tadpole titanic

Time travel is possible. I was eight years old again just the other day – and for much of that day. The first time I was eight the millstream in my village burst its banks and flooded the surrounding area. It was paradise for children. We built dams and rapids and floated toys on the muddy brown water.

Water can be a dangerous element for land dwellers, while for water-dwelling creatures the danger lies in the air. Frogs are amphibians and at home in both elements, but their offspring, before it grows lungs, is in mortal peril when water runs short.

Ironically, the water shortage was initially caused by an overabundance of moisture. Heavy downpours created a strong current on the east side of the pond, between the inflow and the outflow, taking plants and tadpoles with it down the hill.

My pond had become the Titanic. Streams of tadpoles came tumbling down the stone steps, desperately wriggling to find their way back into their element. Some were lucky enough to be washed into puddles, while others floundered in damp grit.

Those travelling in the luxurious first class accommodation on the western, northern and southern margins had no idea their fellow passengers in stowage were fighting for their lives, and went about their daily business without a care in the world.

It goes without saying that there weren’t nearly enough lifeboats and in the ensuing chaos, the unfortunate ones who found themselves near the margins of the boats, were washed overboard, wriggled, vigorously at first, then increasingly weakly, until they coiled their tails around them and lay lifeless on the mud.

My tadpole lifesaving skills are limited and involved a completely different scenario last year: thousands of tadpoles among soaking wet grass, and child’s play to scoop them up with a jam jar.

Make-shift lifeboats had to be procured from the kitchen: a large plastic jug half-filed with pond water – a tea strainer for the larger puddles – a teaspoon for very cramped places, and a dessertspoon for those in-between.

Tadpoles swimming near the surface of tiny pools are easily scooped up with a tea strainer, sometimes two or three at the  time, but those in rocky puddles with crevices to hide in have to be ambushed with a teaspoon, while those buried in damp gravel are best lifted into the jug-lifeboat with a dessertspoon.

It’s quite extraordinary how those seemingly lifeless grey blobs revitalise as soon as they are dropped into water, uncurl their tails and swim around joyfully after a hearty meal of blanket-weed.

Sadly it proved impossible to save them all.

All survivors are now ensconced in first class.

Perhaps a tightening-up of aquatic safety regulations is in order.

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