The Battle of Apple Hill
December 28, 2007
Irwin Smythe drove his Cadillac down the ramp one Friday evening in early August, got out, slammed the door and stalked down the dock without a look at anyone. Every ounce of his 340 pounds radiated outrage. He had the bearing of a man, not just angry, but on the verge of a heart attack.
After a while, the groceries and his wife Eleanor stowed aboard their houseboat, Irwin took the car back up to the parking lot and made his way back down to the porch, where he unloaded his tale of woe.
Irwin and Eleanor had bought this bass boat, one with a zillion horsepower, a trolling motor, and enough electronics to knock out a submarine. He had rented an extra slip for it at the marina, so that it would always be ready for them to use. But Irwin hadn’t finished at this point. He decided that the sun was too hot for Eleanor when they were fishing, so he had a bimini top built for the boat, with special supports to hold the shade in place at the 70 miles per hour the thing could do.
Irwin wanted only the best, and this went for tackle and bait, as well. He tried all of the catalogue specials, and they had worked reasonably well throughout the month of July, but August bass wanted frogs, and so Irwin gave up on artificials in favour of the real thing. He even modified one of the wells on the boat to make a vivarium for frogs. Though he killed them before he put them on a hook, up to that time Irwin’s frogs lived in air-conditioned comfort in his black, metal-flake, Ranger bass boat.
Notwithstanding his expensive equipment, Irwin got his frogs the same way the rest of us did, by catching them in the parking lot. None of Irwin’s high-tech toys paid off like his two-dollar butterfly net. With his bulk, Irwin needed the net to catch the frogs, but with it he proved a crafty and successful frogger.
The bass had been biting, and the parking lot was running temporarily short of frogs. Irwin decided that there was some nice moist grass a couple of miles down the road, in a rural suburb known as Apple Hill. Irwin vaguely knew the developer from his real estate dealings, so he got the fellow’s number from his secretary, and had a word with him on his car-phone about his bait-supply problem. The developer told Irwin to go ahead and send his crew over to pick frogs.
Irwin’s “crew” this Friday afternoon had consisted of one man, Irwin, still in a white shirt and tie, but with tennis shoes and a pair of fluorescent green Bermuda shorts. Eleanor chose to relax in the idling Cadillac with the air conditioning set at glacial and the CD player whispering Vivaldi.
Irwin had removed one of his socks when he changed his shoes, because we had taught him that the most efficient and humane way to transport frogs was in a woollen sock, slightly dampened. (The wool wicks the moisture off, thereby cooling the frogs and keeping them more comfortable.) Eleanor’s bottle of Perrier lay empty and abandoned on the hood of the car.
Mrs. Emily Penney was returning from an expedition to a craft store in Westport, thinking half about her new garden sculpture by Doef, and half about what to serve her future son-in-law for tomorrow’s dinner when she encountered, parked on the grass at the approach to her home, an idling, white Cadillac. A large, dishevelled man with a butterfly net, ludicrous trousers and one sock, was hopping around her lawn, waving the net at what appeared to be pieces of clover, then pouncing, only to come up with delight clutching a small, quivering object, which he would promptly thrust deep into the bowels of an executive-length sock, tie the sock, and repeat the process.
Mrs. Penney watched this for some moments, then, realizing that the pursued were frogs, rather than some sort of loathsome insect, decided that she must do her part to save the wetlands of Ontario. She drove up behind the idling Cadillac, shut off her Subaru, and slammed the door behind her as she strode to confront this intruder.
This broke Irwin’s concentration, and he looked up with annoyance after missing a nice green leopard.
“Those are my frogs.”
“What?” Irwin asked.
“I said, those are my frogs. This is my property, and those are my frogs. Would you please leave?”
“Lady, I just talked to the developer, Stan Miller, on my car phone on the way through Portland, and this lot is still for sale. You don’t own it, the corporation does.”
“Those are still my frogs.”
“How can they be your frogs? They’re not on your land, I’m not on your land, and the frogs are all jumping into the ditch as we speak. Now what’s your problem?”
“Those frogs have grown up in Apple Hill. I live in Apple Hill. We are fellow residents, and we are not about to have you hooligans from a campground come over here to traipse around our lawns with butterfly nets.” Mrs. Penny ran out of breath at about the same time that she ran out of invective, and so subsided with a puff. We could imagine Irwin’s face turning from pink, to red, to bluish black. Perhaps he remembered to breathe in time, because we hadn’t heard any ambulances.
Anyway, Irwin backed down, with little grace, one might guess, still clutching a half-dozen spotted hostages. Her voice rang out once more: “Give me back my frogs. You may not kidnap them to use for your purposes.” Irwin clutched the sock to his chest, climbed into his car, and backed out to the road in a cloud of dust. Mrs. Penney, satisfied that she had done her bit for the environment and all of the loathsome creatures in it, drove her Subaru in triumph the remaining fifty feet to her driveway.
We felt badly for Irwin, and a little frightened for his health. This was the angriest we had ever seen him, and he normally had blood pressure that a giraffe would respect.
So we hid our smiles and started a discussion about who owned the frogs. Bloody-minded crew that we were, we could find no one to argue the Apple Hill side, so we decided to ask for a judicial review.
Out of Irwin’s earshot we approached His Worship, Justin Paul with the facts of the case, and asked him for a judgement. Jack did a creditable job of describing how Irwin must have appeared chasing frogs with a butterfly net, and Justin had a hard time containing his mirth, especially when Jack, an unconscious mimic, re-created both sides of Irwin’s dialogue with Mrs. Penney. Finally, the judge announced his intention to consider this in chambers, and went off to his boat for an afternoon nap.
A few days later, Justin announced that he was prepared to deliver his judgement on the case of Smythe versus Penney. We all gathered round and His Worship began:
“In Ancient England there were common lands where the villagers could graze their cattle on the grass, and take them home to milk later. The precedent for this case comes from the ancient English common law which governed the possession of cattle and other livestock ranging upon the common land.
“Mrs. Penney’s claim to the frogs depends entirely upon the state of mind of each frog at the time of the dispute. Before the law there are two possible states of mind for an animal: animus fruendi, and animus revertendi, that is, the impulse to flee, or the impulse to come to its owner, when called. The villagers proved ownership of their livestock by calling their animals off the common.
“Mrs. Penney does, indeed, own the frogs. All she has to do is call them. Any and all of the frogs which come when she calls them, belong to her. If they do not come when she calls them, or if they flee at her approach, they are fair game for anyone else on the common.”
We greatly admired this judgement, particularly his informed use of Latin, but by now Irwin had cooled down, was catching bass on surface plugs, and Eleanor thought it probably would be best not to disturb him with the news. Still, we liked the ring of animus revertendi, and we still talk about the Battle of Apple Hill.
Copyright, Rod Croskery, 1995