Saturday, 16 April 2011

Watching tadpoles

I've been living in the wood the past few days. Can't say exactly where for obvious reasons. Emerged slightly smelly, coat now lined with that fine dust you get off drying fir branches and cones; I'd employed them in my camp to beef up my bedding arrangement.

Close to my camp is a pond surrounded by larch. Oddly although the camp is high up, it is sheltered by this belt of trees and warm. And also I am unlikely to run into any of the other foresters. I know these guys and they might think it a bit surprising to see me there.

This pond has been a kind of consolation to me.

Firstly, it is full of life so I always have company.

Secondly, it is in an incline, a fairy dell very lush and easy for the deer to get into early morning. The bracken is beaten down and it has barely been boggy. This would be normal but the pond is on the top of a hill. One of those places that you cannot believe exist and then you hold your breath. How is the water held there? On another hill over the other side of the Tweed there are several of these pools high up on a walk to three cairns. The water stays right through the summer and is deep in places. Almost every pool holds newts, their orange speckles and crests like a small dragon under water, seemingly impervious to your presence but a hand inserted into water immediately disperses them.

Thirdly, the tadpoles. The pond by my camp holds frogspawn amongst its thick weed. And I have been watching it each day in the early afternoon at the end of my lunch break to see how they are progressing. The spawn is on one shallow end of the pool and it has been my pleasure to oversee it. But the recent warm weather has been upsetting. Temperatures so warm for April and absurd in my sheltered part of the hill. The shelf of spawn has heated up and in a day or two the tadpole’s food supply of albumen had broken into a rank bubbled jelly. The tadpoles themselves had developed with a Frankenstein-like speed. This is when the urge to play god irresistibly inserted itself. Here I was living gently in the landscape but I couldn't tame the urge to scoop a handful of the liquid mucus and relocate the tadpoles.

This is how my problems started. The tadpoles in their slippery web sank to the bottom of their new deeper home at the other end of the pond. With luck the spawn ball fell onto a clear rock and I was able to grab it. But the over-heated albumen had lost all its elasticity and strained through my fingers into soup. The tadpoles sank like pebbles onto the whitish cast.

Now gods don't feel guilty. But I did. The tadpoles didn't move. They looked like leaf debris on the stone. I watched them over three days and they lay in the deep cold water. I assumed breaking down and dead.

But somehow tadpoles have a past more complex than me. Today I stared into the pool and amongst what I had almost forgotten to be life, there was movement. Tails wriggling, bodies stretching. From a cold grave, dormant life returns.

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