt to keep the temperature right, and we did this for three days and three nights. Also, we had to be careful not to let salt water get on Donald, because salt water is poison to wood frogs. This was murderous. Stressful and boring both at once. As Ash said, he felt like he was sleepwalking, except when he felt like he was going to have a heart attack. Plus, speaking of hearts, once every hour we spent five minutes staring at Donald’s heart, which pushes up his skin a little bit when it beats. At the end of the five minutes, we wrote the results of our observations in a notebook. Which looks like this:

12/11/07 – 11:00-11:05 p.m. – no heartbeat
12/11/07 – 12:00-12:05 a.m. – no heartbeat
12/11/07 – 1:00-1:05 a.m. – no heartbeat
12/11/07 – 2:00-2:05 a.m. – no heartbeat
12/11/07 – 3:00-3:05 a.m. – no heartbeat
12/11/07 – 4:00-4:05 a.m. – no heartbeat
12/11/07 – 5:00-5:05 a.m. – no heartbeat
etc., about a million times

As you can see, we did this 24 hours a day, even at 3:00 in the morning. Not once did we see Donald’s heart beat. Our conclusion: wood frogs can survive for at least three days, freezing cold, without their hearts beating even once. We also did not see him breathe even once. How cool is that? I wish I could do it. I would spend the night lying in the snow looking up at the stars, and if it snowed on top of me, I wouldn’t care.

Dr. Costanzo says that as soon as the temperature gets down to freezing, wood frogs start making this sugary stuff called glucose. Also another thing called urea. Glucose and urea stay wet and liquidy at colder temperatures than water, and the frogs sort of fill themselves with it. So their cells are full of this stuff that protects them from the cold, and they don’t freeze to death. It’s like they are superheroes. Sort of.

To finish the story, we spent days and days getting all of this work together and setting Donald up in his Styrofoam cooler at the science fair. And (fanfare, please) WE WON!! Then we did it again in the regional competition.

After the regionals, a newspaper wrote an article about us. The reporter asked me what I hoped to do in the future. I said I hoped to be a basketball star or a fighter pilot, even though I know that’s not what my future looks like. What was I supposed to say? I hope to become an old guy who looks like a homeless person but invents time travel? Then, just at the end before the reporter hung up the phone and ended the conference call interview, Rainy said what she’d really like is to go to Antarctica someday, because we had found out there were fish down there that could survive in the cold, cold water, a lot like Donald, and she wanted to see them. We all agreed that would be cool beyond cool. (Well, okay, we didn’t really say cool beyond cool. Under the circumstances — it being about Antarctica — that would have been dweeby beyond dweeby.)

The icebreaker team researchers saw the newspaper article, they phoned Rainy’s parents, and there you have it. Did we say yes? No duh. Thank you, Donald. 🙂

P.S. We returned Donald to the woods, smothering him in leaves right near the stump of the yellow Ticonderoga pencil, where, so far, he is living happily ever after.