All grist to the mill

July photos 2013 007
Once upon a time there was a plum tree here. It became a greenfly factory. It had to go. My youngest son protested, until I let him have a go with the axe (carefully monitored, of course, as any responsible parent would.) We were left with a stump, a root and a lot more work. (He fell for that too.) This left a hole with nothing to put in it. It became a pond with fish and lilies. It cooled a bottle of wine on a hot summer’s day. It induced calm. The work paid off.

All very fine until the same young man arrived home on his bike in high glee. He had a sleeve full of frogs from the Kybe pond. This is of course, highly illegal, a crime against amphibians. I should have turned him in to the authorities. However, his jumper went into the wash and the frogs took up residence in the pond. They seemed happy enough. They were smiling. They swam the breast-stroke. They were hooligans also. Small fish disappeared. They behaved in a wanton fashion in springtime, filling the pond with spawn. It is illegal, I understand, to move frogspawn. It is illegal to put it in jam jars and and let children wonder, wide-eyed, at the evolutionary process in fast-forward. I confess to a life of crime. I trafficked frogs, tadpoles and spawn back to the original Kybe gene pool for over twenty years. I involved young people, my grandchildren, in this nefarious trade. We got it down to one last frog in a plastic container, ready for his break for freedom in a world of bulrushes, ducks, swans and pinkeens.

Six-year old Alice ran ahead, as she always does. I followed with Mike, aged three, and a frog of indeterminate age. I hollered. She ran out onto the level, green surface of the pond and promptly disappeared into two feet of black water and mud. Mike hollered. The frog got short shrift. There were no farewell speeches or good wishes. He didn’t hang around. He did a spectacular dive. I grabbed Alice and pulled her out, covered in mud and weeds. Her favourite Ugg boots spouted like oil gushers as we ran. She hollered.

Her mother became almost helpless with laughter when we arrived home. She managed to get Alice to the shower. There was more hollering. Sheepishly I washed the Ugg boots. Excuses, the Germans say, are merely explanations of failure. Alice is now a proficient swimmer and water-safety graduate but she occasionally mutters darkly about how I let her become ‘the girl what fell in the duck pond.’ She was quite amused when I incorporated her mishap into the story of another Alice, the Kilkenny ‘witch’, Alice Kyteler.

There are no more frogs in my pond. My criminal career, for the moment, is on hold. The boots dried out okay.

“Alice knew his orchard and garden well. She had loved to go there as a child and look over the low wall at the dark waters of the Nore. She watched the frogs coupling, almost inert, in the green, slimy waters of the New Quay, a narrow slot of slack water, cut between two gardens. She fished their spawn into a pail and waited for weeks to see the tiny black spots sprouting tails and then, wonder of wonders, arms and legs, even toes and fingers. But why?

Once, on a golden autumn day, she had stepped out onto the level surface, a pavement of tiny weeds. She remembered the terror of the green pavement yielding beneath her feet and the rank smell of stagnant water. Her fingers clutched the soft mud of the bottom. Even in the depths of the green darkness, she heard a shout. She could still feel William Outlawe’s strong hand on her collar, pulling her up into the air. She bawled with the shock. Her summer gown was smeared with black mud. Swags of weed hung from her hair and shoulders. She spluttered the vile-smelling water from her lips and bawled again. Her father was speechless, trying to hide his laughter but William comforted her, wiping the mud and tears from her face. He gave her to his young wife to be cleaned up and wrapped in warm towels. He plucked a peach and gave it to her to take the taste away. She blinked at the sun, at the blue sky and the high, white clouds. It was good to be alive and not lying with the frogs in the cold and fetid darkness.

Her father carried her home, holding her safe and warm in a heavy woollen shawl. He felt guilty for laughing and anxious to make light of the incident.
‘At least, my love, we know that you are no witch,’ he said, patting her gently.
‘Why?’ she asked, inevitably.
‘Because, if you were a witch, you would not have gone under.’
She pondered this for a while.
‘Why?’
‘It’s all silly nonsense. There are no witches in the real world. Only in tales to frighten children.’ ”

The Devil to Pay. The Story of Alice and Petronilla. Hugh Fitzgerald Ryan.
Lilliput Press, Dublin. eBook Amazon/Kindle etc

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