Maximillion and His Bully Frog Gang…

Chapter 1 – Placid Pond

A hundred frog-leaps south of the mighty Columbia River, not far from Bonneville Dam, rests Placid Pond. Rumor has it that the pond wasn’t likely to remain placid for much longer. The Bully Frog Gang had devastated Wide Pool down stream and was heading up stream  gobbling up everything in their path.

“No worry,” Lucy Butterfly said, “Wide Pool is a long way away… away,” she repeated and again, “away,” she giggled and added,  “Away, away, we’ll live to worry another day.”

And with similar wishful thinking the other inhabitants of Placid blindly went about their normal routines.

The cool waters of a sweet stream called North East Eagle Creek feed Placid Pond from a little dogleg rivulet that branches off from the main creek and returns to the stream at the pond’s northern extremity.

Placid Pond and the surrounding area are home to many animals. No one living in this part of the forest can remember a time when the cycles of life were other than those of constant vigilance. Life was a risky routine day and night for most creatures. Birds were accustomed to darting from hungry jaws of wild coyotes or wayward eagles or some other voracious predator. Mice, mink, frogs and other inhabitants all had learned the tricks of survival… each knowing the habits of its predators and mastering the skills necessary to avoid being gobbled up quick as a tick. Though water skippers didn’t amount-to-much in terms of the food supply, even they had to be on the alert for quick-billed birds and famished bats.

And of course, there was also the worry of threats from unpredictable bigs, who occasionally snaked their huge riding slaves up and down North East Eagle Creek Loop. Word had it that, they too, often preyed on animals… hooking fish and hauling them away dangling from a string or catching frogs that, it is said, they tear asunder, plop into a hot skillet for a time, and then eat.

The tiniest critters like minnows, larva and baby frogs didn’t fear bigs. They were too small to be of interest to these enormous creatures. Every so often bigs even lumbered up to Placid Pond in large haulers and dumped root wads into the creek and shallow waters of the pond to provide multitudes of places for the little creatures to hide from their predators.

Chapter 2 – Cause for alarm

Such was life in Placid Pond and the nearby habitat. The forest and pond dwellers didn’t know much about life beyond where they lived. Veronica Mole wondered if there were any other ponds and, if there were, how it was to live in them. Red-leg Frog was historian-secretary of the NE Eagle Creek Animal Council and would likely know. One day Veronica asked Red-leg about it.

“Yeah, I’ve heard said there are… but haven’t been to any,” Red-leg said. “Grandpa Frog told me there are more places to live than your mind can think… I guess he’s right… don’t know for sure… you thinking of leaving?”

“Oh no! Not me,” Veronica cried.  “I like it here. I like the way Squeak Squirrel runs the Council. Everyone knows his or her place. It’s safe… you know…”

“To be frank Veronica… I don’t know how long it will remain that way.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Well, I don’t want to alarm you, but Alabaster Squirrel from down stream… down by the big river… tells me the bullfrogs are coming.”

“Bullfrogs? What’s wrong with that? I’d think you would like that… you being a frog and all.”

“You’d think so… but Al says they devour everything in sight… anything that moves.”

“Well, I’m not afraid…  they couldn’t swallow me… I’m too big.”

“You’d think… but bullfrogs are bigger… Al says they eat squirrels, snakes, weasels… When they get careless, they even eat each other… limited only by the gape of their jaw… anything they can get their mouth around goes down. Can you believe it?”

“Oh, my… you’re beginning to scare me… what’ll we do, if they come?”

“Some time ago the Council got together and developed a plan. They talked about it… developed a plan,” he repeated nervously “… don’t know what else to do.”

Chapter 3 – Maximillion’s Gang

Max found himself leader of the Bully Frog Gang by default. He didn’t seek to be the head of the army of bullfrogs that had recently moved into inviting ponds along the south bank of the Columbia River. Max and his gang were not natives of this part of the Oregon Territory. In fact they were descendants of large frogs that were brought west a long time ago by thoughtless bigs… during the “Gold Rush,” Hefty Bullfrog called it. “Miners,” he said brought their enormous ancestors with them when they came west. Where they were before that Hefty didn’t know… something about riding in big logs across vast waters.

“How’d you know that?” Slippery Bullfrog asked.

