Two years ago the vernal pool on my in-laws’ property was so full I joked that it seemed to be turning into a pond. Since a vernal pool dries up in the summer, and ours stayed wet and full of water through to the fall, a change of designation seemed in order.
Last year, though, we had a hot, early spring. As usual, green frogs, pickerel frogs, peepers, and wood frogs came to local ponds and pools to mate. The vernal pool is a special favorite of the wood frogs; we saw hundreds, maybe thousands, of eggs. They hatched, and I came almost every day to watch the tadpoles develop.
Then the heat came, and with it, a lack of rain. I came to the vernal pool one day after a single day away to find it a stinking pit of mud. All the tadpoles were dead. The only living animals I could see on the mud were mosquitoes. After a micro-drought, the rain came back—buckets of it—and the vernal pool filled in again with clear, weedless water, so unlike the life-giving murky water it had held before the drought.
Ironically, global warming probably has a lot to do with both extremes—the wet, rainy summer two years ago and the hot, dry spring last year. So when I saw this spring starting to go the same way as last year’s, I decided I was going to do all I could to save this one thing from the destruction wrought by our foolishness. I was going to carry buckets of water to the pool.
This may sound feasible, but I have a mysterious condition that causes muscle spasms in my neck and shoulders when I do certain activities; carrying heavy things is on the top of that list. When they seize up it’s very painful and can cause temporary paralysis of the muscles. I was willing to put up with it to save the tadpoles, but then Tim offered to do it.
Almost every day for about three weeks, Tim carried water in two 5-gallon buckets. He filled them at a nearby stream and carried the 4/5-full buckets back and forth from stream to pool, often making ten trips (80 gallons!) an evening. A couple of mornings his brother Ben helped. Basically, they were able to keep the water level steady; a lot evaporated, was drunk by thirsty animals, or absorbed by plants, but mostly it evened out each day.
One day I came to the pool to find it a small, muddy puddle. When Tim got home from work we went up together to survey the damage and carry more water. (My job in all of this was to stand by the pool and draw black flies and mosquitoes. I’m very good at it.) We knew it was probably going to rain in another couple of days, so Tim intensified his water-carrying schedule. Even so, the pool at one point was so low it broke into three or four separate, muddy puddles, roiling with tadpole life.
But Tim’s work was enough. The rain came in the torrents we’ve come to expect after a mini-drought, the kind of rainstorm that washes out dirt driveways and roadsides, turns the rivers muddy, and roars on the standing-seam roofs that everyone around here has.
The first couple days of rain raised the water level of the pond over eight inches.
Maybe it seems foolish to carry hundreds of gallons of water in order to save just a few tadpoles, many of which won’t make it through to mate and reproduce next year anyway. Maybe it is a little foolish. But I can’t tell you how good it feels to watch something pulled back from the brink of destruction. It was a lot of effort on Tim’s part (I never could have carried that much water, or kept up his pace), and a lot of trouble, but it was a matter of life or death for those tadpoles. It was also the best birthday present anyone’s ever given me. After seeing pictures of flooding and tornadoes in the Midwest, and the destruction of our porch-nesting phoebes’ nest and first clutch of eggs closer to home (probably by a squirrel), I needed life to triumph.
Rumi says, “There are a thousand ways to kneel and kiss the ground.” Saving something, even something very small, not to mention loving a person and the world enough to go to the trouble of doing so: this is one way. This is how you love the world. This is how you love a woman who loves the world.