Life is full of little compulsions. The friend who buys a lottery ticket every week, despite the odds. The roommate who has to have the dishwasher loaded just so. The dog that can’t help chasing every squirrel in sight. The moth to the proverbial flame.
I can’t help chasing lizards.
When I see a skink or an eastern fence lizard lounging on a tree trunk, I am instantly drawn to get as close as I possibly can without it spooking. I’ll chase it in circles, around and around like a dog after its own tail. And when I go visiting folks in Florida–oh, boy.
Florida is the land of tiny lizards. Since I was a kid visiting my grandparents here for the first time, I have been obsessed with catching them. My mom would take my brother and I down to the pool, and after a quick dip, I’d run all around the pool after the brazen little anoles. They were far too quick and clever for me (and usually still are), so they’d dart away into the refuge of a bush or up a tree to safety almost as soon as I set after them.
Once, when I was seven, I managed to corral one on a poolside umbrella into a circle of my arms and the umbrella’s edge. Feeling triumphant, I started closing in the circle so I could snatch it in my hands. That lizard gave me the surprise of my young life when it perched at the end of the fabric, looked me up and down, and sprang onto my head before scrabbling down to the ground. Leaping lizards, indeed.
Even now that I’m much older, trying to catch lizards is still a part of every Florida trip for me. I’ve adjusted my definitions of success; I feel smugly pleased even if one climbs over my hand on its way to freedom. I do better than I did as a kid, but let’s just say I’m glad my dinner isn’t contingent on my skills as a hunter.
This visit has inspired even more lizard-frenzy in me than usual, because it seems that August to September is official littlest lizard season here. Anoles must be at the tail end of their hatching period, because every other day I spot a new, inch-long cutie that I swear to all who will listen is the smallest I’ve ever seen.
Yesterday, I trapped one such darling on a skinny branch of a tree in the backyard. I wrapped one hand fully around the branch above the lizard, and the other below it, so it had nowhere to run. It froze for a moment. Unlike the older, smarter ones, who run as far and as high as they can, it crept onto the back of my hand–and stopped. I let go of the branch and slowly, slowly pulled my hand back from the tree. To my delight, the anole stayed right there.
I cupped my other hand in front, to dissuade it from making a leap for it, and admired it: the stripes and gentle marbling of dark patterns along the back; the scales smaller and smoother than grains of sand; the ear holes denting the sleek shape of the head, cocked toward me to better investigate my strange, giant form.
While I was admiring, a tiny fly landed on the pad of my index finger, inches from the lizard’s mouth. I scooted the finger closer to my friend, waggling it in easy sight and reach of one eye. The lizard tilted its head a new direction and–whack–accepted my gift in a single, lighting-quick snap. It snapped its mouth open and closed twice more, swallowing the little snack down. Then, without any further ado, it hopped onto a leaf and scurried away.
All the best to you, pal, and to all the other little lizards figuring out how to make their way in the world. Thanks for sharing a meal with me.
Peace and lizards,