I unearthed an amphibian kin yesterday. The night before I’d dug a hole for one of our new fruit trees, leaving a large mound of dirt. As we planted the tree and I moved the dirt back into the hole, a tiny squeal responded to my shoveling. A Toad had buried itself in the cool sand overnight to escape the unseasonably warm days. Their skin requires moisture to survive.
Wetsuits are how I survive the Pacific temperatures. They transform me into a boyant and kind-of-warm aqua-citizen. The neoprene is tissue-like, but does not allow liquid in. Thats the job of the zipper. Wetsuits are designed to allow in a ballast of water that the body then warms, creating a heat retaining layer of insulation.
Amphibians are not so lucky. Not only do they lack extra suits of skin, theirs is super-permeable, functioning more like lungs turned inside out and exposed directly to the world. Many amphibians breathe and drink through their epidermis. Skin does not separate them from the world, it joins them to it.
This is part of what captures my imagination: despite our toxic times there are still creatures that live on land but respirate like fish. They can’t escape the pollution of our world, they are tender and vulnerable in ways we know we can’t afford to be. They are our ecological conscience embodied.
Fortunately for this bit of our collective conscience, I missed it with my shovel, just sliding across its scalp. Sleepy and a little pissed off it seemed OK. I placed it in a bucket with cool sand and water. The bucket went on its side in a corner of the garden protected from the sun and our curious dog. Diplomatic relations with the amphibian world have been preserved.
Becoming amphibian includes becomming earthbound and permeable, allowing life to penetrate you unexpectedly, upending your planned ways. Everything you touch is also everything you inhale. Amphibian = life made intimate.
After relocating the Toad I went to Monterey for the final fitting of my new wetsuit – a custom made free-diving second skin. The fitting was a little intimidating. I’m used to a thinner, more flexible triathlete wetsuit, not feeling like I’m being zip-locked for the freezer. My wife couldn’t stop laughing as I struggled to slide into the two piece prison – skin indeed!
Selkie, like free-divers, can remove their seal skin. They are ultimately human, or perhaps Sidhe, beneath their seal-self. But they are people in a way that suggests that all of us are really a part of the Ocean. A Selkie in human form is like a seal on land, but a Selkie in seal form is still somehow more seal than human. They remind us we ultimately belong to the wildness of the world.
The Selkie lore I’ve been able to find has mostly to do with love and devotion. The Selkie men hide their seal selves to make love to human women, the Selkie women are seduced by earthbound men who hide their skins to make them their wives. It seems that sex is a part of losing or gaining our Selkie selves. Sex is one of those things as irresistible as the call of the Ocean, the call of the amphibian to return to the liquid world to reproduce.
This morning I checked on our Toad, he’d left the temporary shelter I made for him in favor of the nearby forest. Our paths crossing seemed like a good omen, and a reminder to me to keep amphibians in my heart while I gain my new Selkie skin. It will protect me from the Ocean, and bring me closer to it at the same time. Hopefully it will bring me closer to the amphibian world view as well. A few minor adjustments and the wetsuit should arrive in a week or so. I hope this tadpole is ready to leave its pond by then.
Image: Grumpy Toad by By Weemeeuw from Flickr, used under
a Creative Commons license