I remember - vividly - sitting in my father's classroom at the college where he taught, just down the street from our old house. It was a holiday, or I was sick, or it was "take your son to work day," or another one of those excuses for me to sit in on a lecture on Ecology instead of spending the day's best seven hours at Honea Path Middle School. I was sitting to the right of the big projector screen, occasionally glancing up at the progressing powerpoint as I filled out my homework sheet or worked on my tyrannosaurous doodle. I wasn't really taking my father's lecture in - his Ecology class was known to be particularly brutal, even for the upperclassman - and so his words passed vaguely through my mostly inattentive eleven-year-old ears.
But suddenly he changed the slide, and a photograph - this one, that I'm including here - re-captured my attention back out from the abyss. It was a photo of a brilliantly golden frog, unlike anything I had ever seen before - really, unlike anything I had ever dreamed existed. He called it the Monteverde Golden Toad, and before I could even become acquainted with the species, he informed us all that it had gone extinct - we would never see another on the planet. I knew that my father had spent time in Monteverde years ago, and I wondered if he'd ever seen one. I think that is what initially intrigued me - this little golden frog existed only one place on the planet, and my father had been there - he had been there - and I would never see it.
But even then, I think, I wasn't sure about the whole "extinction" thing. Maybe it was something that my father said in class (he always loved a mystery), or maybe it was my adolescent imagination, but I remember filing away that image of the Golden Toad deep within the dusty corner of my memory warehouse, to be re-examined someday when I had a few more of the clues.
Close to ten years after my father introduced me to the Golden Toad, I moved to Monteverde for an internship with Karen and Alan Masters' study abroad programs, and I suddenly found myself in the land of clues. The Golden Toad was little on my mind in those years, but toward the end of my time in Costa Rica, I began to hear rumors - whispers - of an unconfirmed sighting of a Golden Toad, two years after it was supposed to have gone extinct. I talked with the local man who'd seen it, and I believed his story. I had, without really trying to, unearthed a clue to the mystery of the Golden Toad.
With that clue in hand - and a few others that I have been lucky enough to be awarded since - I will set off to collect the stories of the men and women at the heart of the toad's strange story, and I will spend the next year traveling and searching in pursuit of an answer to the questions that have lingered with me for almost fifteen years - what happened to the Golden Toad... and could it still be - somewhere in the misty shadows of Monteverde's protected forests - alive?