Fertility Rites      

Tiffany Midge     

Especially dedicated to Buck; “he was a good frog, a frog’s frog.”

Age 9 I discovered a pond full of tadpoles in the woods behind the newly built Heather Glen Family Estates. No frogs to kiss and seek my fortune with, just the blind pale swimmers; all heads and tails flapping in the algae muck. I transplanted them to buckets on the back porch, careful to recreate their new home in replica to their old; hauling water from the pond, transplanting moss, grass,  pus-yellow swamp rot.  I marveled at their design, their spongy slickness, the way they glided and wiggled from one wall of the bucket habitat to the next, with no apparent destination, no goal, but to grow into frogs. This is what I hoped for— buckets of bullfrogs and horny toads who made deep throated calls, courting the twilight, this is what I anticipated, meaty legs to harvest and sell, to pickle in old  mayonnaise jars.
But the tadpoles always died. 

Even replenishing their pond water daily with fresh pond water didn’t help.  I brought back more tadpoles, but after a couple of days those would die too; I had disrupted a fragile ecosystem and couldn’t recreate it like the aphid experiments in Mrs Louden’s science class or the rain forest habitat at Woodland Park Zoo. The pond was an abundant, all-giving womb,  a not-to-be-messed-with mother of crawdads, beetles and dragonflies. And I was a failed incubator, a mad scientist tempting nature and fate, in danger of throwing it all out of balance; sealing my future with every unintended murder. Today, at this stage of life, I don’t have children nor will I ever and I can’t help wondering about karma; all those ruined tadpoles, all those poor bastard frogs.

I think of the tadpoles when I think of mushroom hunting.  How last Fall I met Mary, a devout amateur mycologist, just as she was in mid-grope for a cluster of flabby white fruits out at the hillsides by Lake Padden.  She likes to defy the guide books, playing Russian roulette with her liver and schools of catalogued toxins.

“The guide books say these are poisonous but they haven’t been for me.” She’ll say, which I hope won’t be the words etched on her tombstone. 

The State of Alaska’s epidemiology Bulletin titled: Hazards of Stalking the Wild Mushroom lists common myths about mushrooms.  The first old wives’ tale being; poisonous mushrooms tarnish a silver spoon.  I’ve been with men like that.  Men who tarnished confidence, tainted week-long intakes of breath saved just for them.  Men who were listed in all the field manuals but were overlooked or purposely disregarded just like the hapless characters from a Lifetime movie. It should be that easy; testing your potential mates like scraping a diamond across glass or placing a canary into a mineshaft.

I disclosed my secret spot to Mary— a smorgasbord of flesh-toned Corals— and she promised she wouldn’t touch my pet Stropharia, coveted for its cap skirted with lace tatting like a canopy bed.  She scrambled down an embankment thinking she’d spied a mass of chicken fried mushrooms;  And she was so cavalier uprooting a specimen, a Jonquil Amanita, just to show me where its cap once met its stem, where the wings now flapped uselessly as skin tags. She stroked the shaft teasingly, then tossed it aside, declaring it, “No good, it’s poisonous,” as if she were pronouncing the fate of a eunuch. Her disregard bothered me, this casual evacuation of a mushroom that had grown as large as my hand, through five nights of rain, its genesis a sprite-like exchange of spores and rot, chancing the elements, the hazards of mollusks,  to break open through the soil
like the fist of a prizefighter—

                                                        like the gold-painted Leggs pantyhose egg
hidden from view in the spring grass in the field behind the library: one of five prize eggs that the Sunday school teachers had secreted away, the eggs you were supposed to trade for a chocolate bunny with ears longer than your pinky.  I saw that gold egg before Robby Forsgren ever came near it, but I stood observing it dumbly like I was waiting for a red light to change, all because Miss Pike had in plain view plotted that gold egg  in the grass right in front of me and even slipped me a conspiring wink that said, here, take it, it’s yours.  But before I could solve my moral dilemma, that’s cheating, isn’t it?  Robby Forsgren came running and dived for my egg like a desperate bridesmaid for the bouquet, then lumbered away, holding it over his head, the coveted chocolate prize all his, the prize I gave away.