Recently Thalia, in her defense of the comic, asked of me this: “Have you SEEN tadpoles? Tadpoles are not solemn; they are SILLY!”
To this I say that tadpoles are not without their solemn side and their grave aspect. For me, tadpoles are tracks of death and shapes of doom.
Years past, when I was of a yet more diminutive stature than now, and of an age to wear Little Mermaid clothing (not merely a shirt sporting Ariel and her vibrant hair, but matching shorts), then did my parents take their children for to visit their kindred, the progenitor and progenitrix of the Vandermark line. Down some ten hours’ journey into the southern part of Illinois, and half an hour from the mighty Wabash River, did their ancestral home lie: two acres of green and golden country, with a few gravelly roads leading off into town, and a huge ancient oak looming o’er the property, and with rivers of that black gold lying beneath the surface.
Men of Marathon paid tribute that they might come and seek this precious oil, and drilled deep holes in search of it. From some sprang the bounty of the earth; from some sprang naught. Where oil welled up, there were placed pumps to draw it upwards; where there was nothing, the hollows were refilled. But it chanced that one such pit lay open to the skies, a cup slowly filled to the brim with rainwater.
And so the frogs came, and spawned according to their kind.
Not long thereafter, the daughter of my mother’s sister did say unto my mother’s daughter, “Rise! Let us go! Hearken unto the wonders of the world visible here. Behold the trees! Consider the swing, and the birds, and the occasional butterfly. Gaze upon the pond and the tadpoles therein.”
To which said I, “Look, we have a jar. Why shouldn’t we collect some?” Thus we did. And the jar was filled with water, and with a few tadpoles; but it was evident to our eyes that a far greater cloud of polliwogs swarmed in the middle of the water-hole. Then did I, in the folly of my youth, lean over in my greed and haste to catch them.
Follow not in my steps! For then did I fall in.
Though the hole was not vast – less than the height of a man from one edge to the other – mud covered the brink, rendering it impossible for one with arms such as mine to heave herself hence. Then was I small, and without skill of swimming, and moreover alarmed. Therefore did I flail about in my distress, barely keeping my chin from slipping beneath the surface. Long waxed the moments before my brother came to my aid, grabbing hold of me and tugging me from out the pit.
Gasping for air and breathing thanks for my life, I sprawled on the ground beside the hole, reflecting on how Death had brushed past me. Somewhat abashedly did my cousin, my brother, and I return to the house to change our sodden clothing.
Thereafter did my mother’s father ensure that all who came in search of the oil would not fail to fill their drilled hollows again.
But thus do tadpoles ever cast the shadow of Death in mine eyes, and remind me that I, too, am mortal, and shall to the dust return, perhaps by way of the mud.