by Brian G. Spare
John and I met during a course we were both taking at Lakehead University and we became good friends over the next 11 years. Eventually John decided to leave Thunder Bay to move closer to his roots in Southern Ontario and we now seldom talk. But the comradery we shared over those years kindled a friendship that I know will last a lifetime. John was keenly interested in botany, especially flowering plants. These were followed closely by birds. John was an avid bird watcher. Next was the natural world in general. I can’t say I shared his enthusiasm for any of these, but it was the naturalist in John that would get us both into an interesting and afterwards a somewhat amusing situation.
One Friday night in the late spring of 1985, John and I were leaving William’s restaurant just past midnight where we had gone for coffee after a game of bowling. As we walked to my car John asked,
“Do you hear the frogs ?”.
“No” I replied, “I just hear cars”.
John insisted and I listened intently. Sure enough, over the din of the traffic I could hear a chorus of many frogs.
“OK I hear them” I acknowledged.
In retrospect maybe I shouldn’t have said that because he then asked with a look of adventure in his eye,
“Do you want to go listen to them? They’re in the marsh behind K-mart mall”.
Honestly the idea didn’t appeal to me, but I agreed and off we went. Now the mall is about two kilometres down Arthur Street from William’s; a four-lane main route which is always busy even at midnight. To this day it amazes me to think all those frogs croaking could be heard over the traffic from that distance. But after all it was late spring, which is mating season for frogs and , for a frog, lots to croak about.
We turned off into K-mart and drove through a darkened parking lot. As we neared the back of the mall, we passed a police cruiser heading out. John and I thought nothing of this and continued on finally reaching a small picket fence where the pavement ended. Parking nose first in front of the fence I turned the engine off. After we each rolled our window down a loud chorus of a multitude of frogs could now be heard from the blackness of the night and the marsh before us. John began to explain about the different species of frogs we could hear. Something peepers and another kind I can’t remember the name of. Just then a pair of headlights appeared round the corner from the front of the mall. As the car slowly approached we realized it was the police cruiser that had passed us. It pulled up right behind us pinning my car to the fence. The two of us looked at each other knowing we were going to have to give some explanation to the policeman who was now getting out of his vehicle. It was then I had that sinking feeling as I contemplated how I was going to explain, especially to someone in authority, what only a minute ago I didn’t think to be all that irrational. Having only a few seconds, I decided honesty was the best policy.
Arriving at the driver’s side door he squatted down resting his forearms on the bottom ledge of the open window. He was about my age with a pleasant disposition and had a friendly, expectant expression on his face as if ready to hear a story, but as he found out, not this one. He said hello looking at me, then across at John in the passenger seat then back at me and inquired,
“So what are you gentlemen doing tonight?”.
I took a deep breath (which was more of a sigh), looked him straight in the eye, and as confidently as I could replied,
”… Listening to frogs”.
Upon hearing this his eyes widened as he straightened up a bit not saying a word. In silence he glanced across me again as John explained to him just what species of frogs we were listening to and then back at me. Pointing toward the marsh I insisted,
He quickly turned his head to peer into the darkness and after a couple of seconds looked back at me still wearing the same astonished look on his face. Clearly, of all the stories he had ever heard, this one took the cake. But I wonder why he was so taken aback by this? Isn’t driving round back of a shopping mall at half past midnight to listen to a bunch of frogs croaking, what any grown man in his right mind would do?
He quickly regained himself and asked if we knew this was a restricted area, and if we had seen the “No Admittance” sign on the gate post.
“No sir” was my reply as was John’s.
It was the truth, we didn’t know nor had we observed any sign. He nodded his head slightly while listening to our response as if this was what he expected to hear and then suggested that we best be on our way. Of course there was no argument from us. It was apparent he didn’t believe a word we said, but was letting us go anyway. He said good night, got into his cruiser and slowly backed up allowing us to pull away from the fence. Putting my car in drive, I made a u-turn and calmly proceeded out of the parking lot through the gate and past the sign we somehow had missed. Eventually we reached Arthur Street with the cruiser close behind. Here we parted ways with the policeman as I watched him through my rear view mirror turning right after we had gone left.
John and I waited with some apprehension for a couple of days wondering if anything would become of that encounter. Fortunately nothing did. We certainly had a story to tell that evening and for a time after that. I’m sure the policeman did too. Well John, thanks for the memory.