“Somebody has to know,” Hefty said, as if his saying so settled the matter. His seeming to know made him sort of the historian of the bullfrog community. At least no one questioned Hefty’s account of such matters. Most frogs could care less about where they came from. They only wanted to know what, when and where their next meal was going to be.

But Paunch Bullfrog was curious, “Why’d the bigs bring us west?”

“It’s simple,” Hefty said matter-of-factly. “Though we bullfrogs grow slowly, we have big mouths and insatiable appetites… ergo, we can become enormous in size.”

“Why would they want big-mouthed large frogs?” Paunch asked pouncing on a helpless stickleback floating in the warm waters of a shallow pool near the creek’s bank.

“Because we taste good – ‘like chicken’ they say… whatever that is… so stay away from bigs,” Hefty said emphatically, and added, “The miners came west looking for gold and they brought our ancestors with them.”

A gruff voice interrupted the history lesson.

“Burrrrrup!” came the sound.

The cluster of semi-hibernating bullfrogs looked up to see Max returning from his late afternoon investigation up-stream.

“Grab your stuff… night’s a comin’ and we’re a movin’!” Max croaked loudly. “We’re gonna see what’s for dinner… up there… following this inviting enough stream.”

The bullfrogs slosh-plopped their way along the bank and through the shallow water to make their way upstream.

It had grown dark when the clamorous band of bullfrogs came to a beaver dam.

“Whoa… look at this!” Max shouted, “A banquet.”

Billows of burrrrups and kerwokes, kerwakes filled the air as their heavy bodies churned the pool’s crystal water.

“I’m after that fat leech,” Fat Bullfrog said preparing to leap into the still water.

“Hold it!” Max croaked loudly.

Fat and the others stopped short and waited for Max to speak.

“We gotta be smart,” Max began. “Remember what happens every time there’s a fight to be first…”

Delilah Bullfrog grunted, “Yeah, Hefty swallowed Willy Bullfrog and Slimy gulped down Sam Bullfrog’s kids.”

“Right,” Max said, “We gotta quit eating each other.  So let’s get organized. Hefty, you go after the freshwater mussels. Paunch, you get the water scorpions. Slimy, restrict yourself to snapping turtles. Fat, you take on the mosquitoes, dragonflies, and skippers.”

“Three!” Belly Bullfrog belched, “that’s not fair… she gets three.”

“Mosquitoes, flies and skippers are tiny, next to salamanders… You get it?” Max reasoned.

“I guess… but three… “ Belly sulked.

“Okay… you can try for that egret and a bunch of amoeba, if you can find any,” Max consoled.

“O jumping tadpoles!” Belly burped. “The egret… I’ll get him.”

“Now, the rest of you don’t be hog frogs… stay away from each other and limit yourselves to a couple of species,” Max cautioned and shouted, “Let’s do it!”

And with that encouragement the silence of the forest was shattered by the threatening concert of dozens of bullfrogs croaking at the top of their lungs as they leaped into the shallow water and began gulping down every living thing in sight.

A short time later, the pond was nearly quiet. The only sound to be heard was the heavy breathing and the disgusting burps of vulgar contentment coming from the satiated bullfrogs.

The pond community was gone… There were no mosquitos, no dragonflies, no water shrews, no pond snails, no skippers, no snapping turtles, no mallard ducks… or any other kind of ducks for that matter. There were no freshwater mussels, no tadpoles, no water scorpions, no backswimmers, no 3-spined sticklebacks, no leeches, no newts, no earthworms, no crayfishes, no copepods, no ants, no periwinkles, no amoeba, no flies, no spring peeper frogs left in the beaver dam pond… and no egret… Belly Frog had caught and gobbled down that charming egret. All that was left of the beauty was a single, white feather floating north on the gentle current toward the beaver dam’s spillway which would take it over and on to the mighty Columbia.

Only the great blue heron had escaped the gaping mouths of the voracious gang of bullfrogs. The graceful bird had scrambled into the air and headed south out of reach of the brutal invaders. He knew that the bloated frogs wouldn’t move much for a day or two. He settled in a tall pine for the night. The next morning he headed south to warn other animals living along NE Eagle Creek of the impending doom headed in their direction.

