The sun is a warm arm across my shoulders as I sit on the fallen cherry tree in the fallow field behind my house. Two young rabbits eat by the edge of the trees. The cardinals and starlings are chattering merrily. Bluebirds! I haven’t seen any in years. They’re hopping about in this budding tree: two of them. I am sitting as still as I can—watching—these scenes of life.
Everything. The trees are budding and blooming. All colors. I can smell the dirt and warm grass. I smell the green. I want to be more than a spectator. I get up from my seat on the cherry tree, pushed over in last spring’s storm but still alive. I was partly sheltered there amongst the blooms, but as I get up, even as slowly as I can, all the little birds flee—jumping off the grass and bouncing, flying away. Diving into the tangle of hedge. The mourning doves’ wings flap loudly, followed by that muted whistling sound they make as they fade into the trees. The rabbits sit up quickly, then hopping, disappear as if diving into a magician’s silk hat.
I am off stage, the outcast, though I am no hunter. I am still the enemy. The interloper. Danger. I am predator—Homo sapien. And, all of the animals know it. It is encoded within them, even if I’ve forgotten all of my own encoding. I’m no hunter or even fisher. Raw chicken out of a pink and yellow package turns my stomach. I’m not even a gatherer anymore. I can’t remember what to gather. Blackberries are good, of course, but oh the thorns are accurate. And one must keep an eye out for snakes that eat the little critters that eat the berries. Snakes have got to make a living too. I know deer love acorns; unfortunately, I find these nuts bitter and waxy. Even though I’d never purposely harm any of the animals, something about me is evil incarnate to them. It is my humanness. I am the original “Other.” Wild animals and humans are the original “Us and Them.”
And yet, I am the “Other” with my own kind too, sometimes. They are supposedly my own kind. Basically furless. Basically omnivorous. Basically upright. I think I am a little bit different. The kids used to tease me so, tease and tease until I cried. They teased me because of my glasses; they teased me because of how I was dressed; they teased me because I used big words; they teased me because I cried. They teased me because of who I am. I don’t know if they sensed my difference and so tormented me as something outside of themselves or if because they teased me, I became the outsider?
The bluebirds flee before me as I walk through the rusted wrought iron gate in the hedge. This hedge so old and probably twelve feet high. It separates the yard from the old cow pasture. The birds love it here. And I love the bluebirds. I love their blueness and their pink thistle breasts and their round silvery bellies. I love the way they dip and rise and swoop in the air as if flight could be laughter itself.
I lean back my head and look into the clean blueness and the soft clouds as I begin to slowly twirl. The sun, brilliant, like a god in the south, blinds me, so I can’t look there though the warmth draws me. I open my arms to all the life around me, but my arms stay empty. The birds fly. The rabbits flee. I spin faster and faster, my skirt becomes a black mushroom top. I twirl until I fall, dizzy. Just to feel something. Something besides the separateness.
I slump in the grass, staring at the spinning green. The spinning slows, stops. The grass is lush, thick: St. Augustine. It sparkles like the green of a male mallard’s head glistening with clean water. Oh, there’s a ladybug. Finally, something that’s not afraid of me. I sit watching as she crawls upon the hem of my shirt. As she rounds the top of my knee, a half-grown lizard lunges from out of the grass and gobbles up the ladybug. Pop. Like a kid eating a red M&M.
I am amazed that the lizard continues to sit on my knee and a little distressed that he’s eaten “my” ladybug, but it is his job, so I can hardly hold it against him.
Slowly. Slowly. So slowly my arm aches, I move it towards the young brown lizard. He is a Carolina Anole, usually called a chameleon around here. Improperly. He rolls one round brown eye to watch me. I stop my arm. He looks at me, then continues his survey—on the lookout for another M&M, no doubt. I move my arm again. I push the edge of my pinkie softly against his long toes, and just like a parakeet he puts a toe on my finger and then another until his whole foot rests in my palm. I don’t know why he allows me to pick him up. I’ve never seen an anole so docile. Maybe, there is something wrong with him. Maybe, it is just his youth.
The sweat is rolling down my sides by the time I lift him up to my eye level. The sun is setting the top of my head ablaze. The effort of moving so slowly is foreign to me and surprisingly takes a lot of energy. At last, I hold my treasure before my eyes. He is starting to change colors, ever so subtly. Perhaps the heat of my hand causes it, or for some reason he thinks green looks better than brown against the pink of my palm.
He fits right in my hand, plenty of room to spare. His body is about as big as a crayon, except with a fat belly. His tail is twice is long as his body. He is covered in the tiniest green scales, but they aren’t slick like a fish’s. With the light shining on them he looks more like velvet or maybe moss. I can count every rib and see his rib cage expand and contract with every breath. I wish he would do his “strawberry.” That’s what I call it when a male anole extends the red and white pocked skin of his throat, his “throat fan” and then starts bobbing his head. It’s a territorial display.
Yet, most amazing, are his eyes. They protrude and can move independently of each other. The top lid is a deeper shade of green than his body, and his bottom lid is the most incredible turquoise blue—a woman’s stage make-up in the theatre. The irises are brown, and his pupils are perfectly round, large and friendly. Puppy eyes. He just sits in my hand and looks at me as I look at him. And every once in a while, he touches his pale pink tongue to my hand as if he sees some bug there. But when his puppy eyes look into mine, I can tell a lot of activity is going on behind those eyes. This is no vacant stare. I have read that dinosaurs had tiny brains, the size of a walnut. Of course, my little lizard is no dinosaur, but as I look at his head, I can see it is large in comparison to his body size. He has plenty of room in there for a nice brain. I don’t know for sure though. I’ll have to look it up.
Today, I made a friend outside of a book. Outside. I made a friend or more aptly, I was befriended. I and Thou. Buber was right, and so was Flaubert: “God lives in the details.”