Lizard snatcher: A tale of youthful ignorance

My fingers get twitchy whenever I see an anole. My dad calls them chameleons. Don’t tell him this, but I was so sure he was wrong about that, I googled it. Turns out he’s right (don’t tell him that either).

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anole

My fingers get twitchy whenever I see an anole. My dad calls them chameleons. Don’t tell him this, but I was so sure he was wrong about that, I googled it. Turns out he’s right (don’t tell him that either). You know the lizards I’m talking about, with their slender bodies and smartly chiseled heads, transformed a bright green or muddy brown depending upon their conditions.

I’d never seen one until my family rented a house for a week on Neptune Beach near Jacksonville. I don’t remember much about that week other than the Belle Barbie doll my mom bought me, the scratchy faux-grass carpeting that covered the patio floor, and the lizard that bit my thumb and held on as I swung him through the air. Dad had discovered him and scooped him up and handed him to me. I was wildly curious until the little bugger latched on with his nubby little teeth. Mom was pissed.

You might wonder why my interest in these chomping chameleons prevailed after that poor first impression. I do, too. But when we moved to the beach soon after our trip, I kept my eyes peeled for them. And when I was old enough to run about the yard by myself, I started catching them. I’d stalk them in the bushes, moving quietly, quietly, until THERE! There it was, squirming in my dirt-streaked fingers. My cronies—two girls who lived next door—and I would place them in habitats we’d put together in buckets, or just stroke their soft little bodies for a few seconds before letting them go. I’d watch their tails whip out of sight, a little sad to see them go.

Back then, when I was eight or nine or ten, I didn’t feel bad about snatching these creatures out of their worlds and placing them so self-assuredly into mine. I was pleased with myself. Now, I’m admittedly a little disgusted by my old pastime. It seems cruel. And, after moving north before slowly creeping south just a few years ago, I hadn’t touched one in more than a decade. Until yesterday.

I wasn’t going to do it, told myself not to, but when I saw it sunning on the deck, I couldn’t keep my hands to myself. I delicately plucked it from the railing and cradled it in my hands. The smooth, reptilian skin was a sun-baked grass green. I released my hold quickly, but the guilt pooled in my brain as its webbed toes skittered up my arm before daring to leap from my bicep to the wood. It landed with a slap and still it ran, sweeping around a balustrade. It was gone and had taken with it that twitchy, must-touch feeling. For good, I hope, but only time will tell.

I’ve seen one since then, but I let it be, I swear. After all, what could I do? Mom was standing right there.

Do you flap your way to the top, or soar?

I’ve become a birder. I’m not quite at the level of, say, Audubon, but I have a few IDs under my belt.

egret-feature

I’ve become a birder. I’m not quite at the level of, say, Audubon, but I have a few IDs under my belt. There are your standard herons and egrets (yawn), bagel-snatching gulls, pelicans resting on pylons. And then there are my discoveries: red-winged blackbirds and boat-tailed grackles and mourning doves. Sure, there are mockingbirds I haven’t pegged yet, but in all the swooping to and fro, I’ve found that really, there are only two types of birds: those that flap and those that soar.

You know what I’m talking about. There are diminutive sparrows that have to work to move through the air. Silhouetted against the creeping dusk, their eager wings push the air away in an effort to get on top of it somehow, to be suspended. You can sense the sweat on their brows.

It seems cruel when another avian cruises through the crisp currents with ease. This bird is bigger, and yet as it flies in circles around our sweet, studious sparrow, it seems to have all the success with none of the work. But the sparrow doesn’t give up. It doesn’t catch a draft and coast back to earth to hide among brambles. Still, it flaps. Still, it beats. Still, it flies.

Which bird are you, I wonder? Gliding is an easy thing once you learn to leap, to steer, to stop. But flapping is hard, straight-forward, constant. I think I’m a hybrid, more of a bird on a roller coaster. I flap uphill and soar around twists and turns, sailing on momentum achieved from earlier labor. Do you push push push? Do you glide from perch to perch? I’m not sure yet which is better in life. It seems flapping would teach you more in the long run. If I were a bird, though, boy would I love to glide.

Night terrors, in truth

The rhythmic bleating of cricket frogs I was used to. The high-pitched chirping of tree frogs? Yes, I could identify that. But this was surely extra-terrestrial, E.T. meets Contact, fire alarm by way of fog horn.

It was half past midnight when I opened the back door and released Charlie into the night. The skittish Goldendoodle planted his feet at the top of the steps and threw his head back. He whoofed the night air, inhaling deeply and then thrusting the offensive scents away from him with an indignant snort. Something was afoot. And whatever had incited his scramble for the backyard moments earlier retreated. It can very well wait ‘til morning, thought he. And I’m sure if he could, he would have crossed those fluffy legs of his and beat a retreat.

Then I heard what he had so precipitously smelled. Wah wah wah, it sounded. I reached for a flashlight. Wah wah wahh, it went. What the bloody f—, I thought. Rustle, shuffle, rustle, then again: wah wah wah. It was coming closer, booming louder, and now I was alone at the top of the steps; my guard dog had fled to the shadow of the doorframe.

The rhythmic bleating of cricket frogs I was used to. The high-pitched chirping of tree frogs? Yes, I could identify that. But this was surely extra-terrestrial, E.T. meets Contact, fire alarm by way of fog horn. My brain clicked through different possibilities and settled on the villain illustrated in the nearby yellow signs. Alligator.

Alligators eat dogs. Click click. Crocodiles can climb trees. Click click click. Prepare the house for siege; the drop gators are coming.

The clicks turned to curse words, which summoned back-up in the form of my pajama-clad mother. “It’s not an alligator,” she insisted. She whisper-laughed (Dad was sleeping just one wall away) and I littered my language with F-bombs and pointed into the dark unknown. “It’s a frog!” Another wah wah wah joined the first and as my eyes widened, she amended her statement: “It’s two frogs! Just frogs! Frogs.”

Amphibians, pfft, I thought. I snatched up my iPhone and soon became an expert in frog calls. Not a ribbit. Not a croak. Not this, not that, definitely not that. As I crossed each hopper off the list, a triumphant terror blossomed on my chest, the intersection of being right and being right about something it would have been nice to be wrong about. And then, a sinking happiness. Audio confirmed it: My drop gators were just bloated bullfrogs.

Did you know those things can be 8 inches long? Freaky.