When we lived in Austin, the “lake” was a couple of hundred feet outside our back door.
There was our back door, then a little patch of dirt that would be the back yard in a nice neighborhood, then a gravel track, not a street, not an alley, then a short embankment that led down to the polluted water.Â Everybody in town knew not to go in it, because the Hormel packing plant was using it to dump their waste. Whatever chemicals and entrails they didn’t put in the Spam went in the water.Â The lake was brown and lifeless.
When I was a little boy, I killed a frog back there.Â I remember it was a cloudy morning, and wet, I think.Â I found the frog near the gravel track.Â I must have been afraid of it.Â I held it by one leg and threw it into the air as high as I could.Â Again and again.Â I was laughing, to convince myself that I was having fun.Â After a while the frog stopped writhing on the ground when it landed.Â I threw it in the lake then.Â Walking back to the house I had a strange, empty feeling, with all the mirth drained out of me.
I had to tell someone I had killed a frog, and how funny it had been, to see him flying so high, spinning out of control, then falling, falling helplessly and splat!Â Hitting the gravel, or the dirt, and bouncing, and then the stupid thing couldn’t get away from me, so I caught him again and threw him up again, ha ha.Â I wanted it to be so funny, not serious at all.
My mother was shocked.Â The look on her face told me what my heart already knew: I had sinned against Nature, snuffed a life.Â I had been the ultimate bully, torturing and killing for no reason at all.Â When my father came home, he suggested that the frog might have been a father himself, and there might be a frog family waiting for him to come home.Â But he would never come home now.Â I pictured our family, my mother and me and my brothers and sisters, waiting for my dad to come home, not knowing what had happened to him.Â I was devastated.
Years later, when I was living in California, I heard that Hormel had cleaned up the lake, and promised not to dump any more poison in it.Â I don’t know.Â The maps I’ve looked at don’t show poison or death, only streets and buildings.Â But I know there are some things you just can’t clean up.