Swamp Sage


The Valrose swamp is a beautiful place where no one ventures near, and I find it interesting to ask them why.  They say it’s because of the humidity, or because the waters are cursed, or because it holds strange creatures that should not be.  They’ll say it’s too far from civilization, it doesn’t have enough sunlight, it’s too wild . . . really anything they can think up on the spot.

I can’t say they’re wrong, though I don’t believe the waters are cursed.  Some will argue when I say it’s beautiful, but most will concede the point.  Those who argue are the people who are too frightened to look.  Or perhaps, to frightened to feel.

The waters are a deep shade of orchid purple, their smooth surfaces interrupted by lime green reeds growing in the shallows, by ripples of commotion reaching outwards, by bubbles breaking the surface.  Water striders dart across the surface to the shrill music of crickets and cicadas.

Ancient trees cover the sky with polished ivory leaves, their smooth pearly branches drooping down to touch the earth and dip into water.  A thick carpet of moss covers every inch of the ground, climbing rocks and fallen branches and the base of tree trunks.

Beetles in dark hues of green and blue and yellow fly through the air and sometimes bounce off trees in their hurry.  Dragonflies with crystal wings glide low to avoid them.

And frogs.

Frogs of every color.

Bright, saturated, poisonous colors.  They are warnings, cautionary tales, beacons of danger.  They are the guardians of Valrose swamp, and they are my greatest curiosity.

I study most of the plants and creatures here, but none more than these colorful frogs.

I kept one once.  Caught it in a jar without touching it myself.  It was green and black and purple swirled together, like how oil looks when it gleams under the sun.  I fed it every bug I caught until I could figure out which ones it preferred.  I dropped in silver leaves and spongy moss and twisted sticks, observing carefully and writing it all down as bit by bit I grew attached.

Here is what I learned:

The frogs love to eat the pale crickets that sparkle in slivers of light, the emerald green minnows that gather in the shallows, and the fat inchworms the color of steel.

They love to touch the ivory leaves, but once they do the leaves shrink and turn a muted gray.

Exposure to their skin causes moss to turn bright violet, thriving more than any of the other samples I’ve grown.

Glass walls cannot contain them forever.

At first, copper spots blurred sections of the glass, like the surface of an aging banana.  A little longer, and spiderweb cracks spread over the surface.  I went to get another jar to relocate my frog, but when I came back there were only withered leaves, twisted sticks, violet moss covered in dusted glass, the top half of a jar, and the absence of a colorfully gleaming frog.

My journals are filled with discoveries, and sometimes those discoveries are disappearances or failures or unfortunate consequences.  There is more than you might imagine in research, the rise and fall of emotions, the breaking out of questions, the occasional answer that makes everything shift just enough to click into place.  Sometimes, I think of it as a story, one of longing and feeling and relinquishment.

It is a delicate thing, to love something wild.

It is my life.

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