Chapter 4 – Spreading the alarm

All was quiet in and around Placid Pond. It appeared it would be another predictable day where everyone would stay busy at his accustomed routine. The mosquitoes were predictably bothering anyone whose skin was vulnerable to their annoying snouts. Skippers were busy eluding creatures that prey on skippers, while they themselves were busy chasing what skippers ordinarily chase. Mallard duck was cruising the still water busily snatching unsuspecting beetles from the air. Crayfish were darting in and out of the deep shadows busily avoiding the hungry jaws of the snapping turtle.

And so it was that the animals of Placid Pond were carrying out the delicate balance nature had demanded of them for as long as any of them could remember. They didn’t know anything else.

The silent air was suddenly disturbed by the flutter of great wings. A great blue heron settled to rest on a bony-like gray branch of a bleached snag rising above a patch of the evergreen forest near NE Eagle Creek.

Mildred Dragonfly was the first to notice the big bird. He was a stranger to her. And judging by his demeanor he had something serious on his mind. Mildred made a quick flight around the pond to see if she could spot Jean-Louis Heron. He would be the logical one to find out from the stranger what was troubling him. Jean-Louis was usually treading the shallow waters at pond’s edge stalking a 3-spined sticklefish or a water shrew or some other slow swimming critter. But Jean-Louis was nowhere to be seen nor was Red-leg Frog.

A feeling of panic swelled up in Mildred’s tiny breast. She knew she shouldn’t panic. The citizens of Placid Pond had met in council and had devised plans for emergencies. She trusted them… nevertheless, she wanted to tell Squeak Squirrel, Red-leg Frog or Jean-Louis what she saw in hopes that one of them would know what to do… at least she would have it off her conscience. She frantically fluttered to the hollowed-out nest in the big oak Squeak Squirrel had claimed as home for himself.

Squeak had just finished eating a wild hazelnut and was on his way out of his bungalow-hollow.

“Where’s Red-leg?” Mildred asked frantically, “Where’s Jean-Louis?”

“I don’t know,” Squeak said, “Why? What’s bothering you?”

“There’s an upset great blue heron sitting at the top of Gray Snag thrashing his wings as if the world were coming to an end… What do we do?”

“Just stay calm,” Squeak said reassuringly, “We’ll check it out,” he continued, trying to dislodge a burr buried in his tail fur.

A minute later Squeak had scaled up Gray Snag. He stopped a few feet below the nervous heron. Mildred flitted in the air not far from Squeak’s head.

“Mildred!” Squeak whispered, “Give me a little headroom… can’t you, please!”

“Sorry!” Mildred said fluttering away a few feet.

Squeak inched a few links closer to the stranger. He sunk his claws into crevices in the weathered tree to secure himself. “You from around here?” Squeak asked.

“Depends on what you mean by around here,” Larry Heron answered.

“Well, I mean… I don’t recognize you and wonder who you are and what you want.”

“I don’t recognize you either,” Larry said sharply, “but that’s neither here nor there. And it’s not what I want, but what you need to know that’s bothering me,” the big bird said evenly.

“I didn’t mean to offend,” Squeak said apologetically, “It’s just that mischief is in the air these days… and in the water too, if we can believe everything we hear…. Can’t be too careful.”

“Well, you’re right about that,” Larry Heron said acknowledging Squeak’s concern. “I’m sorry to be the one to tell you this…” the big bird paused measuring his words, “Come to think of it, I’m the only one left to tell you this…” he paused again for effect.  “…You need to know… there’s a gang of bull frogs headed your way and they are eating every living thing in their path. I’m the only survivor from their devouring rampage of Still Pond… It’s a ways down the creek.” The big bird shifted his weight, “If I were you and members of your community, I’d be heading up creek as fast as I could move.”

Mildred flitted onto Squeak’s head and cried, “Shimmering ash, I knew it… weeping willows, what will we do?”

“Messing up my hair won’t help!” Squeak growled. “Just stay calm… they’re not here yet…”

“But they’re coming,” Larry Heron warned. “Give them a night or two to wallow in indigestion from Still Pond’s decimation and they will be coming this way… and be warned, there is only one pond between you and their deadly march upstream.”

“What’ll we do? What’ll we do?” Mildred fussed.

“We’ll get out the battle plans we drew up a long time ago,” Squeak said displaying a confidence for Mildred’s sake.

The nervous bird shook with fright.

“ And we’ll quickly put finishing touches on our plan, that’s what we’ll do,” he said in an effort to reassure his bird friend. He, then climbed the snag trunk to get closer to Larry and added, “You can stay with us if you like.”

