A Frog Fable

Frogs from near and far gather at the edge of Quaker Pond adjacent to the old meetinghouse, croaking loudly as they share tales of flies snagged on the wing, harrowing escapes from little boys who poke their ponds with sticks, and hungry hawks that swoop down from the sky for a quick meal.

They jabber in their native tongues: "Coa-coa," the French frog says. "Guo-guo," the Chinese frog responds. "Quaak-quaak?" the German frog inquires. "Kwak kwak," the Dutch frog replies.

After a while, the alpha frog, a massive bull named Billie Bully, slaps the beach mud with his big left flipper and waves his front arm vigorously above his flat head—a maneuver he learned from the neighboring Quakers, who use it to call a gathering to order. Instantly the Babel of croaking subsides. "By gulp," Billie Bully thinks, "those Quakers may spend lots of time twiddling their thumbs in silence, but when they wave their hands they sure get fast action."

Billie Bully sucks in a deep breadth, pushes out his massive freckled chest, and brings forth a croak so loud and deep the mud beneath his feet vibrates. The assembled frogs hop to attention.

"Friendly frogs," he orates in his raspy voice, "we’re here to do important frog-saving work. So listen up!"

The assembly of frogs ribbit, ribbit in agreement.

He acknowledges their ribbits with a nod and continues: "We can tolerate the menace of little boys, even little Quaker lads, because we know there is that of God—umm, somewhere, I guess—in each of them. But we cannot tolerate the spread of the deadly purple smog that hangs menacingly over our pond. It is poison! Poison!" He pauses to flick his tongue as if to spear the elusive enemy. "It is killing us!" And for further emphasis he slams his back flipper into the mud, splattering his neighbors.

Billie Bully looks around and the assembled frogs ribbit, ribbit and nod their heads, blink their bulging eyes, and then croak-croak in unison. A few ribbit softly, "He speaks my mind."

"It’s making some bulls im-m-m-potent! Our wives are laying cracked eggs! And even the few tadpoles who manage to hatch are not casting off their adolescent tails. In short, Friends. . . ."

At this point he raises his voice so loudly that Quakers at the nearby meetinghouse turn to the pond to investigate the interruption of their silence.

Billie Bully continues more softly, ". . . In short, we’re being decimated. It’s nothing less than frogo-cide. Yes, frog-cleansing!"

Then, in a still softer croak he says, "We must address this issue with vigor." At this point he holds up a wet leaf and waves it. "I have in my right flipper a minute jointly drafted by the Quaker Pond Social Justice and Witness committees. It condemns the purple smog as an enemy to all frogs everywhere—swamp frogs, tree frogs, red frogs, spotted frogs—and yes, even the less-than-friendly wart toads."

The assembled frogs nod their heads, blink, and ribbit-ribbit in unison.

Just then, up from the slimy pond hippity-hops a small and skinny froglet, Freddie, who only days before managed to unzip his tadpole skin in exchange for a full-fledged green frog uniform. Seeing the assembled frogs, his hop turns into a slither as he slinks in among his adult peers as inconspicuously as possible, hugging low to the ground to appear less visible. But the eyes of all the assembled frogs rotate as one in his direction to identify the late arrival. Realizing he is the object of everyone’s attention, a brilliant flush spreads across his face and chest, turning his green skin to an iridescent pink. He slinks lower on his belly, trying to bury himself in the mud.

His closest neighbor, a wrinkled elder named Friend Forthright, realizes the froglet’s embarrassment, leans down, and whispers, "Welcome young friend, welcome. We’re seasoning a minute about the deadly purple smog."

A word of explanation, dear reader. Our young Freddie may be shy, but he is wise beyond his age. Some suspect his wisdom is the result of the time he spent as a tadpole sitting (some say hiding) in silence under a bench in the meetinghouse during the Quakers’ business meetings. During such a meeting, Freddie, with his flippers neatly folded in his nearly nonexistent lap, thought he heard for the first time that still, small voice Friends often talked about. The voice revealed to him that he could overcome, or at least disguise, his shyness with a dose of less-than-friendly sarcasm. Although the ploy led to his being labeled a crank by his young peers, he prefers to think of his condition as a legitimate calling—croaking, if you will—to be a righteous, in-your-face pest.

That should explain why, when his friendly neighbor tells him they are seasoning a minute about the deadly purple smog, our young friend gulps (as frogs often do), trying to keep his mouth closed and restrain his flicking tongue. But the urge to sarcasm overwhelms him, and he finally whispers to the towering neighbor, "I assume we’re against it."

His neighbor looks down at him incredulously, unsure how, or whether, to respond. He finally decides the question does not deserve a reply and commences gulping vigorously and simultaneously thumping the mud with irritation.

In the meantime, Billie Bully continues to bleat on about frog rights, love, forgiveness, and how there is that of God in all frogs and yes, even in the little humans who try to snag frogs with butterfly nets.

Freddie listens intensely. He nods and gulps several times, but soon realizes that, while the minute expresses opposition to the smog—labeling it a murderer, even a product of the devil— it goes no further. All the minute does is curse the smog.

