We have a big, vernal pond far down in the woods behind my house. It is a good hike for me, but I have taken it many times over the years in many seasons. By August, it’s mostly all dried up, but for some very muddy spots out in the middle. Always when I go to the pond, I search for frogs and tadpoles. Never have I found a single one. This is astonishing to me, as there are no fish in the pond and it is framed in lovely pond grasses and aquatic plants. I’ve never been able to figure out the mystery of the absent tadpoles, but I set out for the pond a couple days ago on a warm, sunny morning, just to see what I could see…
The dogs were in heaven, romping through all the lush green grasses and reeds of this vibrant new season, and meadows of wildflowers quivered in their wakes. Many were flowers I had not seen before. Either I just missed them, or they were taking this very special mild spring following on the heels of a very mild winter to make a rare appearance. I kept my eyes on the ground, seeking out new flowers, hoping to spot a box turtle. Never have I found one while looking for them. They always catch me by surprise when my mind is somewhere else entirely.
I often hurry to the big pond, adapting an attitude of a soldier on a difficult march. The pond is just at the edge of my comfort distance as I tire so easily these past few years, so I usually psyche myself up for the walk and head out all determined and stiff and focused. This time, I walked slowly. I dawdled. I had no schedule, and if I tired before I got there, so what? I could turn back at any time. Darter, our old cat, decided to join the trek, and I knew she was not up for any fast pace. She yowls when I go too fast. And too fast for her is a snail’s pace, so we were well suited to each other that morning.
As I moseyed along, I sang a song I remembered from the dances of Universal Peace. I think it went something like, “May all beings be safe and warm/May all beings be happy/May all beings return to love/Peace be with you forever more. It was a perfect day. One when the temperature caresses your arms and the breeze is just strong enough to set the leaves in the hardwoods to talking. We made it to the outer edges of the pond in no time at all, the dogs racing ahead to plunge into the cold, clear waters. Darter and I held up the rear guard and soon I was peering into the waters of the small stream channels that all weave their way into the main pond. I heard one frog splash, but, as usual, saw not a single tadpole.
And I must tell you that I really looked hard for them. Bent at the waist, I squinted into the reeds, stared at the sunken leaf piles just under the water. Nada. Not a thing.
Mazel had found a perfect stick for me to throw, dancing around my legs, begging me to throw it into the water. If there is one thing he likes better than sticks, it is water. And so I threw. And threw and threw. He has no limit to his energy. I sat down on a rotted stump near the pond’s edge and kept throwing.That is when I got the message to get down on my knees and look into the water. Why I had never thought to do this before baffled me, as I’m often down on my hands and knees in the forest.
The shoreline was wet, but I sunk down to my knees and looked into the water. Nothing. I leaned farther forward and down, my nose nearly touching the water, my butt hiked up in the air like a monument. And then I saw them, of course. Hundreds of tiny tadpoles the size of pin heads. There, fluttering along at the edges of the brown leaves. There, gathered up together on a sunken flower head like a collection of commas. There, scooting between the reeds and new grasses. There they were, and always had been.
In my mind’s eye, I had expected them to be larger, like the size of pea with a tail. Or like a gumdrop. And because I had my mind all fixed and set as to how they would look and where I should see them, I never saw them. Seeing them now startled me. I never imagined. And yet how could I not have imagined them thus? The tadpoles that hatch occasionally in my bathtub pond are always tiny as dust specks.
I squatted there in the wet bog for a long time, throwing sticks for Mazel Tov and feeling stunned at myself, stunned at the thousands of tadpoles, stunned at what I was never able to see because I didn’t know how to look. Or I wasn’t looking deeply enough, or wasn’t in a humble enough posture, or my perspective was way off. Or my mind was somewhere else, or…or…or…
I thought suddenly about this moon’s Clan Mother, Listening Woman. And how grateful I was that I had been silent inside enough to hear her tell me to “Get on your knees.” I can’t help but wonder how much I miss in this magical world because I don’t know all the secrets of seeing, of listening, of trusting. I wonder, too, how many relations walk beside me invisible, and if I could learn to see them if I used my heart for listening and seeing more than I use my head.
I walked back from the vernal pond even more slowly than I had come. I traveled the dog path back on two legs, but in my heart, I remained on my knees, humbled. I am there, still, bent low so that I may see and hear more fully.