It was July of 1969. In our paneled den in Bremerton, Washington my dad, mom and I sat in front of a new Heath-kit TV my dad had built and watched Neil Armstrong plant an American flag on the moon. “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” I was ten years old, and I was all in.
Soon, Star Trek premiered—inviting us to boldly go where no-one had gone before. By April 22, 1970, the very first Earth Day, I decided that I wanted to be a scientist or maybe an astronaut. I remember feeling the promise of science—how hunger and strife would be a thing of the past because of human ingenuity and technology. My parents bought me a chemistry set. I collected rocks and shells.
The dream: we would build Tomorrowland and create Star Trek—a better future through technology. At the same time. observing the frogs and snakes in the woods near my home and exploring the unspoiled Kitsap peninsula also became a source of delight. These moments in nature planted seeds of a different dream. These seeds would take longer to sprout, though. Instead, I wholeheartedly pursued “the Star Trek dream” for the next three decades.
My sophomore year in high school, I enrolled in AP Chemistry and watched Star Trek reruns every single day on Channel 2. Senior year, I spent in a laboratory, testing reverse osmosis fibers to create cleaner water—my very first summer job. In college, I studied engineering, mechanical and environmental, to come up with energy and environmental innovations.
This Star Trek dream carried me through a thirty year career in the energy technology industry, working on solar, wind and innovations in energy efficiency. This dream promised that human ingenuity could solve any problem, and that humans could create a more beautiful future with our technological brilliance. By the time I was in my early forties, I along, with a cadre of other Silicon Valley engineers, would build and promote as much of Tomorrowland and Star Trek as we possibly could. I felt completely at home with the names on the conference rooms of our energy tech company: “Star Fleet Command”, “The Bridge”, “Transporter Room” and “Galileo”—all inspired by Star Trek.
As young engineers, we were formed by these stories, places and images that reinforced a dream of a “better future through technology.” Initially, we believed the world was ours to save. We dreamed of a utopian future, where natural beauty was enhanced by technology, and every human need and want would be met effortlessly. The future would be beautiful, moral, post-racial, and abundant. Just like Star Trek.
Of course, the Star Trek dream didn’t quite turned out as I imagined it. In my fifties, I felt disillusioned and depleted. Since then, I’ve been retracing my steps. Where did we go wrong?
In doing so, I remembered something else that happened in 1969.
The summer of my tenth year was inundated with frogs.
As it happens, they were in great abundance that Spring. It’s possible that our neighborhood was built near an old vernal pool, or maybe the mixture of human development and weather had created biblical plague-like frog conditions. Whatever the cause, there were hundreds of frogs hopping about our front yard–all waiting to be discovered during my outdoor adventures.
Frogs were easy enough to catch and hold. They didn’t bite. They felt cool, moist and yet playfully alive in my hands. They could hop long distances in a single bound—sometimes six feet or more—perhaps a hundred lengths of their little green bodies. To me, they represented life, nature and whimsy all at once.
In science class that year, we learned that frogs were an indicator species—their abundance and health, and even their very presence were omens for good. It meant all was right with the world, that nature was working in that place.
I spend many delightful hours observing them. I suppose I fell in love.
One day, I heard my sister Linda screaming from our front year: “Noooo!!! Nooo!” I ran toward the commotion, only to see my dad with a manual push lawnmower, sharp blades spinning in a whirr of certain frog death. Frogs leapt left and right. The bodies of some who had not made it left behind in the wake of these glistening blades.
What Would Love Do?
Love might plant herself in front of that lawnmower.
This was no small feat for my ten year old self. Typically, my dad, an ex-marine with a temper, would not tolerate me doing such a thing. I faced a possible punishment. Of course, he could have physically moved me away from that lawnmower. But he did not. I stood my ground.
Something in my resolve led him to compromise that day. Between my sister’s screams and me planting myself in defiance, we convinced my dad to temporarily halt the carnage.
For the next hour, my sister and I crawled through the long grass of our front yard, collecting frogs and placing them in a large jar, knowing that any we missed faced certain execution from those unforgiving blades, After we were certain we had found them all, my father finished mowing. We then returned the frogs to the yard, and volunteered for future “frog patrol’ should my father ever need to mow again.
We held a little frog funeral for the frogs that didn’t make it.
Even now, I feel the anguish of such a world–where humans could destroy these beautiful creatures. What makes it possible for us to destroy a place where frogs live? Don’t frogs have as much right to be there as we do? Was a lawn really that important?
This was the start to my own environmental activism. As a ten year old, it was all about the frogs—I knew that someone needed to stand up for the frogs against the force of human progress.
Simple. Whatever saved frogs was good. Whatever killed frogs was bad. The Frog Doctrine.
For decades, I operated with The Frog Doctrine unconsciously in the background.
I keenly felt this conflict between Tomorrowland and Frogs, but I did not consider it at first—so strong was my belief in human ingenuity and so blind I was to the flaws in the story. Eventually, I grew disillusioned with the “technology will save us” dream. Discouragement and depletion took hold. To navigate out of this morass, I would need a new dream. A new story.
Frogs planted seeds of love in 1969 and these seeds have been quietly working their magic in me ever since. For now, exactly fifty-five years later, and after I stopped all the the striving, I feel my love of frogs rekindled. I feel a new story for the future emerging within me… and it seems to be all about the frogs.
I’m not exactly sure how the new story goes yet, but I do know this: it is a love story.