Lizards


I’ve got to say, there are some really cool things about living in the South. I’m talking specifically about reptiles here. Not snakes, so much, though I love them, too. But lizards. We had a pet iguana when I was a teen, and a couple of small brown anoles named Gandalf and Eowyn. Of course, they should have been Gandalf and Eomer, but never mind. We had them. They ate live crickets, which had a bad habit of alternately escaping into the house or dying of old age before  G&E got around to turning them into meals. And I have a lifelong fondness for lizards and other reptiles that started well before even this acquaintance.

My mom, maternal grandparents, and I used to go to Florida every year when I was small. My sister came too, after she was born. We’d spend at least a month in Naples, first in the camper, and later in the condo. I don’t remember the camper days. Too small. Mostly, I remember condo number 14, walking down to the pool, the air heavy with humidity and sulfur, and the skinks and geckoes scurrying out of the way as we came. I wanted to catch one of those little lizards so badly. I have conflicting memories of my mother’s response. Logic says that she would have encouraged me to look without touching, but I can’t imagine my mother utterly resisting the urge to capture an insect, amphibian, or reptile, at least long enough to study it. In any case, these particular critters were in no danger from me. They all skittered faster than I pounced and thus escaped without even having to even perform their  famed tail break even once.

The anoles were small and brown, or small and green, and I called them chameleons, because they could change colors slightly. The skinks were shiny with blue, black, orange, or yellow stripes running the length of their bodies. They were my favorites, because they came in such an unexpected range of colors. I liked the geckos, too, because they looked like extensions of the stucco walls where they spent most of their time. They were usually brown and bumpy, with big eyes and fast tongues. The ones I saw as a child didn’t much resemble the current Geico spokes-creature. The anoles and skinks showed up all day long, but especially at sunset, when the insects came out. The geckos were awake after full dark, darting across the sidewalks and under the rocks ahead of us.

Since we’ve lived in Alabama, I’ve seen skinks and anoles, but no geckos. Which is not to say we don’t have any, just that they haven’t presented themselves in my line of vision. They don’t seem to coat the ground in Montgomery like they did in Naples, but sightings are by no means rare. Not all our visitors stay long enough to be photographed, but those who do usually leave an impression.

A couple of years ago, Scott and I were eating a late dinner and there was this whump outside on our window screen. We jumped up in time to see this guy 

 enjoying his ten o’clock snack. He only stayed long enough to be photographed from indoors, which is unfortunate, because I did get to see him from the outside, and he was an awesome anole, having a sneaky after dark snack. I imagined him as a lizard superhero, flying through the air, hunting insects, thunking onto people’s screens, then vanishing into the distance, his work done for another evening.

Then back in March of this year, I was trying to get something out of our back room (it’s an extra storage area behind the patio, attached to the house, but with no inside access) and this little brown anole darted in across my feet, nearly tripping me as I danced to avoid stepping on him. In the process of trying to shoo him out again, I caught him, fulfilling a childhood dream entirely by accident.

I trotted him inside to show the kids, and to my surprise, he let himself be transferred from my hands to theirs. He had been so fast in the back room, but he acted entirely tame in the house. At last, Sam carried him to the yard, where we released him.

Only he stayed. He decided his best strategy for safety lay in camouflage.

He had started greening up in our hands, but as soon as we put him down in the pile of still-unraked autumn leaves, he began turning brown again. And he stayed there, motionless, vanishing into the underbrush. I rushed in to grab the camera, and when I came back, Sam had to remind me where the lizard was, so thoroughly had he changed his hues. But he remained as docile as he had been when we were all holding him, allowing me to crawl right up beside him, then zoom in noisily on top of that. I thought maybe we had accidentally caused a tiny reptilian stroke, and that he might die in place. And indeed, it took a long time for him to depart. He was still there later, when I brought Scott out to see.  I looked in on him for several hours, each time taking longer to find him in the leaves. He ultimately went away between my checks. I guess he survived the adventure with a story to tell the little grand-lizards back home.

I look forward to our lizard encounters. My mother instilled in me a fascination with nature that came from growing up in the country, surrounded by the stuff. I could never quite access her depths of delight over insects and arachnids, but I love the reptiles and amphibians, and I want to pass this to Caroline and Sam. As the matter of fact, I rather think they have far more potential than I ever did as budding naturalists. Pretty soon,  Caroline is going to eclipse my knowledge of flora and fauna and have to be turned over to her grandmothers. That’s OK. I’m sure they’re both ready to share their knowledge with the next generation.

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