Tale of the Bufo (part 1)

For those of you connected to me on Facebook, this may ring familiar. But here is my attempt to fashion these escapades into a “real” short story. I’ll be publishing it in parts over the next few days. I hope you enjoy…

Tale of the Bufo (part 1)

 

Our last night in Oakland – POD packed, car sold, house empty save an air mattress and two litterboxes – I had one last crop of stuff to give away: our unused moving boxes. I carted the stack to the curb, posted a pic on Nextdoor. Moments later, a car pulled up.

She said, “I saw your post, you really don’t need these?”

I said, “We’re done, we’re leaving for Florida in the morning with our two cats in tow. Please, take them all!”

She said, “Oh do be careful, I hear there are poisonous lizards there…”

*

Now those with easier dispositions might have dismissed this note of caution, but in my mind, it clangs around, rings loudly, reverberates – poisonous lizards… poisonous lizards… poisonous!

You have to understand, for my entire childhood, the family cat (Puff) was my best friend and most trusted ally as our family ricocheted through six houses across five states in twelve years. And later in college, when I adopted a sickly feral kitten abandoned by its mother, that cat became immediate family, accompanying me through several apartments and numerous doomed relationships with men, until I eventually had to put her to rest at the ripe old age of eighteen, after many years of complicated medical ministrations. And now, as a forty-eight-year-old woman who married, yes, but never had children, the two cats adopted early in my and my husband’s relationship comprise nothing short of children in my mind.

So Day One in our new swampy state, with my “babies” securely confined to the house, I do some research. Actually I do a lot of research, and am surprised to find that while the woman’s warning on the reptilian life of Florida isn’t totally accurate, it isn’t exactly untrue either. Because while there are no poisonous lizards here, there most certainly are poisonous toads.

Enter the Bufo.

*

First a bit of nomenclature. I come across many articles, sites, and comments that refer to the “Bufo Toad.” But to say this is sort of like saying Tabla Mesa. Table Table. Toad Toad. Therefore, I will refer to it solely as the Bufo.

The Bufo is also called Cane Toad, Giant Toad, and Marine Toad; its scientific name is bufo marinus. Like the mongoose, in an early attempt to control the environment to human liking without understanding the unintended consequences, the Bufo was brought to South Florida and released into the sugarcane fields as a means of deterring pests. Now it is the pest, preying on native frogs, lizards, snakes, small mammals, and just about anything that fits in its mouth. It’s the largest toad in the state, often identifiable by size alone because the next largest toad, the Southern Toad, maxes out at about four inches long. The Bufos get up to five or six, and weigh up to two pounds. Now I have two-pound barbells for some arm exercises I like to do, and I’ll just tell you… that’s a lot of toad.

*

Some headlines I find:

  • “Bufo Toad a Serious Threat to Pets”
  • “Dog Owners Warned About Deadly Bufos”
  • “Toxic Toads Put Pet Owners On Alert”
  • and my favorite “Poisonous Toad Plaguing Puts Pets in Peril!”

Needless to say, I panic.

*

It’s September here, and though this is often the most glorious month in Oakland (Indian Summer and all), we’ve left that behind for what I can only describe as excruciating. Torrential downpours. Blistering sun. Sauna humidity. Air like hot wet cement. Not to mention the constant whine of lawnmowers, polesaws, and leafblowers toiling to keep the encroaching jungle in check. It makes me wonder why it is again we opted for the home with the large lot and dense landscaping rather than the low-maintenance condo downtown. But this is rhetorical thinking, I know. We chose it because I demanded it. “I want land, a garden to tend, earth to dig my hands in,” I’d said.

Day Two, while contemplating this newly tortuous but self-inflicted state of affairs, I spot through the hurricane-proof glass doors of our rear room what appears to be a squirrel, strangely still in middle of the back patio. I grab my glasses and step out for a closer look. The squirrel is, in fact, a toad. A Bufo. I’m sure of it.

You should know that in distressing circumstances I turn to science. I believe in the rigors of the scientific method, in the pursuit of knowledge, in reason and analysis. So I consult the Department of Wildlife Ecology & Conservation at the University of Florida for information and advisement on our situation. Among other things, they have this to say about the Bufo:

In the known range of these toads, it is a good idea to catch and identify ANY toad you see in your yard to be sure they aren’t dangerous. Humanely euthanize any Cane Toads you find by rubbing toothache gel or spraying sunburn spray on the toad’s lower belly, then freeze for 24-48 hours. 

Please note that they don’t explain exactly how to catch any toad in your yard. Nor do they explain the intricacies of applying the toothache gel or sunburn spray. I imagine myself politely asking the toad––now Mr. Toad, please turn over so I can gently rub this on your tummy, I promise, you won’t feel a thing. I also imagine Mr. Toad squirting his toxic goo straight in my eye. What are these scientists thinking?!

*

Day Four I see the toad again. The same squirrel-sized toad in the same spot on the patio. I deem the threat of this toad (and by extension the entire state of Florida) to the happy well-being of my family, nothing short of terrifying. I dash to CVS and buy both sunburn spray and toothache gel. I have no clue how I’m going to catch the damn thing, but I make these preparations nonetheless. I also grab a bucket from the garage and set it near the back door along with a bamboo stick found in the yard.

*

The third time I spot the toad I am gardening. It’s early morning, not quite the hellscape high noon will present, and I’m pulling crabgrass creepers from the stone pathway that winds to the rear of the property when his toady form catches my eye. I run to the back door, grab my bucket and stick and race towards where I’d seen him, squat under a thicket of hibiscus. The plan is to trap him under the bucket, but it’s impossible to squeeze the bucket beneath the low shrubby branches so I use the stick to try to swish him out into the open. He doesn’t budge.

I crawl along on my hands and knees in the hot damp grass, swishing the stick, the thick air buzzing around me as mosquitos pierce my flesh. The sun is painfully bright, blinding, but the shade beneath the shrubs is utter darkness. I can hear him more than see him as he plops a path along the cottage wall in the dark shade of the hibiscus, the bottom leaves rustling as he launches and lands. I crawl along following him, the grass staining my hands and knees, my eyes straining through the dense foliage, as he reaches the back corner of the cottage. My eyes have adjusted, I have him in my sights, and say so – “Aha! I’ve got you in my sights now!” – and turn slightly to reach for the bucket…

(continued tomorrow, in part 2)

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