The Story of Steve – Part 2 of 2

Six years later, with my pet Steve-the-African-tree-frog, I headed off to grad school, a four-thousand-kilometre drive. Late on the third day, I was stopped for speeding. It was starless dark and the officer used a flashlight to approach our car. I had my license out. Steve was on the dash in his Mason jar. The officer didn’t seem to notice me, his flashlight trained on Steve.

“You transporting live bait?” a voice asked from behind the light. The beam stayed on Steve and I wasn’t sure who was being addressed. The question was repeated; Steve remained silent, so I did the talking.

“Well, no officer,” I said. “Just my pet frog. His name’s Steve.” I figured a first name basis broke the ice.

“Where you coming from?”

I told him.

“There’s been a rash of Dutch elm disease through here,” he said.

Which sounded accusatory so I tried to diffuse the situation. “Oh, no problem there, officer. I’m from the west coast. And Steve’s African.”

I wasn’t sure what to make of the quiet emanating from the mix of dark and blinding light.
Turned out the elm disease was an epidemic and simply a local conversation starter. The silence was broken by the sound of a freshly written ticket being torn from the pad. The officer passed it to me with a smile and wished the two of us a safe drive.

$75. For a late-night visit and a decent story. I felt that was fair.

Two years later Steve and I finished grad school. (Truth be told I did the work. He just swam and partied, somehow managing to join a fraternity.) We came home, I started a job and Steve got back to his regimen of laps, mealtime, and occasional croaks. I felt he was ageing.

A year later, after having been my pet for seventeen years (we don’t know how old he was when I got him), Steve passed away. I’d still have to explain him to people. Usually with a shrug. Questions arose and the novelty of Steve seemed to last. Silly, maybe, but Steve was an important part of my life. He was there for my adolescence, growing up, college, university, relationships and jobs. In the same way, I’d put a finger to his bowl to calm his croaking, Steve was a touchstone, a reassuring constant while every other facet of life changed.

Untrained pets still drive me crazy (their owners, that is) but I find I’m more patient around people with unusual pets. Even the stupid ones. But unlike accessories, Steve was never on display. Just a tiny sidekick, a familiar I shared stuff with, including a substantial slice of life. A surprisingly richer life because of it.

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Bill Arnott is the bestselling author of A Season on Vancouver Island, theGone Viking travelogues, andA Perfect Day for a Walk: The History, Cultures, and Communities of Vancouver, on Foot(Arsenal Pulp Press, Fall 2024). Recipient of a Fellowship at London’s Royal Geographical Society for his expeditions, Bill’s a frequent presenter and contributor to magazines, universities, podcasts, TV and radio. When not trekking with a small pack and journal, Bill can be found on Canada’s west coast, where he lives near the sea on Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh land.