“Not me!” Larry returned emphatically, “I only stopped to warn you… now, I’m off in search of Safe Pond.”

“O jumping tadpoles… a safe pond?” Mildred enthused, “Where’s that?”

“Somewhere,” Larry said wistfully. Then, pointing west with a wing feather, added hopefully, “Somewhere over the rainbow.”

“You’re dreaming!” Squeak barked and, half to himself said, “there’s no such place!” then added loudly, “At least I don’t think so… we might as well face the Bully Frog Gang here as anywhere.”

“Well, suit yourself… I’m off. Good luck! You’re going to need it!” and with that the great blue heron dropped from the snag, caught the air with his huge wings and headed west.

Chapter 5 – The battle plans

Mildred sat atop Squeak’s head whimpering. Squeak watched the great heron’s silhouette diminish in the afternoon sky. Then, the frisky squirrel said, “Collect yourself, Mildred. Help me get everyone to the mud flats east of the pond… Now!”

“O slippery rock!” Mildred squealed, “What’ll we do? What’ll we do?”

“We’ll finalize our plans for dealing with the Bully Frog Gang. That’s what we’ll do. Now hustle…”

Mildred lifted from Squeak’s head and fluttered and dropped to the pond’s surface to begin spreading the word. Her tiny voice squeaked over the pond’s smooth surface, “Get ready! The bullfrogs are coming.”

Almost instantly, the frantic churning of pond dwellers racing to rehearse their battle plans clouded the clear waters of Placid Pond with debris.

Squeak dashed home to have a look at the campaign’s blueprint he had scribble-nibbled into the bark outside his door. The plan called for the assistance of the band of beavers who lived in a dam they’d built fifty yards or so upstream. Squeak sent his cousin, Dasher Squirrel, to alert the beavers that the Upper Eagle Creek Defensive Campaign was about to be launched and the beavers should begin sinking their teeth into the chunks of wood they’d collected to prepare for the coming onslaught.

Squeak then began to check the Upper Eagle Creek Defensive Campaign’s weapons inventory.

Chapter 6 – Planning the offense

Max had been lying on his back recovering from the latest bout of gorging.  He struggled to roll his huge body over. He burped and slowly formed himself into the customary crouching position frogs take. Portly frogs lay all around him in various postures of decadence.

“Hey!” Max shouted startling his lazy comrades. “Time to move on… nothing left to eat here.”

“Can’t we take a couple of days off? My stomach hurts,” Gorge Bullfrog protested.

“A healthy dose of earthworms will cure you of almost anything,” Max advised.

“Gorge is right,” Stuffed Bullfrog agreed. “A bit of rest won’t kill us.”

“Yes but not eating will,” Max returned.

“Awe, come on Max, have a heart,” Portly Bullfrog pleaded.

Gobble, Ingest, Mountain, and Gulp Bullfrog joined the protesters. “Yeah!” “Come on!” “How about it?” “Why not?”

“How about the rest of you?” Max asked, “You going to be sluggards too?”

“A rest won’t hurt us Max,” Delilah Bullfrog said supporting the growing consensus.

“Alright!” Max conceded. “One day’s rest… but that’s it. Then, we move on.”

“Yeah man,” crooned Demolish Bullfrog.

“Good go!” agreed Scarf.

“Alright,” Max reiterated, “But in the meantime we’ll rehearse our menu. At last pond we lost Bluster due to carelessness. Bolt and Devastate, you two need to be more careful… we all do. This time I’ll be more specific and you’d better spend your idle hibernation hours memorizing your food group. You get it?”

The bullfrogs murmured in reluctant agreement and settled into various modes of relaxation awaiting Max’s next orders.

“Alright, make a note of this in your pea-sized brains,” Max began. “Paunch, you take the mosquitos, Belly the dragonflies are yours, Delilah you get the water shrews, Fat… the pond snails, Stuffed the skippers, Slippery the snapping turtles and Hefty, you get the mallard duck.”

“Oh succulent lily pads,” Hefty gushed.

