She was gone yesterday.
She was gone the day before yesterday. And the day before that.
The day before that, she was here, every day for five weeks this summer. Not only that, I suspect that she has been here summer after summer for six years.
We start our day together. Before we meet up, I make my breakfast: yerba mate tea, two pieces of sesame toast (one with avocado and one with crunchy peanut butter), a banana, a bowl of fruit with shredded coconut and a glass of almond milk. I pile it all onto a large wooden tray along with my phone, the morning paper and a small plastic container of supplements and vitamins.
I need both hands to carry the tray so I have to use my shoulder and elbow to first push open the door from the kitchen to the sunroom. Then, I push open the screen door to the patio and balance the tray as I go down the three cement steps.
As I set my tray down on the patio table, I start to get excited. Is she on the table hiding behind the citronella candle? Or, is she looking down at me from four feet up on the umbrella pole?
Google says she’s a gray tree frog. Her body is two inches long, not counting her legs. Her skin is mottled and lumpy and looks warty, but isn’t. Her throat is white–that’s how I know she’s a she. Yes, she’s a gray tree frog, but she’s not always gray. It really depends what she’s sitting on. She has yellow patches on the underside of her legs, which I can see when she’s up on the umbrella pole.
Google says she can live seven to nine years. That’s why I really believe she’s been visiting me all these summers.
It’s a good gig, for both of us. My friend can climb up the umbrella pole in the center of the table and perch on the wide round collar that connects the ribs to the pole. Or, she can shimmy down and hang out on the table and maybe catch a bug meal, usually ants which my breakfast facilitates. And, for me I get the greatest company ever. She’s quiet, cute, well-behaved and does seem to take a genuine interest in me.
A few weeks ago I had to crank the umbrella shut because high winds were expected. Even as the umbrella started collapsing around her, she refused to move, which was not unusual because she slept in the umbrella, open or closed. The trick is not to squish her in the process. Rather than climb down the pole, she stepped onto the collar and rode it down like an elevator.
A few nights ago, anticipating rain, I put the chaise lounge cushions on the table under the umbrella to keep them dry. The next morning, as usual, I maneuvered my breakfast tray through the two doors, down the three steps and made it to the patio table. I picked up one of the large cushions to make room for my tray, put the tray down and then carried the cushion back over to the chaise lounge.
When I returned to the table, to my horror, I saw my little friend struggling. Her back leg was caught under the tray and she was trying to free herself. When I put my tray down, I just didn’t notice her. Unbeknownst to me, she spent the night in the small frog-sized gap between the cushion and the table.
I lifted the tray off her and she semi-hopped towards the umbrella pole, her lame leg dragging behind her. She got to the base and remained there. She looked up the pole and then her eyes shut. With each quick breath, her little body heaved in and out.
Google says frogs like shade. I grabbed a square ceramic flowerpot and laid it on its side, a few inches from where she sat, hoping she would see this small shaded house as a safe place to recuperate. After just a few minutes, she hobbled over to her new home. She went all the way to the back, turned around and sat facing the open end of the flowerpot. She shut her eyes.
We sat there together like that for a long time. I cried. I apologized over and over. I should have been on the lookout for her like I am now that she’s gone. These days I watch out for leaves and stones, anything that looks like her. I’m forever vigilant, looking for my friend.
First I got her something to drink. I poured some water into a plastic lid to give her a shallow dish to drink out of. I figured she needed something to eat but she was in no shape to go out hunting. I Googled gray tree frog diet. They like bugs, crickets being the optimum and, no matter what, the bugs have to be alive.
This is where I hit an ethical dilemma. As an animal lover, I love all animals, crickets included. Yet here I was considering buying one type of animal to feed to another type of animal. I got over that real quick.
I hopped on my bike and raced down to the farmers supply store. Google’s instructions were to estimate the space between her eyes and not feed her anything larger than that distance. I bought twenty live crickets, thirteen cents apiece. The crickets were small, about a half inch, just like the space between her eyes.
With a tweezer, I picked out one cricket from the plastic bag and placed the cricket inside the sideways flowerpot. A nano second is all it took for her to vacuum up that cricket with her tongue. The same with two more crickets.
I put the rest of the crickets into a deep Tupperware container where they could roam around but not jump out. Google said crickets love lettuce so I stuck some romaine lettuce in the container.
That evening when I went out to feed her dinner, she was gone.
In the past, she would often come and go. That’s what I told myself was happening now. But she wasn’t at breakfast the next day, or the day after that.
The following day I freed seventeen crickets.