When a tree falls in the woods | PostIndependent.com
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When a tree falls in the woods

Derek Franz
Post Independent
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

The big broken pine was a monument to a fleeting sound.

A violent crash in the woods was preserved when it fell years ago, perhaps in a lightning storm. The thick, splintered stump was broken off 20 feet high. The rest of the old tree rotted where it fell, about eight feet from the stump. It stretched across a clearing in the forest like a footprint. The wake of that sudden destruction – now long silent and overgrown with moss and grass – still possessed the place like an echo.

Sometimes the impact of something isn’t felt until after the scar becomes apparent.



I was thinking of this as my girlfriend and I hiked along Avalanche Creek with our dog last Sunday. Soleille, the dog, bounded ahead and I called after her, “Samson!”

Samson was a chapter in my life, my pet frog. My dried-up friend. I found him in the back of the closet hours before my Freudian slip in the forest.



Losing a pet is never easy for me, though I don’t necessarily cry. Samson is – or was – an African clawed frog, fully aquatic but able to hop across dry land as long as his skin stayed moist. He had a life expectancy of 20 years. Now it seems my little green guy has hopped off to a better place. I miss his buggy eyes already, looking out at me while I work in my home office.

He was about the size of my palm, and the length of my hand when his legs were extended. His top side was dark green with olive-green spots. He would swim back and forth in the 20-gallon tank like a little scuba diver. I watched him for hours at a time before I had TV or Internet, or any real companionship.

He used to sing. Sometimes his chirping was so loud it made it hard to hear the stereo.

He escaped only once before, after I got him from a former girlfriend. I got my Jack Johnson collection from her, too. I loved her and I loved that frog. Working the night shift, I came home at 2 a.m. one day and quickly noticed the little guy was not in his tank.

I pulled all the furniture out, looking into every cranny with a flashlight, trying to imagine myself a frog out of water. Eventually I noticed a hole in the wall behind the refrigerator. I just knew that’s where he had gone, but there was no way to reach him unless I punched a hole in the dry wall. I went to bed, disappointed in myself. It was at a time in my life when I struggled to keep any relationship alive.

I awoke from a dream at 4 a.m. At first I thought I imagined the sounds – a small creature scratching across tile in the quiet hour. I tip-toed to my bedroom door and leaned into the kitchen. The refrigerator was directly across from me. I stood still, my eyes straining to adjust in the dark.

A dark blob emerged from under the fridge – could it be? I flipped the light switch – Samson!

His skin was barely damp and he was caked in lint. I picked him up without a struggle and put him in the sink. Water washed over him like my relief. That was almost six years ago and I didn’t have another problem until last week.

In a way I’m relieved. I almost pitied him for his long life expectancy. As much as I liked having him around, I can’t imagine a happy creature living out all that time in a glass cube, surrounded by the same fake logs and plants. That’s why I bought a meditating Buddha figure to go in the tank as well.

I’ve been trying to imitate Buddha a lot lately – to be collected amid the ceaseless swirl of chaos unfolding around me.

A tree grows for years and years. It grows tall and strong and then one day it dies suddenly without warning. Every thing, big and small, is just as fragile.

Samson swam for years and years, never jumping out of the tank. Only now do I really think about him and what he meant to me, and what it will be like to lose other loved ones in my lifetime.

I’m not sure what will replace him. All I know is that I will probably find something else to grow in that tank, which is part of the room’s feng shui.

The water filter continues to cycle in the empty tank. The waterfall runs “on and on,” and Jack Johnson sings the song by the same name on the stereo, uninterrupted. The water trickles steadily, ceaselessly cascading over Buddha’s head, and the silence rings so clearly.

We are all fleeting sounds.

– “Open Space” appears on the second and fourth Friday of the month. Derek Franz writes for the Eagle Valley Enterprise and lives in Glenwood Springs. He can be reached at dfranz@eaglevalleyenterprise.com.


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