Extinction: Reflecting on “The Golden Toad” by Karen Sandstrom

While flipping through a copy of Artful Dodge 44/45, the title of this piece immediately jumped out at me. Golden toads, I thought, I know those animals. My junior year of high school, I spent ten days at a scientific research base near Monteverde, Costa Rica, in a place called “The Children’s Eternal Rainforest.” Travelling with my classmates and teacher, going on daily hikes, and conducting my own soil analysis certainly created a rewarding experience. Since my return, I have always felt a special connection to the place. So when I saw the title of Karen Sandstrom’s prose piece, I was invested immediately.

The piece depicts a young couple whose marriage is tested when the narrator finds out that her husband is in love with his business partner, a man named Mel. She reads about the plight of the golden toad in a magazine and accompanies her husband on his business trip to Costa Rica. Her obsession with the golden toad and her frustration and fury at her husband drive the plot of the narrative towards the wife’s ultimate realization that not only is her marriage destroyed, but so is the habitat of the golden toad.

I found myself identifying strongly with the narrator throughout this piece, specifically with her feelings about the golden toad. In fact, her thoughts are eerily similar to mine when I found out that the golden toad was extinct. “Not all change is bad. Not all death is tragic. I couldn’t care less about the extinction of the dodos. It happened so long ago, anyway,” she says. “The toads are another matter.” I can vividly recall sitting in my classroom in high school, staring at my teacher as she told us that the golden toad was going to vanish off this earth during our lifetime, if it wasn’t already gone. The extinction of animals had always seemed like a distant concept to me. I knew that the dodo bird had vanished, and obviously the dinosaurs died off millions of years ago. Those were the two creatures my mind conjured up when I thought of the word extinction. I could not comprehend that the adorable yellow toad on the screen in front of me was suddenly going to vanish. How could that possibly happen?

“The Golden Toad” is a compelling narrative that addresses not only questions of loyalty and love in a marriage, but our complex and toxic relationship with our natural environment. At the story’s close, the narrator is determined to save the golden toad. She describes how she is going to dig a pond and create a habitat for them where they will be safe and protected. As someone who has walked through the “familiar and terribly foreign” landscape of the Costa Rican rainforest, I empathize with her overwhelming desire to rescue these creatures from extinction. After all, the golden toad was a physical surety that the world was in balance and that “the future was assured.” Their death is another poignant reminder of the destructive power that humans can wield on this planet.

 

—Megan Murphy, Assistant Editor

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About artfuldodgewooster

Ohio based literary magazine, now over twenty years old, still in print, and gradually spreading across the digital world. Official Website: artfuldodge.sites.wooster.edu
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