Pools of sunlight ripple on the river, a warm Autumn sun breathing life in to the marshes. I scan between the reeds and pond weed for a flash of golden eye, expertly camouflaged, easily missed. I’ve trodden those same wooden boardwalks countless times; followed all the beaten pathways. No matter how many times I make the journey, I always scan the water hoping to catch a glimpse of a frog.
The frogs are a reminder; the most precious gifts in life aren’t always immediately obvious.
My Dad and I were two stubborn souls, locked in a battle of wills and fighting bitterly at times. He always wanted things his way, I wanted them mine. He was rubbish at lots of things – most things; the things I felt were most important. Sometimes I was left hurt, wondering how much he really cared. He didn’t do the big things, quite often overlooked the small things. Missed my birthday meals. My graduation. When he died he didn’t leave me anything – not even a note.
It took me awhile to realise that my Dad, imperfect and flawed as he was – did in fact love me, he just didn’t express it in the ways I expected of him. Instead he instilled in me a love of nature, and he gifted me frogs to show that he cared.
One Winter night when I was ten he woke me up by bursting through my bedroom door and flicking on the light switch. “I’ve got you a present!” He said before pulling the duvet off me and letting a fat frog leap from his hands and land damply, on to my leg. Shock from my abrupt awakening turned in to delighted surprise when I realised the ‘thing’ that had unexpectedly launched itself at me was a beautiful creature with golden eyes.
One warm Summer afternoon filled with gnats and hazy sky he held my hand to form a chain as I waded in to a pond. With my one free hand I proudly scooped up a slippery frog, before it wriggled out of my grip and slipped with a ‘plop’ back in to the murky depths.
One midnight whilst walking the dogs over the fields behind our house he stopped us in our tracks “wait!” before stooping down to pick something up. “I almost trod on it!” he said before placing the cold frog in my cupped hands.
Countless times we walked the fields at midnight – him with a gnarled stick my Grandad had made from a tree branch and that same old green coat. He was always on the lookout; bats zipping through the sky, the shadow of a fox slinking in to a bush, frogs on the pathway after a Summer rain – anything he could point out to me and always ready with an anecdote, a little fact or some useful information. My Dad loved wildlife and nature – it was the best gift he could have given to me.
So as I follow the winding river that snakes across the marshland – a place I visited with my Dad so many times before – I look out for the ripples in the water, the small eyes that peek above the surface, long legs stretched out, soaking up the Autumn sun. I look out for the frogs and I think of my Dad who is no longer here to share the excitement but left with me with the gift of it – a love that doesn’t need a bow or a grand gesture; a love that will never die.