Reptiles, Amphibians & Humans, Oh My! (Part 1)

I’ve been surrounded by a wealth of intriguing, beautiful and amusing creatures lately. Both on our Caribbean outing and now back at home, the company I’ve been keeping have been anything but dull. I’ve had to keep my distance, though, almost as if I were some sort of dangerous predator. With the people, since we got home to Texas, I’ve tried to avoid any unnecessary exposure to what turned out to be a reasonable suspicion of coming down with a cold (not as bad as my spouse’s, at least); with the other companions, it’s more a matter of keeping a respectful distance from their wildness.Digital illustration: Froggy FriendWith the frogs, to be fair, it was unlikely we’d cross paths, since they were hanging out on the periphery of where we were. We heard consistent singing from the local mascot Coquí, the sweet frog species revered in Puerto Rico for its generous insect pest control and other charms, not least of them the evening chorale of the mate-seeking males. Didn’t see any, though, other than that sort of movement that is just past peripheral view. Enjoyed the songs, all the same.

For actual sightings, however, the reptile population has kept us in better company. Best In Show goes to the iguana population of Puerto Rico, for making frequent appearances to show off the varied beauties of the species. Crested or not, dragon-sized or baby-dainty, green or earthily striped, iguanas and other lizards fascinate me and get my vote for lovely monsters whenever I can see them, and the more so when they’re not in some pet store or zoo, just hanging around in their natural haunts. That’s my kind of ‘haunting beauty,’ if you know what I mean.Digital illustration: Reptilian WriggleIn that respect, the iguanas got some serious competition as beauty champs in my own personal creature feature when we got home from our trip and had a first-ever visit on our lot—albeit in a risky appearance in the middle of our driveway—of the most charming little turtle, no longer than my outstretched hand. Thankfully, my husband/chauffeur spotted the little guy, avoided driving over him, and went back out on foot to gently relocate the turtle to our back garden, where there are lots of good turtle snacks growing, plenty of taller plants for shelter from sun and predators, and a shortage of adorable turtles that he/she helped alleviate by visiting. That makes me a happy critter.

No Man is an Island, and Sometimes Going to an Island is a Good Reminder

photoWe had this adventure, my man and I. Went to an island. A lovely one called Puerto Rico. We spent a week on that beautiful piece of Caribbean land and enjoyed the break from our everyday Real Life, the immersion in nature and its marvelous native birds and insects and flora and the wash of its rolling waves on luxuriant green shores.

The quiet was exceedingly welcome.

But our reason for the trip wasn’t isolation and retreat. We went for the wedding of dear friends. And the wedding of a Puerto Rican woman with a big, loving family and a lot of friends to a North American man bringing his own contingent of supporters from Canada and the US is not a place to go and lie low with the covers pulled up over one’s head.

As if it weren’t already too warm and humid to be curled up under a duvet.

So we had the fantastic experience of being drawn into this jolly, joyous gathering and treated like more members of the extended family, and along with our enjoyment of being on that wonderful island, we had the perfect reminder of what’s so great about being surrounded by dear and tremendous people and how the pleasures of the place, the travel, the newness and beauties not previously experienced, all are enhanced so richly by the good company.

It’s why I spend so much time in the good company of my blogging and blog-reading companions, of course, but as always, it takes a change of scenery to remind me of what I should already know. It’s good to be home, and all the more so when I’ve been away. Here, I am once again awash in a sea of friends and loved ones, and I am doubly glad.

Not Just Another Pretty Face

At some level, most of us—no matter how disdainfully we might pretend to look upon those Others who obsess over appearances—wish to be thought beautiful. We want to fit in with others, to belong in the pack, to be loved.photoOf course, we know that even those who do fit in do so if and as the hierarchy of the pack allows. We are put in our places and told who we are, where we belong, what we’re supposed to be doing, and why we should accept that fate as though it were a natural law. After all, we tend to believe that nature is fact-driven and therefore we, who are mere specks in its vastness, must play our little roles as prescribed in the absolutes of existence. We sit here and take it. In many ways, that’s a useful approach to life, because, well, nature does drive a lot of what is and what happens, and bucking that can be counterproductive or even quite dangerous. And worse, perhaps, such refusal to accept the norms others have agreed upon as right and correct and natural puts us on the fringes and at risk of rejection. Someone along the way is sure to reject the rebel or misfit. Someone will think I’m unfit or, yes, Ugly.photoIt’s a wonderful thing to remember that besides all of the weird and dangerous and unpleasant and otherwise negative possibilities in stepping outside of the normal and expected course of events or refusing to be other than myself in order to seem to fit in better where I really don’t, there are also a vast array of glorious and splendid maybes waiting out there for me to dare to reach for them. Much of what is good and beautifully new in the world happens because one person dared to think, do, and exist differently from the pack, the mass of ordinary people, and brought about an increment of change. How wonderful if I can shed my fears, my need for conformity borne of desire for universal acceptance, and become ever so slightly more notable, one little nth more dazzling, than I was when I was only hoping to be like all the other creatures that I knew.

Strange Attractors

Living things, like certain mathematical systems, are attracted (or not) to each other in a wonderful variety of ways. It’s pretty hard to predict what will constitute an individual’s attractors. Some people might say that a warthog, for example, could only be attractive to another warthog, but that’s a very limited notion, because we all have different definitions of beauty and those definitions can be strictly visual but can easily also include appeals to our other senses, not only the standard receptors of touch, sound, taste or scent but also our sense of curiosity or contentment or spirituality or a whole range of other concepts.photoIf I were a little tiny Texas Spiny Lizard, for example, I might be interested in mating or procreating only with a similar little tiny lizard, but I could also very easily be attracted for other purposes to the warmth of a sunny concrete slab, the smorgasbord of yummy insects that visit a group of potted plants, or the shady shelter between the bricks on which the pots are perched, where I can hide from the patrolling cats of the neighborhood. If I were one of the cats, I can imagine I’d be very attracted to the lizard, not just out of feline curiosity but because cats apparently like Texas Spiny Lizards, I suppose because they are small, moving targets for the hunt and possibly just because a cat might enjoy a good set of lizard drumsticks or baby back ribs or tenderloin on occasion. Do cats analyze their dining on a basis of whether or not a meal ‘tastes like chicken‘? I don’t know, but I do know that small, moving objects and food are both common cat attractors.photoI’m sure it’s also safe to assume that others are attracted to these little reptiles. Most likely that’s the main reason I’ve rarely seen one on our patio or porch any larger than this three-inch/10 cm specimen. If one of the local hawks swoops close enough to notice them, such dainty critters would logically look like the animal equivalent of fast food, and some of the smaller but reasonably aggressive birds (I’m looking at you, bluejays) might compete for such a snack. Snakes, if any of those nearby are larger than my typical garden snake visitor, would find them delectable. So it goes. We are attracted to partners and friends, but also to that which will sustain our progress toward finer dining or just plain survival.photoMy admiration of Texas Spiny Lizards, tiny or not, is based on several of these elements. There’s the simple appeal of the handsome patterning on and sculptural shapes of their infinitesimal-alligator bodies, of course. Those zippy dashes they make from one spot to another first catch my eye and then intrigue me, especially when one of them stops to practice his pushups for a while. I like the way they hold very, very still in between moves, moving only their eyes as they seem to scan for bugs to eat or new heights of patio slab or plant pot-dom to conquer. And very often, I like to contemplate them at equal leisure, attracted most of all to their very differentness from me.