I used to raise tadpoles

Old logs on Hampstead Heath

It was my neighbour who got me into it. Or rather, my neighbour’s grandson. His name was Rupert and he would come round on Sunday afternoons. I would sit on the roof of the shed, and when I saw him come into their kitchen I would shout and wave and they would always invite me over.

One day we went to the park and to a very particular pond. I’d never noticed before, although I walked past that pond most evenings with my mum and our dog. The side of the pond was covered in a sticky white foam except it wasn’t foam at all – it was frog eggs. We collected the eggs in buckets and took them home.

Raising tadpoles is simultaneously incredibly exciting and desperately boring. They eat boiled lettuce, which smells weird, and mostly look like sea monkeys, which I already had.

But then one day they grew these little legs, and all of a sudden we had to put twigs in the tank because they were crawling around and doing stuff. Every day more of them would be looking more like frogs, until eventually it got ridiculous and my dad said we had to put them back.

I still live by that park, and I still see the foam, but I wouldn’t think of taking some home. Enjoying nature is a spectator sport now – adults admire the colours and comment on the changes, we don’t touch things and throw things or take anything away. I don’t mind, since boiling lettuce is stupid when the pond is ready and waiting to look after the tadpoles. I can always remember the tadpoles whenever I walk past that pond.

I have other memories too, of course. I remember when a certain tree was too big for me, and I had to watch my brother climb up and jump down without me. I remember when I got big enough for that tree, and how proud I was. I remember going on a school trip and building a home for the bugs who like rotting wood. My group built something just like the photo – a cluster of logs, half buried in the group. The other group was more ambitious, and they built a sofa. It took ages, and we all had to help, and my group thought they were stupid since barely any of their structure was under the ground, which was what the bugs wanted. It was pretty cool though, when they were done.

The bug houses were still there until a few years ago, slowly rotting as we intended. Soon after they were gone, a new set appeared – a new group of school children spending an afternoon with spades and saws. Theirs weren’t as good as ours, obviously.

But my favourite memory of the park with the tadpoles is of a tree near the entrance. Whenever my dad and I walked past, he would always say, ‘That is the finest tree I know.’ We would talk, in great depth, about what made it such a good tree. It was an oak, naturally, and had a wonderfully archetypal silhouette – round and broad. It’s leaves were pale in the spring, turning a rich green during the summer before warming to classic reds and oranges in the autumn. Even in the winter, with no leaves at all, it was still a mighty fine tree.

It’s sick now, old and probably dying. It happens to all things, so I don’t really mind. There are other, better, trees that I know, and my dad doesn’t come walking with me any more. He doesn’t care for bug houses, and he always hated the tadpoles.

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