Long ago, in a land far, far away….
On the dusty trails of Weldon Wagon Road,
I heard a ruckus as I approached a stand of oak.
When I crept up to the scene, the grass was parting swiftly in a narrow river at least five feet long. I braced myself to witness an enormous reptile crossing the trail, possibly in search of human flesh seasoned with a zesty coating of summer sweat.
Instead, a lizard shot out of the grass and up a tree and the snake that had been pursuing his dinner followed him straight up the trunk!
This herpetological free climber and his quarry–we’ll call them Sir Edmund Hillary and Herbie the Wonder Lizard–completely ignored me as their life and death chase continued a few feet away. Herbie made a beeline for the top and put all his chips on one hiding spot under a branch.
Sir Edmund, a Western Yellow-Bellied Racer Snake, lost the scent about half way up and reconnoitered a few branches.
He collapsed into a writhing pile and seemed to collect his thoughts on the matter. Meanwhile, Herbie was still frozen like a TV dinner.
I thought Sir Edmund might have given up but after a few minutes, he renewed his efforts and it looked like Herbie might be the main course after all.
Alas, sun-warmed fence lizard was not on the menu that day. Sir Edmund retreated to lower elevations, but Herbie wasn’t fooled. He was all over that bark like a cheap suit. After five minutes, I got bored and left.
On my way back past that spot several hours later, there was still a snake chasing lizards through the grass. For all I know, Herbie and Sir Edmund were continuing the saga at my feet. I admit, I was pulling for Herbie all along. After all, snakes are cute but lizards are adorable, ‘specially the smart ones.
The day continued in an upward trend of dancing butterflies, skittish crickets, and real-life bluebirds of happiness. Steep, open prairies like this one are packed with opportunity; the ground moves with tiny bodies and the foliage is full of nervous compound eyes.
Meanwhile, I’m playing patty cake with spiders in the bull’s eyes of webs, stroking trout beneath the standing waves of a creek, finding out what a banana slug’s chewing radula feels like on my thumb, watching a marmot fall asleep in the sun next to me. Sharing a conscious moment of awareness with an amazing creature is worth a thousand websites, ten thousand. I’d rather tell you what a fence lizard’s tiny claws feel like on my thumb than know his Latin name and current elevation.
Whether it’s an attempt to short circuit a predator’s pursuit impulse or merely a resignation to their next stage in the food chain, it’s a moment that affords inspection.
True blue is an uncommon hue in the wild and it’s always a thrill to find it. When I released him, he didn’t run very far, just paused and threw me a withering backwards glance before scooting under a log.
On the way back, I enjoyed one last scaly encounter. Laying across the trail, spread out confidently like a sultan on a silk pillow, was the largest alligator lizard I have ever seen. A good sixteen inches long, he regarded me with cool superiority. I guess when you’re the alligator, the rest of the swamp steps aside. The way he was positioned on that trail, everybody had to step aside. I snapped half a dozen photos from afar, then moved in for a sexy close up at which point he gave me the stink eye and slithered down the hill as smooth as water. I only wish I could have held him and felt his weight. I’ll keep my eye out for his kin on future visits.
June 14, 2008