Each time I walk out the front door of the house, I pass a small pond Dad made in the garden. It has a little waterfall, is surrounded by ferns, and contains a 7-year-old boy’s idea of heaven – myriad numbers of frogs.
For all I know there could be hundreds of frogs in there, but normally I only see the five or six that are brave enough to not leap for safety when I approach. I suppose from their tiny, lidless point of view, I can see why I’m scary – I’m 256 times their size. But from where I stand, I could not be any less dangerous. I can’t even begin to fathom holding one of them, much less scooping them up to tuck in my pocket.
(I do, however, take every small child that comes by to the pond to see the frogs, so maybe I’m a torturer by proxy.)
It’s become a ritual for me to count how many frogs I see. (For the record, I include splashes as frogs.) I’m grounded in this practice of something so simple, so remote. I’m even perfecting my ability to get close to the pond without a mass exodus (pun intended).
I feel like something important happens in those few moments that I stop and observe. I’m seeing something unnoticed, something that would like to remain unnoticed perhaps. I watch the odd family of frogs that look like they came from a children’s book depiction of the idea of family – two bigger ones and a couple of small ones, all identical except for size. I keep an eye on the guy who sits up on the waterfall and never moves, and I marvel at the fortitude of the brazen little lady who remains on the rock near my feet, even as I approach. The frog I imagine is the surfer of the bunch because he spends a good portion of each day floating splay-legged on the top of the pond. I am beginning to know these frogs.
I feel the same way about the enslaved people I am researching. Each day, I read a little bit more about them – Gilbert was not a “professor” (i.e. a Christian); he was a field hand, was not married, and lived with Primus. It’s like I’m building a story out of observation, and while I wish these people could talk to me, they cannot. They, too, are mute.
So I do my best with what I have been given. I walk up each day and count. I try to see past my own reflection into the murky, clouded world of history. I learn to sit silently by the edge and wait to see who surfaces for me.
One day, I will recognize that big bullfrog who sings me to sleep.