Soaked Lizard

A few days ago, I was working when thunder shook the air.

Sergei Drying Off

It was sunny out, but in New Mexico that means nothing. A heavily cloudy day can end up with no rain at all, while thunder and lightning can come out of an apparently clear blue sky.

I walked to a window, noted clouds to the southeast and went back to work. Sometime later, more thunder, this time with clouds and lightning brilliant enough to show even in daylight. I turned off the computer. Sure I have surge suppressers, but there are times that one is simply tempting fate.

Not long after, more thunder, more lightning, both powerful enough to convince the cats that they wanted to move under furniture. Rain came after. Hard and violent, a true “gully washer,” what our Navajo neighbors call “male rain.” It didn’t last long, but when it finished I went out to check the barrels under the downspouts.

The one on the northeast was full to overflowing and I took some moments with a bucket to shift some water out. When I moved to the southeast barrel, I discovered it wasn’t full. Inside, hanging on to the piece of bark I keep in the barrel as a sort of life raft, was a fence lizard.

He was hanging on only by his front feet and was miserable enough that he didn’t even wiggle when I picked him up and set him on one of the leaves of the Maximilian sunflower plant (technical name “Helianthus maximilian”; a narrow-leafed, perennial variety that flowers in autumn) growing near the barrel. Then I went off to check the other barrels.

When I returned I expected to find the lizard gone. Instead, I was surprised to find him still there. He seemed to be having trouble breathing and his eyes were half-shut. From this I deduced that he’d either already been in the barrel when the rain started and had barely made it to the raft or that the force of the rain had knocked him from the Maximilian sunflower into the barrel.

Either way, he didn’t look good. He hardly moved when I shifted him to a different leaf, one in a bit more sun (yes, the sun was out again and everything was steaming), but covered from above by other leaves.

I went back inside to my work, but I kept coming out to check on the lizard. I dubbed him “Sergei” for no other reason than that my current book on tape is a Cold War thriller and that was the name of one of the characters. (I’m quite aware the lizard was likely a female, but I’m not saying I’m logical).

Normally, a doused lizard comes back pretty fast, but by the time Jim got home from work that evening, Sergei was still sitting on his leaf. I was relieved, however, to find that he was becoming more alert. At first when I gently blew on him (thinking a bit of warmth might help), his eyes barely flickered.

Later, his head moved to check me out when I came around, but still he didn’t move. Later still, he had walked to a different leaf, but didn’t seem very robust.

Finally, at twilight, Jim came in from giving the yard its final shut down and reported: “Your friend has moved on.”

So I guess Sergei made it. I’d placed him where the birds (including the roadrunners, which are more like dinosaurs than you can believe if all you’ve ever seen is the animated version or still photos) couldn’t get him. There had been no sign of cats.

I wonder what Sergei thought of his experience: fallen, soaked, nearly drowned, but caring enough about preserving his life to hang on to that bit of bark with both front paws. Lifted out, moved to a leaf, still miserable, warm wind smelling of nothing like anything he knew.

Our voices, even though we talked softly, might have seemed like the rumble of returning thunder. Eventually nightfall and he felt well enough to make his way to wherever it is the fence lizards spend their nights.

Did he tell stories to the little ones? Did he wonder about his escape? Or was he just glad not to have drowned?

I don’t know, but I’m sure about the last. The image of him hanging on is imbedded in my memory.

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12 Responses to “Soaked Lizard”

  1. Paul Dellinger Says:

    If we anthropomorphize (is that a word?), we might figure that Sergei now believes in Divine Intervention.

  2. heteromeles Says:

    I don’t know if lizard believe as such, but I think they can learn not to get stuck in the bottoms of barrels. Great story, and glad you got more rain.

  3. Julie Says:

    You have my sympathy for the little guy. We repeatedly move little folk — frogs who are too farmisht to hop, red efts, turtles, the occasional snake — from the roadway after rain renders their usual grassy habitats too soggy for comfort, or, in the case of the frogs, rendering the roadway attractive enough to venture onto. I admonish them, afterwards, to be careful of the roadway, that it’s dangerous for them. I’m not sure they pay any attention, though.

