I never see the weary man I spoke to on the phone, can only hear him mumbling to her down the hall, but she comes back, sure enough, and takes the toad off my hands.
Exit the Bufo.
I come home near dusk and let both cats out. Pickle makes a beeline for some unknown place, but now comforted with the knowledge that the toxic toad is no more, I let her run freely without following. Even Pepper seems to turn a corner this particular evening, eager to explore the yard as I haven’t seen before. I imagine she somehow knows I’ve established a safe space for them both – that, as the person responsible for their well-being, I’ve eliminated the threat, so we all can breathe a bit easier. I leave them unsupervised for a good hour or more till I call them in for dinner.
The next day I roam the yard freely, exploring all the nooks and crannies of our new jungle oasis with the same sense of wonder and discovery I imagine the cats possess. I’d known our yard in Oakland intimately, having tended it for years. I knew when the fruit trees would bloom and in what order, when the oxalysis would drive me insane with its ubiquity and persistence, when the rains would taper and I’d need to begin hand-watering. Here, everything is foreign. Everything a mystery. Everything an opportunity to discover.
I note an enormous variety of lizards – slender smooth ones with stripes down their backs, fat ones with mottled scales and curly-cue tails, black ones, green ones, small, medium, and large. I notice tiny frogs, bounding from the grass like popping popcorn, and am reminded of the first time I’d opened the garden shed in back, an explosion of tiny frogs, startled by the sunlight. I hear the strange chirp of what I’d learned just the day before was a red-bellied woodpecker, having spied an illustrated rendition on a sign at the wildlife refuge. This bird has been coming daily, mounting itself near the base of the traveler palm’s fanning leaves, dipping its beak into the spiky bird-of-paradise-like flowers that emerge there. I wander around, inspecting all the strange and tropical flowers with the attention of a botanist–the frilly red hibiscus with its well-endowed stamen, the creamy yellow and white plumeria clusters with their delicate scent, and the bright pink flowers of a small tree that attracts all manner of butterflies–I later learn its nickname is, appropriately, Butterfly Tree. I am immensely enjoying myself.
I follow the curving path around the guest house, spying the strange fruit dangling from the enormous tree above – brown papery orbs – my neighbor says these are sapodillos. I spy the new saplings sprouting from the base of the traveler palm. They look like a giant fan of banana leaves, making a lovely backdrop for the wooden bench there. I continue on around the corner of the cottage, and there, in the middle of the small brick patio, seemingly content, almost taunting me with a brazen attitude of disregard for me and any threat I might pose, sits a very large Bufo, squat on his hindquarters, his little forearms erect in front. He looks at me and I at him, and it’s only then that I realize our property was not merely plagued with one lone toad. What a fool I’d been.
In fact, when I’d earlier posted that photo of my tupperware toad on Facebook along with the story of my trip to the wildlife refuge and the pity the weary scientist took upon me, an old high-school classmate, an environmental scientist himself whom I had a habit of peppering with my interesting bug questions, wrote, “Well you know where there’s one toad, there are bound to be more.” My father had responded more seriously, even endearingly, writing, “I’m so proud of you for not taking a life.”
I’d had to tell him, “Dad, that toad was certainly going to die.”
I remain on heightened awareness for that second brazen toad, and it’s sometime during Week Five in Florida that I catch him. Or her. I tell myself a little story that this is likely the forlorn mate of the earlier squirrel-sized toad because this one is just a bit smaller and seems a tad depressed. Her husband now gone. No proper role model for those hundreds of offspring, my popcorn frogs, not frogs at all but baby Bufos, confirmed by a photo texted to my weary scientist friend who continues to indulge me for some inexplicable reason.
I find it far easier to catch this second toad, perhaps because she is depressed, or maybe it’s just that I’ve become something of a toad whisperer by this point. I carry her to the park next door, gently set her in the shady leaf litter of an ancient bay tree in the far corner, and pull out my phone to document my progress.