Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Killed a Lizard

The western fence lizard is familiar to anyone familiar with the low-lying mountains of southern California; these scuttering, dusky little lizards pop up all over the place, doing their funny lizard push-ups and scampering up walls and all of the lizard things.
i didn't kill this lizard. i saved this lizard; the little interloper got caught in my door in my place in Topanga; I found it once it had exhausted itself from trying to scrabble up/through the glass, but (I really do think) before it was dehydrated past hope or whatever. I was able to scoop it up (carefully!) just with my hand and a sheet of paper, and release it.
On runs--not them; me--they do something else. I've indulged in many jeremiads about this thing that they do, to friends and family, because it is frustrating and self-endangering;

what they do is, when scampering across the path, while you're running, behave in a way that seems to me to be totally totally maladaptive if you're interested in not being eaten by a predator:

I am running on a narrow single track -- the whole thing is say two-and-a-half feet wide, hemmed in by thick chaparral and brush either side. A lizard darts out and, incredibly, instead of continuing its direction of motion to dash into the protection of the thick brush, charts a straight course that is clearly along my trajectory, as if trying to outrun me as of course it cannot since it is a tiny lizard, causing me to pull up my pace and often do all kinds of side-stepping calisthenics to avoid it. I've never had to, like, toss myself off the side of a cliff to avoid one, but I've sure stumbled and scratched up my legs and just generally emerged from these encounters shaking my head at the tiny reptile brains of these things that veer off what seems like a promising course to safety in order to endanger themselves (what if I were a hawk?) and also make me have to do silly trail-dances to dodge them. But I'd never--or, at least, not knowingly--stepped on one until a few days ago.

I've reviewed this a bunch; there really was not anything I could have done. This was not, actually, a scenario like the one I've just described. I'd feel worse then, because (presumably) if I'd simply stopped running the lizard would have escaped. This was more sudden. I was going downhill in Temescal, running the return of a pleasant short loop of the kind I've been doing a good deal of lately. I saw a flash of dark from the brush; it was either after I'd pushed off my left and was coming down on my (I'm pretty sure) right foot, or--the earliest possible, as my memory has it--just as I pushed off my left to come down on my right. Running perpendicular across my path. And the dark flash slipped perfectly underneath my shoe, disappeared for a moment during which I felt nothing, and then I was past it and on down the trail.

And I stopped, of course; and here...it's not like this is so horrible, so if you're titillated by that sorry no dice, but it does get a bit unpleasant so perhaps you'll want to skip this paragraph. I'll put all the this-kind-of stuff in this paragraph. So I stopped, of course, and turned back up the trail; my idea was (a) to make sure, and (b) to see if, you know, there was a situation where I had to do a thing to finish a thing. And for a second I was happy, because I saw nothing, and then a saw a fluttering shadow and knew I'd been right. And I approached it, and it was already in the process of-- I don't know, it may not even have been conscious or neurologically active: it was flopping around like a broken machine, or a wind-up toy losing gearage with half its parts missing, jack-knifing in strange ways on its side, flopping spasms. It was a pretty big one, big as my hand nose to tail (for these lizards, at least the ones that I see, that is pretty big). And after some moments its flopping spasms subsided, replaced by twitches in its small, pronged lizard feet. I picked it up, pretty sure I would not need to do a thing to finish a thing; pretty sure it was finished. Its little feet still jerked and spasmed, but I was practically certain it wasn't in pain -- I had not popped its head or anything dramatic, but a thick foam of blood had soaked out from the whole right side of its jaw, and my guess is that I'd broken its neck or otherwise utterly shattered the machinery of its neurological/physical systems. It had a blue-brushed belly; a couple weeks earlier, talking to my parents about lizards on the trails, my mom had observed (from her internet research) that western fence lizards sometimes have blue bellies, and then said oh but maybe I haven't seen any like that, and I'd corrected her that no, they were dusky on top but I'd seen their blue bellies, I'd liked their blue bellies.

I held it in my hand -- after ten, fifteen seconds even foot twitches subsided. I laid it to the side of the trail, so its form would not be further mangled by footfalls. I hoped that something would come, eat it soon; I'm practically certain that hope was well-founded. I finished my run.

It's a small thing, compared to all the things. OF COURSE. But these inexorable things are, like, very inexorable; there's no positive gloss or yeah, but... I didn't beat myself up: I really don't think there's much I could have done. It just made me sad. And it felt/feels unfair, in the way of these things, and in a way that--perhaps--part of my sadness is about how these stories are always so broken and unfair. An existentially catastrophic thing happened to this animal; a thing that was--for I hope just a flash--horribly painful as well, no doubt. And I'm the one who gets to talk about it; I'm the one who gets to think about that lizard, on my next trail run, or right now, or whatever. I KNOW I AM TALKING ABOUT A F#*(ING LIZARD, THANKS; I GOT THAT. But it's a tyranny of narrative that applies to all of these things, and is why--leap here, lookout--our fixation on murderers and perpetrators of harm in the stories we tell is so odious to me. Because one of the grievous harms of physical and psychological harm, of victimization, is that it takes you out of the world in a way that ends your story. Ends or compromises your ability to tell it; ends or curtails the timeline of it. And it's not fair! To the extent that anyone did a bad thing in this setting, I did -- I went recreationally to a place that's not really mine, or that is I M H O more that lizard's than mine, and as a result of my going to that place and how I chose to behave there, even if I was not being a big crazy jerk, that animal died. I did the bad thing, but I get the story. That's bullshit. It's bullshit. That's not how it should be.

I'm glad I wrote this. I'm impressed with you, friendly reader, if you read it all through. But I wanted to write it as a final...to like...to not let myself, forget. Such a small, "stupid" thing; and isn't that crazy, too? Because it is small and stupid, compared to so many other things. I agree. BUT I BET IT DOES NOT SEEM THAT SMALL TO THAT LIZARD-- OH WAIT, NOTHING "SEEMS" ANY"THING" TO THAT LIZARD ANYMORE, BECAUSE I CRUSHED ITS BRAIN BENEATH MY SHOE BECAUSE I LIKE TRAILRUNNING.

Anyway: sorry, thanks. I will try to be nice to the world all around me, and all of the creatures and forms it contains. Thanks for reading.

Post a Comment