Defenders of Wildlife

The Frog Skinner

The Frog Skinner
The Frog Skinner

This is a very short version of how I came to understand that the environment and diversity are the most important issues of the day

David LeRoy Johnson

Enderlin North Dakota is the place I grew up, spending most my time down along the Maple River hunting. Leopard Frogs, Garter Snakes, and Painted Turtles were my usual prey however every now and then we ran into something that could fight back, Alligator Turtles. Our weapons of choice, landing nets, sticks, and bare hands. Once I believe we had about twenty five Painted Turtles in a wash tub until Dad made me take them back to the river and set them all free. That was just twenty five more turtles to catch the next day however and as such, so went much of my childhood.

When I wasn't down at the river, I was probably in school or church, learning what being human was. Church of course had the most to say on the subject. They, for as long as I can remember, told me there was man and there was nature, like man and nature were two separate items. I was created in god's image and all those frogs, snakes, and turtles (nature) were put here just for me. They were mine to do with what I wanted. So I did --- and I did some pretty gruesome things at that, like pealing the skin off live frogs to see what was underneath and then turning the skinned frogs loose in the water just to see how far he could swim with no skin. I was a frog's Freddie Kruger, their worst nightmare --- but hey, if it served my purpose, that is why the frogs were made.

One day however that nature/animal separation for me changed. Spotty, a stray pit bull that Dad had brought home from the railroad, became my dog. I always wondered why Spotty could whip the tar out of any other dog around and managed to keep unfriendly adults at bay. Spotty, being a pit bull probably had something to do with that. I do not ever remember him attacking any person but when he thought that person might be a treat to me, Spotty would get between us and just smile the way Spotty did, showing off his nice big pearly whites, and that was usually enough. Everyone became friends right away. Spotty was not just some animal to me. Spotty was my body guard, my friend.

Then one day, on a rare day when Spotty was not with me, having enough of kids and dogs, Mom threw my siblings and Spotty outside to find something to do. Not but a few moments later, someone, going completely down in the ditch to make sure he got him, came zipping along in a car and ran him over. The guy must have been a frog skinner that graduated to dogs. At any rate, I remember Dad telling me that Spotty was buried in the back yard. A granite glacial erratic marked the spot.

I remember how much I hurt. For me it was life's first great loss. Hoping to make some sense out of all that, I asked my Mother "What happens to Spotty now?"

"Well" she said "Nothing. You (being me) just have to get on with your life."

"But what about Spotty" I asked "Isn't he going to heaven?"
"Only people to heaven." she said "You see animals have no souls, no free will. Dogs do not know right from wrong only people go to heaven."

I was not sure what was worse, being told Spotty was dead or that this thing called god could not find a spot in heaven for my best friend.

From that day to the present I never could accept the story of creation, that man was created in god's image, that man alone has free will and morals. Of course, much has happened since then to reinforce that idea. I've been to the darkest pit on earth at that time, Con Thien and Khe Sanh, in 1967-1968. I watched death like some watch television and somewhere, during one of the commercials, I asked myself "What is free will anyway? If I had free will, I sure as hell would not be here --- and morals! What morals? Is killing each other moral? What is love? God? If god is love, those bombed out bunkers, garbage littered rat infested trenches, and decomposing bodies did not look like love to me. This was nothing but skinning frogs on a grand scale.

When I finally returned state side and left the service, I wandered for years not knowing which way was up. Nothing made sense to me so I entered college, not so much to better myself socially, but to answer these questions that were haunting me since the war. What is life? What is purpose? What are morals? Why the world? The universe? Do I really know what these things are or am I nothing but an echo canyon, deep with nothing in it? Exactly what is truth? And most importantly, how do I know truth when I see it?

At that time I was an English major hoping to write someday. There was this English Literature class in which we were to come up with the meaning of Dylan Thomas's poem "The Force That Through The Green Fuse." The library was full of theories about what that force was ranging from everything sex to the forces that make up the cosmos of the universe. Everyone in class was to come up with their own theory, which everyone did. Each theory was discussed and analyzed, agreed to or argued against. And somewhere in the course of all those never ending lip motions, it occurred to me since Thomas was died and therefore unable to tell us what he actually meant, that we could talk about that poem from then until the building fell down and we still would not know for sure what force Thomas was talking about.

My mind raced on. I thought "So let's assume we did sat there until the building fell down discussing that poem, still not knowing what the poem meant --- what truth would we have learned?" I created a name for this endless, inconclusive mind work, Mental Isometrics. In physics, if you push on a mountain all day and nothing moves, you may go home exhausted but no work was accomplished. It occurred to me that by sitting there, milling over some lyrics to which no conclusion could ever hope to be reached, nothing was in fact learned? It's like jacking the wheels of a car off the ground, putting it in drive, and letting the car run until it's out of gas? How many miles per gallon did the car get?

Well, although that poem experience did not teach anything about what the poem might have meant, what it taught me was the difference between learning knowledge and performing mental isometrics, aka learning nothing. Consider what love is if is love anything? Hundreds, if not thousands, of books have been written on the subject but the question we must ask is "Do these books agree on what love is?" Or are the writers spinning their wheels and going no where. Is love something real, being something everyone agrees on, or does everyone have his own idea of what it might be?

I began to realize that people can dream up theories in moments which may take years, if ever, to disprove. Hence it occurred to me that if someone has something he wants me to spend a bunch of time learning, it's up to him to prove his theory to me, not me to disprove his. Going back to creation, I've known plenty of snakes but I've never seen one that could talk. And given that since no one I'm aware of can produce a talking snake, I doubt there ever was a talking snake. There is however mythology, a branch off the mental isometrics tree, and I suspect in mythology's tree of knowledge is where the talking snake resides.

Anyway, if Mental Isometrics is not a pathway to truth, what is? If I now knew nothing else, I knew where not to go and waste my time if I wanted to find truth. This bit of negative knowledge narrowed the field considerably. And then one day, while stumbling through life, I found it. It came in the form of a class I had to take just to stay in college, Biology. Biology explained life --- at least life since life came about. Furthermore biology, along with my Mental Isometrics lesson, gave me great insights on how to deal with life's unanswered questions, such as exactly what was it that created life in the first place? What was that force, that first miracle (for lack of a better term) that sent physical matter on the mission of seeking out energy, to defend itself, and to reproduce? My answer: I don't know. Furthermore no one else does either.

One of the most basic rules of biology, ecologically speaking, is the natural environment; that is that environment that has existed for thousands of years on whatever energy that environment provides, is the most stable. Not long ago, that energy was thought to be the sun until someone discovered life in and around volcanic vents at the sea bottom where no sunlight reaches. Without a huge biology lesson here, I'll just say in a natural environment, stability depends on diversity. With each loss of species, diversity is reduced, hence stability is reduced and today we are looking at a mass extinction that has not been seen since the time an asteroid slammed into the Yucatan Peninsula some 67,000,000 years ago. We are skinning frogs every time we allow another species to go extinct and with each loss, I wonder how far the frog has left to swim.


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