“Cool it!” Max chided and continued. “Portly, you take the freshwater mussels; Buster, the tadpoles; Boulder, the water scorpion; Mountain, the backswimmers; Devour, you get the 3-spined sticklebacks; Gobble, the leeches; Ingest, the newts; Gulp, the earthworms; Bolt, the crayfish; Gorge, copepods; Pot Belly, take the ants; Wolf, the periwinkles; Demolish, the amoebas; Shovel, the flies; Scarf, you get the egret; Engulf, you can try for the great blue heron; Ravage, you get the Spring Peeper Frog. Lay Waste, Devastate and Wreck there’ll be plenty of scraps floating around…  you three are to clean up. Well, Scarf and Engulf, if you don’t get your birds, you can help with clean up. It’s free for all on the smaller birds… just keep you lips off other bullfrogs.” Max paused and took a deep breath, then, concluded, “Got it?”

Some complained at the choice given them, but there was general acquiescence. Then, the burley gang of bullfrogs settled into light hibernation awaiting orders to head toward their next feast.

Chapter 7 – Planning the defense

Squeak Squirrel talked to himself a lot during Placid Pond’s preparation for the coming encounter with Max’s Bully Frog Gang. Yes, he had done a lot of thinking and planning about what to do. But, to have it become a likelihood tested his confidence in his plan… tested his reasoning… tested his fortitude. Up to now he’d enjoyed being president of the Placid Pond community but now he wished that some other Placid Pond dweller would assume that role. He asked Wily Weasel if he was interested in taking command. But when Wily seemed disoriented and uncertain, Squeak sought council from Wilma Owl. However, she too was at a loss. She and generations of owls before her had learned well the ways of nature in this part of the Oregon territory. But bullfrogs were invaders beyond her experience. When he asked for her advice, she simply shrugged at Squeak and wished him well.

That afternoon, when Squeak stopped to catch his breath, his eyes scanned the sky in hopes he might get a glimpse of his friend, Rusty Eagle. Squeak was certain the Bully Frog Gang wouldn’t dare invade Placid Pond with a formidable eagle hovering low in the sky overhead… but there was no eagle and it was quixotic thinking to believe Rusty might happen by and come to the rescue. There was nothing to do but cease daydreaming and devote his undivided attention to the inevitable. Whether he liked it or not he was leader of the Placid Pond community and, if his community was going to be saved from annihilation by the Bully Frog Gang, Squeak Squirrel was the one who would have to lead his friends and neighbors to victory.

During the next day and into the early evening the woodcarvings needed for the coming campaign against the bullfrogs were hauled from the beaver dam to Placid Pond. The mosquitoes, skippers, flies, dragonflies, grasshoppers, and fishes of all sorts carried wooden likenesses of themselves to the staging area at Placid Pond. The larger animals, the mink, squirrels, and larger birds… and, yes, the beavers helped bring the bigger woodcarvings from Beaver Dam to Placid Pond where Wanda Mink and her menagerie of artistic helpers paint finishing touches on them.

By late evening almost everything was in place. The beavers had returned upstream to their dam for a final load. A foreboding atmosphere hung over Placid Pond. Its citizens milled nervously around their beloved home awaiting the coming onslaught.

Squeak Squirrel withdrew from the others for a few minutes to collect his thoughts before coming to the mud flats where the creatures of Placid Pond were gathered.

Finally, he scampered forward onto a log to address his friends.

“We know the Bully Frog Gang is coming,” Squeak said into the cool night air. “We just don’t know when.” He took a deep breath and looked west toward the setting sun and continued, “It’s getting dark. I understand bullfrogs are nocturnal… so we have to be vigilant when it starts getting dark… is that understood?”

“How do we know the plan will work?” Sam Tadpole asked uncertainly.

“I have to confess… we don’t!” Squeak said nervously flicking his tail.

“O skippity-skippers,” Sam shouted and asked, “Let’s just move to beaver dam before they get here.”

“Sounds like a reasonable thing to do,” Water Scorpion added. “Bullfrogs eating everything in sight… Not for me… I say we move tonight?”

“Beaver dam would be next, so why put it off?” Squeak answered addressing what he was sure were the fears of most of his audience. “We’ve suspected the bullies would be coming for a long time. That’s why we got a committee together and planned what to do. We’ve been working on it for a long time… getting our materials ready. You’ve all helped out… done your part… You gotta believe it will work.”

There was grumbling and expressions of terror among the Placid Pond bunch.