  4. Alan Robson Says:

    We’ve had so much rain over the last few weeks that the ground is saturated. If I walk across the lawn the ground goes squish under my feet and water oozes around my shoes. The earthworms are drowning and, in an attempt to escape their watery fate, are spending more and more time on the surface. On our rare rainless days we find small piles of dry(ish) earth marking their escape routes.

    But the worms themselves are seldom seen. Perhaps we have lots and lots of early birds.

    Sergei is a very lucky lizard. Well done!

  5. Tori Says:

    What a cute Sergei! Your little rain barrel “life raft” totally lived up to its name!

  6. Rowan Says:

    Having watched Tori’s reptiles, and some others, most of their thought process seems to translate into variations on four themes:

    “Whooaaahh!”
    “Ack!”
    “Wait, what?”
    “That’s nice.”

    Which may mean that the story to the little ones would go something like “Ack! Whooaaahhh! Wait, what? Ack! Ack! Wait, what? That’s nice.”

    *cough* Sorry, it’s late, and I’m punchy, and avoiding making lesson plan annotations.

  7. janelindskold Says:

    Coda to the rain barrels.

    I don’t if the lizards will believe in divine intervention, but they’re going to find it a lot harder to fall in. Jim has now put sheets of quarter-inch hardware cloth over the top.

    (Alan, that’s heavy screen with quarter-inch holes, since I don’t know what you call the stuff in New Zealand).

    Rowan has every right to be punchy, by the by… She’s starting Graduate School this week!!! She’s just moved and is also setting up house.

    Thanks for the good wishes on rain! We’re actually having our best monsoon season in at least five years. Our garden is taking over. Random sightings of zuchinni wandering through the yard are expected. We picked a three foot long cucumber on Tuesday. (Armenian variety, for the gardeners among us).

    But no matter how much rain we get, Alan, we never squish. Sand drains all too well and we are back to parched very soon.

  8. Ann M Nalley Says:

    Well…none of this kindness and concern from Jane surprises me. We are kindred spirits in this regards… I rescue old toys I find abandoned in the road while I’m jogging in the morning…(They are cleaned and repaired, and have a place in our largest closet where they can look out the window at the passing day.) I have placed baby birds (and wounded birds) back in trees… I also greet neighborhood animals, especially early morning cats on their way home from nightime prowls…

    Guess I’m more than a little “eccentric” in that regard, to be polite to myself.

    “No act of kindness, however small, is ever wasted.” I don’t know to whom this quote should be attributed, but the truth of it always strikes a chord with me.

    I loved all the comments, but Julie’s stories of small animal rescue and gentle admonitions to be more careful warmed my heart.

    Whooa! Ack! Wait, what? That’s nice.

  9. Barbara Joan Says:

    What struck me was the difference in the weather conditions. In MD if it clouded you could pretty much bet it was going to rain. In AZ it can cloud, although it rarely does, and never see a drop.

  10. Paul Says:

    Don’t feel bad about rescuing animals (and toys) from roads and such. I’ve been known to gently catch troublesome moths and put them outside.
    Some of this reminds me of the guy who, when loads of starfish were being deposited on a beach by a storm, was picking up some and throwing them back into the ocean. “That’s a waste of time. You can’t save them all,” someone told him. “Well, I can save this one,” the man said, throwing back another. “And this one. And this one…”
    “No act of kindness, however small, is ever wasted.” Ann’s right.

  11. Heteromeles Says:

    I still feel more virtuous for shooing rattlesnakes and snapping turtles out of the road. At different times and in different places.

    Actually, the rattlesnake shooing had a double virtue. The snakes (youngsters) were stretched on the hiking trail to warm up. That area is heavily used by mountain bikers, and I just had this vision of a snake getting run over by a biker, and then pitched up onto the biker’s leg. Dead snake and medical emergency, all wrapped up in some biker’s need for an adrenaline fix. Bad scene all around.

    Shooing a rattlesnake is actually easy, if you have a stick. Just flick grit from the road into its face, like a ground squirrel does. The snake won’t be happy, but it will leave.

  12. janelindskold Says:

    We had another half inch of rain last night. No lizards in the barrels!

    I’m not surprised I’m not alone in small critter and inanimate object rescue… The world would be a happier place if we managed to think that way about everyone and everything.

    Unrealistic, sure…

    But, hey, we can dream.

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