Report on the state of grey affairs. Sunday 12 April 2020

Clem Rousset

April 12th, 2020 4:41 min read 1289 words

Lately, I’ve been thinking about weather frogs. When I was a kid and visiting my grandparents in the countryside, catching frogs and keeping them around the house in a glass tank was a much-loved ritual. When I think about it now, it was probably a cruel one. Despite me and my brother’s best intentions, the rocks, the shiny marbles and the strands of scavenged aquatic plants, I doubt the frogs were thrilled, trapped in their small glass bowl. Let me reassure you though, as far as I can remember none of them died. The poor amphibians were always released on the day preceding our journey back home. The set-up of the frog tank, in its various iterations over time, always displayed a reoccurring feature: a tiny plank, branch or pole sticking out of the water and resting against the side. This was meant to provide a space for the frogs to climb on, so that they could let us know if it was going to rain. It had been explained to us by our grandmother that if the frogs climbed out of the water, then it was a sign that the weather would most likely be good. If they stayed in the water, chances were that it was going to rain.

Of course, the predictions were not accurate at all. Maybe because, kept inside, the frogs were exposed to the wrong temperatures and levels of humidity. Or most likely because frogs simply have no weather forecasting abilities. My hypothesis is that they would climb on the stick out of boredom after hours spent in the water, because there was no other solid ground at their disposal. I did a bit of research yesterday, and apparently, the myth of the weather frogs finds its origin in the behaviour of the European tree frog (hyla arborea), which climbs higher on plants to catch insects when the temperature rises. The tradition of keeping frogs in water-filled preserve jars with a comically tiny ladder comes from Switzerland and Germany, where, during the 18th and 19th century, they were believed to act as living barometers. It was thought that the frog would announce warm weather by climbing up the ladder.

There is something about the image of a frog that is trapped in a jar, but that can still feel the changes taking places in a world it is now estranged from. Picking up clues, faint, behind a layer of glass. Tasting the air filtering through gauze. Time to climb the tiny ladder now. Not sure why, but it simply feels right.

Right now, I am thinking about how most of what we can perceive is brought to us through glass, be it of windows or of screens. How we draw conclusions from timed conversations with mosaics of moving faces, news articles, and from the passing of clouds. How in the meantime, the world witnessed from a distance seems to exist in a different temporality. Trees will keep growing leaves no matter what. They do not need your opinion or your acknowledgment. Frankly, they don’t give a shit.

Right now, as I am here, sitting at my desk in my room in my shared flat, trying to get a beat on how grey is doing so I can eventually share it, I think about weather frogs.

These days grey is feeling hopeful. I do not know how grey itself feels, mind you. But what I think I can see, perched on my tiny ladder and peering through the glass of my preserve jar, is that there is a sense of hope that has started to appear in grey things. It’s hard to notice. It’s more like a hunch really. But I think I can affirm that, as of now, there is hope in grey.

Is it the weather? Is it the rainbows in the children’s drawings? I cannot really say. Maybe it is simply the evidence that we moved beyond grief, beyond acceptance. That we shifted our gaze from the light we left, the one behind us, to the light that is in front of us, at the end of the tunnel. The future now partially legible again. It would make sense, at least to me, that hope would lead us out of grief, through grief towards what has yet to come. Maybe it will be more grief. It’s actually very likely. But hope, I think, is what will provide us with the drive to go through and beyond it, again and again.

During the Middle Ages, grey was often understood as the opposite of black, as a symbol of hope and light. A guy called Charles d’Orléans even wrote a poem titled Le Gris de l’Espoir, The Grey of Hope. When you think about it, it is not completely out of place to say that there is hope in grey, or that grey is a fitting colour for hope. After all, the sky just before dawn is grey. A very light, delicate grey.

Hope is an in-between feeling, just as grey is an in-between, a beside-the-point and paradoxical colour. In hope, just like in grey, there is potentiality. And it is bitter-sweet. Hope is the clenching of the mind around a fleeting possibility. A contraction, a concentration of expectations. More like a retention, in fact. Joy, happiness, passion, promises held back by a dam ready to burst. Strong feelings contained, waiting to be released if a condition is reached. And it hurts. The pressure is immense. And what if the release never comes? What if the feelings die out? If it never comes, then they will turn sour and dark, and painful. In hope rests the seed of disappointment, dormant. Hope is a painful act of patient containment. Hope is not sad nor happy. It is often destructive. It can be a lure, yet a necessary one. Hope is what tells us that there is meaning in going through grief and heartbreak. And without hope, there cannot be a vision of the future, which itself cannot exist without hope in the first place. Hope looks nice in grey.

Raconte-moi une histoire, the sixth track from M83’s album Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, softly tells a story in a child’s voice about a very tiny frog living in the jungle, which once touched will change you and your life for ever. Blue becoming red, red becoming blue, and you becoming a frog.

Anyway. Lately, I’ve been thinking about weather frogs.

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