Pond Snail expressed what others were thinking, “That was when they were a long way off. Their getting here was just a distant thought. Getting our stuff ready was kind of fun then… now that it’s real, I’m too scared to stay here.”

“Okay… we can run away today, if that’s what everyone wants…” Squeak said loudly knowing that he needed to be strong. “But… if we don’t take care of business, we’ll have to face them tomorrow night or the next. There will come an evening when they will find us… you all know it. And when that night comes we may not be ready like we are now,” Squeak paused monitoring the faces of his friends. “Is that what you want to do… run away?”

For a moment there was silence. Mildred Dragonfly spoke first. “I’m not very big, but I don’t want to give up my home to a bunch of bullfrog bullies.”

“It’s easy for your to say… you’re small enough they might miss you,” Spring Peeper Frog said emitting a high pitched croak.

“Well, they’re not likely to miss me,” called Jill Backswimmer. “But I don’t want to give up my home and you shouldn’t either. Let’s stay and fight!”

There was another moment of silence. Squeak looked at the faces of his friends. He could tell that Jill’s brave declaration had made some difference. He just hoped it was enough to last.

There was murmuring in the crowd, but no more voices demanding that they leave Placid Pond.

“Good!” Squeak said with resolve. “Now, we still have work to do before dark. Cousin Dasher is with the beavers. They’re probably on their way here with the statues,” Squeak paused chuckled and continued, “… It’s good thing we are going ahead with our plans. All the work the beavers did for us, I don’t think they would have been happy, if we’d called the whole thing off… Not to mention the prospects of everyone from Placid Pond suddenly descending on Beaver Village in the middle of the night… but enough of that. As soon as the beavers get here we’ll be ready.”

“What if they come before the beavers get here?” Snapping Turtle asked.

“Let’s hope they don’t… we’re not quite ready… but just in case, Edgar Owl is downstream keeping an eye out,” Squeak answered. “He’ll let us know when they’re coming.”

“Shouldn’t we head for the root wads just in case?” Paul Salamander asked.

“If Edgar or Deloris give us adequate warning, that shouldn’t be necessary… but you can suit yourself. The moment we get word of the frog’s approach, everyone must get their images into place, then, head for your hiding places and stay as quiet and still as possible,” he paused to consider final words. He added, “After that we must trust that our plan will work. Is everyone ready?”

Squeak scanned the faces of his friends for signs of unraveling, but by now everyone showed steely resolve. In the distance he could hear cousin Dasher Squirrel leading the beavers downstream and into the Placid Pond’s battle camp bringing the their images toward what everyone hoped was victory in the coming siege.

“To your posts!” Squeak shouted. “Protect Placid Pond, if it’s the last thing you do.”

Chapter 8 – Max’s call to battle

“Wake up you sluggards!” Max yelled into the chilly evening air. “The woods filled with grunts, groans and various sounds of heavy frogs struggling to their haunches.

“I’m hungry!” Menace Bullfrog croaked.

“Me too,” joined Ingest.

“I warned you, didn’t I,” Max said? “But you all wanted to soak out… and now your’e hungry. So get your rumps up and let’s get going.”

“How far is it to the next pond?” Shovel asked snagging several ants hiking home along a vine maple after a long day of scavenging.

“Who knows?” Max said. “Harvest what you can along the way.”

“That Flycatcher is mine!” Devour called leaping into the air in an attempt to snatch Deloris Flycatcher, who had lighted for a moment on a branch of a weeping willow overhanging the snaking east bank of NE Eagle Creek.

But Devour missed − plopping into the shallow creek with a noisy splash. Before other frogs could reach her, Deloris scrambled into the twilight air doing a series of tricky acrobatics to avoid the gaping mouths of the starving frogs. When she knew she was safe, she darted upstream toward Placid Pond to warn her friends.

Gobble swallowed a group of minnows floating in the deepening shadows of a fallen log overhanging the creek. The helpless creatures, apparently, hadn’t gotten the word that the Bully Frog Gang was on its way upstream ravaging every living thing in sight.

Max sent Leap Frog ahead of the gang to survey the next pond. Leap didn’t weigh as much as the other frogs so he could move faster and he had better night vision than the others. Max told him to camouflage himself as a leaf or a rock.

“Keep an eye out for eagles, badgers and owls,” Max said to the nimble frog. “We’ll lay low, if any of those are around. We’ll want to take them by surprise… but we don’t want any surprises,” Max coaxed and sent Leap on his way.