"But what," Freddie gulps to himself, "does the minute say we frogs should do about it? A boycott maybe? A mass hop down the street with signs that read, ‘Smog Is Not the Answer!’? Alas, not even that."

As Billie Bully continues his presentation, Freddie begins to feel a stirring in his flippers. It builds and eventually grows into a full-size quake. He shivers, gulps, and quakes some more. He must speak. He must. He must! Tentatively, he starts to raise his arm, then pulls it down quickly. The quaking is now a full-body vibration from the tip of his nose to the diminishing scar of his former tadpole tail. Even his tongue and bulging eyes are a-quiver.

Enough! he decides. His flipper shoots up. Billie Bully doesn’t see him. With a (excuse the expression) frog in his throat, he hoarsely croaks, "Billie Bully, please."

His nearly inaudible words are swallowed by the din of croaking frogs. Then the aforementioned still, small voice breaks through the din and whispers to Freddie, "Speak truth to power!"

So invigorated, Freddie clears his throat and this time the "Billie Bully, please" croaks out with a roar that’s louder than his tiny frame can possibly produce. Freddie gulps. "Where," he wonders, "did such a loud croak come from?"

The entire assemblage is stunned by the vibrating roar. The frogs fall silent, and with their heads still pointed at Billie Bully, a wave of rotating, bulging eyes turns backwards to focus on Freddie. Billie Bully grins and nods to Freddie. Little Freddie stands tall and silent as he centers. His voice, now a bit squeaky, ribbits, "Fellow frogs, the m-m-minute tells the w-w-world what we’re against—what we condemn. But alas, it says nothing—not a s-s-single croak—about what we’re for. We condemn the deadly fog—and that is good," Freddie’s voice strengthens and deepens, "—but that, my friends, doesn’t go far enough. . . ."

Billie Bully takes an aggressive hop forward, closer to Freddie, and looks down at him. "Not . . . far . . . enough? What does thee mean by ‘not . . . far . . . enough’?"

Freddie shivers. Then the still, small voice, ". . . truth to power," invigorates him. He takes a deep breath, expanding his chest so it extends to the edge of his mouth. He stands on tiptoe, and now from atop his lofty position on his spindly legs, he looks down, then to the left and the right, and into the eyes of each frog. "It is time," he thumps his flipper for emphasis, "for action! We must act in unison. We must . . ."

Billie Bully, appearing to stand much smaller, interrupts gently, "But friend . . ."

The now emboldened Freddie looks directly into Billie’s eyes and speaks slowly, but with authority, ". . . If Billie Bully pleases" he says softly, then pauses and again slowly surveys the waiting assembly, whose mouths hang open.

"Your minute," he continues, "may succeed in making you feel better about having ignored the smog all these years, but it does nothing to stop it—to put an end to the deadly scourge."

Freddie pauses again, looking around for a sign of recognition—a nod or smile. The assembly of frogs are dumbstruck; even their gulps are suspended.

"But friend . . . " Billie Bully tries to interrupt again, this time even gentler.

"Oh, I know," Freddie goes on, "as friendly frogs we don’t believe in loud demonstrations or civil disobedience. We are the quiet ones. We believe our truth is so strong it will overcome the ocean of darkness. But friends, there comes a time when we need to take steps, not just write minutes. We need to mount a practical program to put a stop to the deadly smog. I suggest a muscle minute, if you will, that proposes programs to support action. Action. I want a minute that proposes solutions rather than just opposes problems!"

With that, Freddie sinks down, his slowly deflating chest rests in the mud, and he folds his shaking hands in his lap, saying, "Thank you for your patience, Friends."

After a pause, the assembled frogs return to loud, repeated gulping. Billie Bully regains his composure, stretches his neck, and looks to the left and then to the right. "Well, frogs, are we ready to approve this minute?"

His question prompts a few nods and an occasional mutter that sounds like "Approved."

Freddie looks up from the mud and slowly scans the bulging and occasional rotating eyes of each member. Was he mistaken, he wondered, or did he not see a few signs of indecision, regret even, as Billie Bully announced the achievement of unity?

Freddie’s mouth droops; his head sinks back into the mud. "Defeat," he mutters to himself.

At that moment his wizened neighbor again leans down and whispers just loud enough so others might overhear: "Ah, my young friend, I can see that we wise and weighty ones surely must learn to hear those hard truths—even when it comes from the young or from cranks and pests. But at the same time I also pray that the young, the cranks, and the pests may someday show compassion for those who no longer have the spirit or the will—or maybe even the wisdom—to write minutes that propose instead of just oppose. But maybe, just maybe, their wisdom . . ." he pauses, and then with a wry smile and a mighty gulp he adds, "But even more important, dear little friend, we all must remember to labor . . . to be still and know that out of the stillness . . ."

His last words are swallowed in the clatter of a hundred croaks, kwaaks, gars, and kvaks as the assembled frogs hop off to the slimy pond in search of flies.

Stanley Zarowin

Stanley Zarowin, a member of North Meadow Circle of Friends in Indianapolis, Ind., writes about computer technology for a national magazine, the Journal of Accountancy. He moved to Indiana from New York four years ago and is introducing the Alternatives to Violence Project prison workshops in the state.