My published short stories convinced me to collect them all in an anthology and self publish through Amazon. This ongoing venture is the fourth of my book beginnings. A companion Teacher’s Guide is also planned.
Think like a teacher while you are reading “Operation Hopper” and compare and contrast Oliver’s and Maggie’s character traits.
“See- do you believe me now?” Oliver B. Hill asked in that know-it-all voice he uses whenever he thinks he’s right. Sometimes I hate to admit we’re cousins.
I had to believe him this time. It was right there on the menu of the fanciest restaurant in Crystal Lake. Frog legs in wine butter, $19.95. The Shoreline Restaurant had its menu in a glass case near the entrance. I guess they did it to warn diners that they serve expensive food.
Oliver had told me that his family had eaten at the Shoreline and his dad had ordered frog legs. I just couldn’t believe it. Slimy, slippery frog legs sliding around on Uncle Reginald’s plate!
“Were they green?” I asked as I searched the menu for realfood, like cheeseburgers.
“I couldn’t see, Maggie,” he said. “They were covered with a sauce. Dad said they tasted like chicken. The waiter told us frog legs cost so much because they’re hard to get. That’s when I got my idea for Operation Hopper.”
Oliver always had some plan in mind that he called Operation This or Operation That. He explained to me how we could catch frogs at Miller’s Pond. Then we could sell them to the Shoreline and make a bundle of money. I agreed to help him only because I hoped I would earn enough to buy a microscope- something I’ve wanted for a long time.
The next day we met for a “business meeting” on the playground as soon as school was out. Oliver reached into his backpack and pulled out a clipboard and pencil.
“I’ve been doing some market research,” Oliver announced as if I should be impressed.
“Some what?” I asked.
“Market research. Don’t you know anything about sales? You do market research when you find out why people buy what they buy. I thought it would help us with Operation Hopper to find out why people eat frog legs.”
Actually, I was curious to find out why anyone but a frog would want anything to do with frog legs. But I tried not to look too impressed with Oliver’s market research.
“I stood outside the Shoreline and asked the people coming out if they had eaten frog legs. Four people said yes.”
“Did you ask them why?”
“Of course,” he said, looking at his clipboard.
“Three people ordered frog legs because they tasted good and were large and meaty. The fourth customer ordered them because they were the special of the day.”
“So, how does that help us?” I asked.
Oliver gave me one of his know-it-all looks. “That means the frogs we catch should be large and meaty.”
“Then we shouldn’t catch any chorus frogs,” I answered wisely, “or any of the tiny tree frogs. Spring peepers are so tiny their legs wouldn’t fill a tooth!” (I had done some research too- scientific research on frogs.)
“If only we lived in Africa,” I went on, “we could catch ten-pound goliath frogs.”
Oliver’s know-it-all look faded.
“The largest and meatiest frogs around here are the bullfrogs. Spring’s a good time to catch them. Right now the males are croaking away looking for mates. We’ll follow the croaking and nab them,” I informed him.
Oliver was impressed. We agreed to meet at the pond after dinner that night.
Oliver turned up with two large sticks and a rolled-up net.
“What’s that?” I asked when I saw him coming.
“It’s a special kind of net called a seine (SANE). We’ll attach the sticks to the net and drag it through the water,” he said. “It’ll be easier to catch the frogs if we net them.”
Oliver and I swept the seine through the pond a dozen times before we caught anything. Then we trapped three frogs. Two leaped away when we dragged the net up on shore. The third was tangled in it.
“Let’s hurry and get him out, Maggie,” Oliver said as he tried to spread the net apart.
I held the frog with one hand and untangled it with the other. It was the biggest frog I had ever seen. At first it struggled, but I held on tight. After a while it gave up struggling and settled down.
Just then a man wearing a brown uniform with a badge walked up and crouched down beside us. “That’s a granddaddy of a bullfrog you have there,” he said. “May I hold it?”
I handed the frog to him and he introduced himself. ”I’m Luis Santos, the conservation officer around here. I look after the wild animals and plants. . . “
As he spoke, the bullfrog leaped from his open hand into the pond. It splashed away, and with it went Operation Hopper.
“Hey, that was our frog,” Oliver said. ”Why’d you let him go?”
Officer Santos glanced at our net. Then he told us this story:
“When I was a youngster my father used to come here and hunt bullfrogs. But he always obeyed the hunting laws.”
I swallowed hard and Oliver stared down at the ground.
“What laws?” I asked, glaring at Oliver.
“He never hunted at this time of year,” the officer went on. “Spring is when the frogs mate, and it’s against state law to hunt them now. He never took more than his daily limit – in our state that’s eight bullfrogs. He always had a license. And he knew our state has a rule against using a net. He told me if hunters didn’t obey laws, too many frogs would be taken. Then none would be left for the next season.”
I wanted to tell the officer we were sorry and that we hadn’t meant to break any laws. But he seemed to know how we felt-otherwise he wouldn’t have been telling us this story.
Oliver looked up and tried to smile. “Did you ever hunt frogs with your father?” he asked.
“No, but I’ve always liked listening to them,” he answered. So I wished hard that a frog would start croaking just for him.
Officer Santos picked up Oliver’s net and said, “I’m sure you understand why I have to take this from you.”
Oliver nodded and looked down again.
“Promise you’ll call me first if you decide to hunt for any other animals,” Officer Santos said gently. “Then I could tell you all the rules before you get started.”
We both promised we would.
We sat and listened a little longer. Finally a frog started to croak again. It sounded big enough to be the one we’d let go. But by then it was getting dark and we had to head for home.
Oliver was very quiet as we walked along. Suddenly his face brightened, “Mom ate at the new French restaurant, Little Paris, last week,” he said. Then he told me that she’d ordered something called escargot (ES-kar-go).
“What’s that?” I asked.
“Snails? I don’t believe it!” I imagined some icky, oozy slugs crawling around on Aunt Victoria’s plate.
“I’ll prove it to you. There’s a menu outside the restaurant,” Oliver said in his know-it-all voice. “I have this plan called Operation Glider. We’ll catch snails and sell them to Little Paris.”
“Oh, no we won’t, Oliver,” I said. “Not till we call Officer Santos and find out if it’s OK to catch snails. Who knows- maybe some around here aren’t even safe to eat.”
But Oliver didn’t hear me. He went right on talking with a faraway look on his face. “I saw some great snails near the creek behind the school. We could probably catch 50 of them tomorrow afternoon. We’ll make a bundle. . . .”
I groaned as Oliver rambled on. Some people, I thought, just never learn!
©1987, National Wildlife Federation. Reprinted from the January 1987 issue of Ranger Rick® magazine, with the permission of the copyright owner, the National Wildlife Federation®