Max and his gang continued to flip and flop its way along the creek snatching and eating stragglers along the way.

A while later Leap came hopping into the gang’s midst. He had a big grin on his face.

“Well, tell us!” Max demanded.

“No eagles, no owls, no badger,” he gloated. “Just a banquet table of critters settling down for the night… oblivious of what’s coming.”

“Good!” Max exuded. “Nevertheless, let’s give them a big surprise. Let’s sneak in on them… Let’s move in on tip toes.”

Sounds of happy agreement exploded from the greedy scavengers.

“Alright, alright!” yelled Max, “Quiet now! It’s silence from here to Bountiful.”

With that, the Bully Frog Gang fell silent and began their nearly noiseless sloshing up stream toward the darkening banquet table.

Chapter 9 – The Wait

Darkness was complete when Deloris Flycatcher sounded the alarm. Mallard Duck placed his decoy in a strategic location in the middle of the pond and slithered in among the overhanging foliage on the upside of the Placid Pond and into an invisible niche between two boulders. The other animals placed his or her decoy in a location where the bullfrogs would expect to find them. Then, most scooted to the bottom of the pond and in among the tree pods, which made them invisible to the casual eye.

Jean-Louis Egret and Larry Heron nestled into the hollow of a log several yards from the west bank of Placid Pond. Yes, they were out of sight, but the decoy of a marvelous white egret stood motionless in the marsh weed with his bill cocked, as if ready to spear something beneath the dark water’s surface. The replica of the great blue heron was poised nearby, neck curved gracefully, bill pointed to the sky as if he were admiring the beauties of nature on a fine sunny day. Jean-Louis and Larry hoped the frogs were so dumb that they wouldn’t notice that their decoy’s stances were suited more for day than night.

The other animals of the community sought refuge among the dark foliage and debris in and around Placid Pond. Quietness settled gently over the water.

Squeak crouched on the porch-like space in front of the hollowed out cavern of an oak tree. In the gathering darkness he surveyed the scene before him as best he could. It appeared that life in and around the pond was quite normal. Everyone and everything was in place. Squeak was proud of what he and his friends had done. He hoped it would work.

Squeak Squirrel couldn’t believe the accuracy with which the beavers had chiseled his likeness into a chunk of an oak branch and the reality of the painting Wanda Mink and her crew had detailed into his decoy. It sat beside him, poised as if it were eating a nut.

“Just right,” Squeak said to himself and disappeared into the opening of his oak tree.

Chapter 10 – The Encounter

The Bully Frog Gang sneaked up and over a sizable mound overlooking the Placid Pond.

Max brought them to a halt as he surveyed what lay before them. Their stealthy approach had worked. The animals before them had settled into their beds for the night apparently asleep. They didn’t seem to know they were in danger. A mallard duck sat peacefully napping in the middle of the pond oblivious of what was about to happen to him.

The bullfrogs fidgeted in nervous excitement, grunted and mumbled their delight at what was about to happen. It was all they could do to restrain themselves and wait for Max’s signal.

Finally Max spoke, “Remember to stick to your species…. Don’t eat one another…. NOW GO GET ‘EM!”

The hill broke into pandemonium and the air filled with joyful croaking as the Bully Frog Gang each after his prey plunged into the black pond.

Hefty Bullfrog was first to the mallard duck. The giant frog swallowed him with one satisfying gulp. Within seconds his expression changed. His belly seemed to turn to stone… he just ate something hard. Hefty quickly swam to the east bank and pulled himself out of the water and onto the grassy area. He sprawled there. His stomach ached and he didn’t know why or what to do about it.

Slippery Bullfrog, also complaining of a stomachache, soon joined him. The two miserable frogs lay moaning in the damp grass. Then came Paunch, who was gripping at his belly and then, Buster, Boulder, Gorge, Wolf, Shovel, and so on until all of Bully Frog Gang lay in the tall grass burping, groaning, crying and complaining.

“I’m going to die!” complained Portly.

“Max, what’ll we do?” cried Delilah Frog.

“Yeah, you got us into this… now get us out!” yelled Devour.

“O slithering crawdads,” Max responded, “I don’t know what to do…There’s no hope.”

