Medieval, torturous death at the pointy, barbed ends of a miniature Poseidon's lance--a death by gigging--how awful. And not necessarily the blessing of a speedy death, on the contrary.
Amphibians possess millions of years of evolutionary survival instincts on a cellular level. We've heard the stories of frogs frozen in mud coming back to life in the gradual thaw of spring, and we've seen for ourselves the bodies of green skinned, croaking gigging victims relieved of the burden of their legs, still capable of locomotion, pulling themselves helplessly across the ground on forelegs like a sick National Lampoon screen print. Horrific. A frog's peternatural tenacity in the throes of barbaric live amputation chides us our heinous disrespect for the very life force causing elemental fast twitch electrical impulses to contract frogs' (and yes, even our own) muscles.
Yet such acts have been perpetrated thousands of times by yours truly in the name of sauteed frogs' legs, aka: Breakfast. Oh, the horror. Oh, the buttery texture, not unlike that of a lobster's sweetness with just a hint more fight in it.
The sound of frogs, bullfrogs, croaking their deep baritone groans from the shore in choruses, at times synchronized, inspires somnolence in me. A reverence--prayer at the Church of the Green Leaper--a fondness for sultry summer air full of life rolls through the atmosphere riding the sound. Even human imitiation, a chorus of my brothers and sisters, mimicking the sounds in our imperfect frogtonal approximations of amphibian voice, makes me yawn between laryngal vibratos.
The first natural solo croaker eager to break twilight's silence and start the show--how is his honor so determined? Are straws drawn? I'd like to think there's a jumping contest. Perhaps a measurement of anatomical features determine which bull will first grace the night with a bono voce, and thus, give away his locus to a pimply faced manboy holding a rusty gig, standing shaky and tense on the bow of a boat, goaded on by brothers to sink the prongs into the back of beast.
My eldest brother built the best rig for gigging. His was constructed of two cantilevered booms for the bow's deck of his johnboat, fitted with c-clamps placed at each boom's end where they secured kerosene lamps suspended over the water, diagonally six feet on either side from where a gigger might stand. The light cast down into the river, depending on seasonal turbidity, would offer a stage--a killing field--of catfish, sleepless bass, eel, and the ubiquitous carp. Carpe carp. Sieze the carp.
For the frogs, for stalking them on the banks, turn the lights' reflective aluminum foil shields from casting down to casting directly forward. The light, a bright hissing fire trapped magically inside cottony fiber bags pressurized by vaporous kerosene, blinds frogs. It paralyzes them. It is illegal to gig frogs this way. Frog gigging is only legal in daylight--a near impossible task.
The boat drifts slowly near a shore, coasting from the last gentle nudge of a pole against the river bottom, heading the bow into an eddy where the bank is dotted by many pairs of silver eyes reflecting back a light so fascinating, so deadly. The musk smell of wet sand and slow moving water--the smell of frogs--is something one can taste. Your next fart will smell like that, you are sure of it.
Standing steady on the bow, the wide body of the boat wobbles like a board balanced on a flat basketball. The first gigging, that lunging off balance while thrusting, not tossing, the gig into the back of a frog, will likely land the novice in the mud. If you're drinking the proper amount at the time, someone will fall in.
My first frog fooled me. I thought I'd missed when I pulled back the gig and he was sitting on top of the three thin tines of the gig, riding it, looking me in the eye. I shook the gig, feeling his weight drop off and then catch again. He was caught through the webbing on two toes. Unceremoniously my brother took the gig from me, stripped Number One frog from the gig, dropping his wildly flapping body into a burlap sack, and handed me the gig.
"There's about ten more we need to take from here." He took a long pull from an Old Milwaukee pounder. "Don't go after any of them smaller than that one."
Number One frog was the size of both my fists balled side by side. The next ten, the next twenty, the next five hundred--were all easy after the first. But not one of them has ever willingly given up their legs once caught.
Sure, it's easy enough for a human physically to rend legs from body. We outweigh the slippery buggers by at least fifty times. And we're armed with sharp knives, and there's that whole opposable thumb vs. webbed flipper imbalance where we positively rule the frog in a fight. A thousand frogs, a plague of them, all wielding sharp knives--that's a fair fight. Maybe.
My first leg removal made me squirm. It was good 'ol Number One frog, I'm sure of it. He was the first one out of the bag, having climbed his way to the top of the heap of the fifty or more others who weren't so lucky as to have only taken it in the webbing when they were driven into the mud under the force of a drunken human. I chased him around the far end of our yard where we cleaned fish and foul and furry critter, finally pinning him against Bill's racing homer pigeon coup with a leaf rake.
Sorry, boy. Sorry for removing your legs. Oh, and sorry for skinning those legs after you no longer owned them. When a human catches a ring or piece of jewelry, perhaps a watch, on some immovable force and the flesh is ripped from the muscle and bone, skinning the part, it's called "de-gloving". I'm sorry I de-gloved you, but your skin tastes like shit.
Oh, and thank you. Those thighs you grew so strong and lean were deee-licious!
I still gig. I took my wife gigging before we got married last year. I took her out on a my friend's pond where we used to reel in chain pickerel hand over fist back before the run-off from soybean farming killed everything but the frogs. What we did that late night after a couple of bottles of red wine, well, it wasn't exactly gigging. It was more like "forking" as we could only scrounge a barbless pitchfork. Without barbs, the two frogs we did manage to spear took ten times the normal skill to bring into the canoe than a small barbed gig would've required.
I swear the difficulty had nothing to do with the wine or the snake we found riding with us in the end of the canoe.