As a kid I thought I was quite the adventurer. I grew up in a suburb with ranch style houses built largely in the 1960s in the capital city of Louisiana. My backyard was a standard size complete with a trampoline and basketball goal in the driveway. But at the back of the yard and just beyond the row of Ligustrum that hid a fence line it was anything but standard, at least to me. The ditch, as I referred to it, was a steep drop into another world for me, the only wilderness I knew. The water of the canal contained minnows, brim, catfish, ghost shrimp, crawfish, turtles, snakes, amiphiuma, mussels, and bullfrogs-all of which I found endlessly fascinating-even the little water bugs that glided over the water in patterns like those of ice skaters.
Turtles were easy to catch and a favorite of mine to keep for a while in my aquariums. Once, I convinced my mother to allow me to keep a baby pool full of ditch life in my bedroom, including a couple of tiny red-eared sliders (turtles). I always released the critters I caught back into the ditch after getting to know them for a little while. I even accidentally re-caught a couple of turtles. But there was one thing I never could catch. The bullfrog eluded me for years. They were big and easy to spot, but they were skittish. They’d hear me coming from a distance and I’d hear a splash as they quickly jumped back into the safety of the water. I tried staking them out hunter-style by waiting quietly, with my net in hand, for them to emerge from the depths of the ditch, but I never succeeded.
I eventually enlisted the help of my childhood friend Bart. And on his first try, with my net, he did it! This was a huge healthy bullfrog that was just stunning. I remember getting home and putting him in a 10 gallon aquarium, set up to imitate his natural environment, and I sat there, with my chin resting on my crossed arms on the table and just watched him, studying every little thing about him. I’ve always liked to really study things up close, to plant a good image in my memory of the textures, colors, and individual nuances of animals and plants. It’s probably one of the reasons I was drawn to photography now that I think about it. After a few days of studying my new bullfrog friend, I released him just where Bart had caught him.
Now, 30 years later, I live in a different kind of suburb in a semi-rural area outside of the capital city of Louisiana. We have 2 gas stations, 3 small schools. a post office, a restaurant, and no grocery store. So, as you can imagine, it does feel a bit more rural except for the fact that we are only a 20 minute drive into the city.
Our house is situated on 7.5 acres of bottomland hardwood forest near Bayou Manchac. Once a major water throughway, the bayou is now a small stream that a kayak could barely navigate. When water levels are high enough I do see the occasional alligator and plenty of wading heron and egrets. Physically it resembles the ditch of my childhood, but I don’t have the same immediate access to it.
However, as one can imagine, living this close to a swamp, we do get quite a lot of wildlife on our 7.5 acres. Although I no longer trek through the ditch with a net in hand, I do enjoy putting trail cameras out, taking photo walks through the property, and appreciate when my husband alerts me to any cool critter he comes across. We have deer, skunk, coyote, swamp rabbits, fox, opossum, raccoon, gray and fox squirrels, armadillo, and even little shrew. I’ve yet to see a bobcat but I know they are around. We also have lots of reptiles and amphibians, especially treefrogs. These tiny guys are gorgeous in their saturated colors and patterns, and very different to my bullfrogs of childhood. Every year during the warm moist months you can find a handful scattered across the outside of the windows of the house, where they hunt night-flying bugs attracted to the lights. This year however, I’ve seen more than ever before.
I’m not sure if it’s due to the recent flood or of the fact that we raised three buckets full of tadpoles over the summer, but this year's frog invasion has been impressive. The first night I noticed it was a month or so ago while cooking dinner. I glanced over to the kitchen window and counted fourteen frogs! There clinging to the window were Squirrel, Gray, and Green treefrogs, from nearly 2 inches long to less than a half-inch. My curiosity was piqued so I slowly walked from room to room and continued counting frog silhouettes on the windows. I counted 24, 30, 40, …. then I walked outside and continued counting more. I stopped at 80.
That next day I took my phone out with me. I took 102 iPhone pictures of these little green wonders. Giddy with excitement, I wasn’t sure if I had ever seen anything cuter than a 1” Squirrel Treefrog, with his disproportionate bobble head and bigger-than-life eyes.
The weather was still warm in October and early November, and the continuing frog spectacle propelled me to document them with the big camera. I ended up spending a handful of weeks photographing them in the early mornings and late afternoons until sunset. It was a magical few weeks, and I felt quite special tuning in to their quiet lives. And as I do, I studied them close-up. I didn’t give up watching or photographing them until either the light was so poor I could no longer see or the mosquitoes were just too much to tolerate.
And I’m so glad I did. In some way this has satiated my childhood dream of catching a bullfrog, I think. Little green and gray frogs in lieu of one big bullfrog? Yes, I’ll happily take it.