There is only one rule for our in-ground trampoline: no flips. Sometimes the older boys steal over and flip their too-long bodies into the air. We know we are hidden by our hill, but fear of discovery or some strange shriek of laughter makes us voice the rules. They are teenagers though, and they do not listen to us.
Most days are to ourselves. We ride the bus with our 5th grade triplet friends, separated from us during recess by the chain link fence between the older kids and us. Wave our goodbyes and go around our front door straight back to our special place. We go past the birch tree patch where we pretend to write ancient scrolls on the fallen bark. We found a stone once with Native drawings on it, a man shooting an arrow, but we lost it. The stones could be from any stolen land though, we acknowledge this. Pass the trampoline and walk down to our stream. Abandon our socks and shoes and let our feet sink into the sandy banks.
We are our ancestors gathering berries in Kentucky. We are archaeologists looking for clues. We are frog hunters. We are tadpole chasers. We are sisters.
The water is cold on our ankles. The closer we get to the storm drain, the deeper the water and the better the frogs. We test how close we can get to the green ones, and delight in the momma toads hidden under the skunk leaves. We only catch them to catch them, and then we let them go. Sometimes, we’ll put the green friends in a bucket so we can pet their slippery backs with our fingers.
For a while, a bullfrog sat as king above the storm drain, getting fat on the flies. There are no mosquitoes in our stream because we clear any blockages. When we moved here, to Detroit, logs and rocks interrupted like hiccups, but we fixed it. We caught the king bullfrog with our butterfly net and told him he was messing up the natural habitat. He must have listened to us because after we let him go he never came back.
Sometimes we follow the stream back into the swamp that no property lines cover. Our boots squeal against the mud and we learn a trail of thick logs and rocks to get us to the middle no-person land. We’ve claimed it as ours, nailed two boards into the willow tree so we can climb up with our nets and our books. Watch red-winged blackbirds hop from puffed-rice cattail tops, singing. We can stay out until sunset until the crickets and frogs start up their song. The night belongs to our swamp and we are okay with that.
The neighborhood boys think touching the sandy stream bank is gross. They do not understand the frogs. We do not tell them about our power, the magic of the willow tree, or the deer skull we buried. We are the secret protectors and the frogs know us by name.