Poem: The Judges and the Frog
An account of the Dusky Gopher Frog’s Defense, and Fight for His Life, before the U.S. Supreme Court, October 1, 2018 and the consequent U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s and the National Marine Fisheries Service’s revision of the Definition of Habitat
The Judges and the Frog
By Ellen Taylor
On a seepage slope, amid
Sly pitcher plants, a longleaf log
Once tortoise-tenanted, now hid
A worried dusky gopher frog.
She’d lived 300 million years
And, fixed on the ever-fluid hub
Of evolution’s pioneers
Survived the fateful Chicxulub:
Slipped through the Thermal Maximum
Of fifty million years ago
Finessed the Pleistocene, and come
To this old Log through fire and snow.
Now, in wiregrass beyond
She watched an excavator crawl
Across her last ephemeral pond:
Savannah turned to Shopping Mall.
Ephemeral ponds (They disappear)
Were crucial for her pollywogs:
Fish swim in ponds that last all year
And fishes eat the sons of frogs.
Her longleaf pines, her dappled shade!
Long gone. The orchid bogs were dead.
The woodpecker with red cockade
Clung to existence by a thread.
A loader’s blade interred with gravel
Habitats long interlinked.
Afar she heard a Judge’s gavel
Warn she might soon be extinct.
A dusky frog, in crisis, makes
A magic cape. Now it annealed
Peptides, proof to plagues and quakes
More steadfast than a missile shield.
Mississippi left behind
She bounded northward. Time was short.
Arguments flashed through her mind
To move the august Supreme Court.
“Oyez! Oyez!” came the cry
So, with her bosom tight aclench
And stately hop, and purposed eye
The Dusky Frog approached the Bench.
And now, the Judges heard and saw
A frog instruct, as Age would Youth
Upon the sloth of human law
In pursuit of Cosmic Truth.
“Your Honors!” eight imposing brows
Inclined to view the appellee
(Recall that ancient
For interspecies comity.)
“Kinship brings me
to this court!
Our genome links us: we’re not strange,
While through the eons we cavort
As interlocutors of change.
And though you’ve left the ephemeral pond
Determinative as a child
We have a taxonomic bond!
You, Judges, are, in fact, still wild.
But, violate the Web of Life
Its patterns numinous and wise
To undo with judicial knife
A Being, portends your own demise.
The Judges brightened, pleased to meet
This as yet unknown relative
Weyerhaeuser from his seat
Groped for the right appellative.
The frog acknowledged the Attorney:
“I am Life on Earth!” she cried
Your friend on Existence’s journey ,
Trailing our elusive Guide.
Mr. Bishop, your acclaim
Precedes you through biota circles
Hooded omens greet your name
From bees to owls, to whales and turtles.”
Mr. Bishop bowed. The frog
With mild amphibian savoir faire
Began. “Your Honors, dialog
Cannot delay another year.
My Mississippi bogs are gone..
My need for habitat is critical:
Lethal are the lot and lawn.
Raise your solemn hand juridical!
My songs now praise the Bayou State,
Magnolia and manatee,
Our graves those woodlands permeate:
My name was once St. Tammany!
There let me live, on lilied knoll!
Ephemeral ponds will me delight
Until your species can control
Its suicidal appetite!”
Weyerhaeuser took a breath
But Justice Gorsuch cried, “This case
Is not about frog life or death
Or if on Earth she has a place.
It’s use of agency discretion
We’re discussing at this hour,
Does it require our intercession
Here to limit federal power?”
Chief Justice Roberts glowed with pleasure
Keen to argue Law and Fact.
“My friend,” he said, “Here we must measure
The Endangered Species Act”.
He raised a finger pedagogic:
“Adjectives compact and pare
Their nouns. A brown bear, says our logic
Must, quite clearly, be a bear.
Therefore, habitat, to be critical
To itself must correspond.
In my perception analytical
Here you only have a pond.”
Weyerhaeuser smiled at last.
“Our tree farm there is ours to log.
The realty value’s growing fast
And we’ll change nothing for a frog.”
As does her species when chagrined
Frog hid her eyes. Although abstract
These words were like an evil wind
Athwart the Endangered Species Act.
With elan then, of her order,
(Ranidae of these are chief),
She leaped the Press, and Court Recorder
Landing on Judge Robert’s brief.
She fixed each Judge with space-black eyes.
There, in their depths,
they glimpsed savannahs
Bursting with beasts of every size
And midst them, raising wild hosannas
In laughing camaraderie
Through a world of ambient wonder
Danced their Forebears, fierce and free
Exulting in the fire and thunder.
“Justices!” Her voice resounded
Through the Court, saluting each
“Human Chaos is unbounded
Careless of Life’s Mystery
For venal ends you laws deploy
A birthmark on your history:
You do not know what you destroy!
Market is your Woodland god
Gain your goddess of the Sea
Your specious baseline, plumbed,
With habitat we kingdoms lose.
Your Species Act requires redress
“At any cost!” No chance to choose
You humans must clean up your mess!”
From the Bench escaped a grunt,
An indeterminate expression
Laying bare the urge to punt
To Justice Roberts’s grammar lesson.
(The frog, absorbing this, was prescient:
In definition reemployed
The Agencies were acquiescent:
Excluded habitat destroyed.)
Paused, the frog peered round the Hall
And saw to her unbounded glee
Raul Grijalva by the wall
The Tribes, Earthjustice, CBD,
The desert tortoise, EPIC, whales,
A condor on the chandelier
And salmon streams, with flashing tails
And music marvelous to hear.
She gravely leaped through shining air
Saluted Court with courteous mien.
They heard her last, low words: “Take care
Surviving the Anthropocene!”