Though most couldn’t see very well in the darkness, one at a time the Placid Pond gang began to emerge from hiding places. Squeak Squirrel scampered down the trunk of the oak, across a log bridging the creek and up to Max.

“You ought to leave us alone,” Squeak began, “leave all us natives alone. We were doing just fine until you and your Bully Frog Gang showed up.”

“We’ll leave…” Max said clutching his stomach, “What did you do to us?”

Squeak laughed. By then the entire community of Placid Pond had gathered at pond’s edge to watch the comical spectacle as best they could.

Squeak spoke, “The beavers helped us. You thought you were eating a mallard duck.” .

“The mallard you ate was a decoy of me made out of a chunk of wood.” Mallard laughed.

“You thought you were eating dragonflies,” Squeak continued, “Instead you were eating mirages, the skippers were sprites, the snapping turtle as incognito, the fresh water muscle was a great pretender, the 3-spined stickleback was a phantom, the amoebas were ghosts and the tadpoles were apparitions.”

By now the whole Placid Pond community was roaring with laughter.

The Bully Frog Gang was groaning with pain.

“I was a statue,” Squeak said pointing to where his image used to sit. “The rest of us were in disguises of one sort or another. Isn’t that rich?”

“Just let us go…” Max pleaded, “… we’ll take away our stomach aches and we’ll leave you alone.”

“Can’t do that,” Squeak laughed. “You swallowed more than you can chew… Maybe, if you get sick enough, you’ll find a way to give it up. But don’t do it here. It won’t be a pretty sight.”

“Okay… we’ll go,” Max said struggling to his feet. “We won’t be coming here again!” he said emphatically. Then, he turned to his comrades and said, “Alright, you sluggards, on your feet! Let’s get out of here.”

The bullfrogs struggled to their feet belching and grunting. In the darkness they began making their way back down NE Eagle Creek toward the Columbia River moaning and groaning as they slugged through the mud and tall grasses.

Chapter 11 – Celebration time

All the next day the Placid Pond inhabitants celebrated. They set aside their habits of pestering one another. There was even talk of ways they could survive the dictates of the food chain and leave one another alone.

“It will be hard, but there must be a way,” Squeak said offering a nut to a freshwater mussel, who thanked Squeak, but turned up his nose at the idea of a mussel eating a nut.

Edgar Owl suggested they form a committee to discuss the matter.

“Sure! A committee is what we need!” Pete Periwinkle said sarcastically.

“Let’s just be happy with what we were before the Bully Frogs came. That’s what I think,” Mickey Mosquito said, eying Squeak’s bare arm.

“Yeah, I liked it that way,” Erick Earthworm said, “I’ll take my chances.”

“Well, let’s think about it… Today, let’s thank the Beaver Bunch for saving us. Without their generosity and sharp teeth, we’d be frog food by now.”

A cheer went up, “Beav-er, Beav-er, Beav-er,” filling the forest.

Then, to everyone’s surprise, Rusty Eagle settled on a branch near Squeak’s statue.

“What did you do to the bullfrogs?” Rusty asked gesturing north and surveying the celebrants. “They’re laid out all along the creek bank north of here… croaking and buurrrping and bellowing… too sick to sleep.”

Red-leg told Rusty what had happened.

The big eagle laughed, “Well congratulations… out smarting the Bully Frog Gang… and with the help of the beaver’s expertise,” he paused surveying the congregation of beavers who lounged on the bank… “Clever.”

The beavers grinned clicking their teeth.

“Wonder where the Bully Frog Gang will go next?” Red-leg asked.

“We don’t care as long as it’s not here,” Squeak said lightly.

“They’ll find a place to call home,” Rusty said, “we animals always do… I’ll be on my way… gotta get back to Rogue Wilderness… You know… home…” With that he took off, up and away to the south.

By sundown Placid Pond had returned to what they would call normal… thriving population of contented animals in their natural habitat looking forward to living with each other as Placid Pond residents had for hundreds… no, thousands of years.

Mildred Dragonfly organized a day of celebration at which Squeak Squirrel was honored as Grand Marshal. Larry Heron persuaded the beavers to make another statue of Squeak. Wanda Mink painted it. The grateful residents of Placid Pond community placed on the giant bolder at water’s edge.

If you hike south of the mighty Columbia River up NE Eagle Creek a hundred frog-leaps or so you might see it there.

Morris Pike ©

 

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