I have a confession to make: I’m a saurologist. Not a real one, of course; more of an amateur saurologist, an aficionado of saurology. I can’t help myself; I just like lizards.
I’ve lost count of how many lizards I have around the house; I think the right number is 23, but it may be 24. I’m not talking about real lizards, of course; just artistic representations. They scurry across our walls and tabletops. They watch from the porch ceiling. Our door knocker is a particularly heavy lead lizard I found in an antique shop on Long Island. The clock in the guest room is a fanciful lizard; his tail is the pendulum that ticks off the seconds. (More on that later.) There are three lizards strategically hidden in the garden. There’s even one tattooed in a private place on my person and there will not be more on that later.
The question, of course, is why lizards? The honest answer is I really don’t know. Lizards fascinate me: maybe it’s their colors, or their lightning-quick movements, or their adaptability to a variety of environments, or their powers of regeneration. Cut off the tail of a lizard and he’ll grow a new one. That capability alone has helped lizards survive since the age of the dinosaurs, which, by the way, is the genesis of the term saurology—the study of lizards. You see, dinosaurs were just terrible lizards.
Now, I must make a distinction. I like small lizards, comical little creatures. I’m not sure I would fare very well if I were suddenly confronted with a Komodo dragon, one of those fearsome lizards that live in Indonesia who grow to a length of ten feet, weigh more than one-hundred fifty pounds, and ambush small mammals. They’re much too big for me. I’m more of a skink or salamander kind of guy. I like my lizards cute, not scary.
I’ve always given credence to the concept of spirit animals. Native Americans believed—still believe—that certain animals can be teachers or messengers who can have a personal relationship with an individual. I like this notion a lot; maybe lizards are my guides or teachers, better ones than Mrs. Swango, my sixth-grade teacher, who warned us about the dangers of standing with our hands in our pockets lest people think we were playing pocket pool. I’ll never forget that lesson. But I digress…
One of my stalled novels is called “Axolotl.” It was an early attempt at historical fiction and centered around the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 in what is now New Mexico. It was led by a mystical figure named Popé, a holy man who invented a method of communication by the insurrectionists who lived miles apart and spoke a variety of languages. In classical Nahautl—the dialects spoken by various pueblo Indians—an axolotl was a walking fish, an amphibian who was adept at hiding in plain sight. That inspired Popé to invent a secret language by which the various pueblos could plan their revolt. They even won—one of the few examples of a successful rebellion by native people against a colonial power, in this case the Mexican government. By the way, Popé is now of New Mexico’s two historical figures honored with a statue in the Capitol Rotunda in Washington, but again I digress. Sorry.
Back to the clock in our guest room, the one with the ticking tail. Well, it turns out that one of my brothers-in-law has a lizard phobia. He was raised In Puerto Rico and as a child, he was frightened by all the lizards that would come to visit him at night. Who knew? When he came to stay with us, we had to remove all the lizard paraphernalia in the guest room—two wall decorations, the bedside lamp, and the clock—so he could go to sleep. I thought the episode was funny; he didn’t.
So, there you have it. I’m proud of my love of lizards. In fact, my grandchildren call the ones around the house Geep’s (that’s me) “lizard friends.” They love to count all the lizards and they always come with a different number. Sometimes, I hide one, just to keep them on their toes. That’s what my spirit guide told me to do.
I’ll be right back.
Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer who lives in Chestertown. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy Magazine.
Two collections of his essays (“Musing Right Along” and “I’ll Be Right Back”) are available on Amazon. Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com.