Grimy fingers curl triumphantly around the Alligator Lizard. The eight year old girl knows it’s angry because moments earlier the lizard’s jaws were clamped firmly around one of the little girl’s fingers and wouldn’t let go. The little girl wouldn’t let go, either, not with such a prize in hand!
A classic stand-off until Grampa reaches in gently squeezing the lizard’s mouth open allowing the little girl to extricate and marvel at the pain, then adjust her grip for the portrait.
Because Grampa got sick last summer, we are making our first visit since early July to Los Angeles County Arboretum in Arcadia. The woods of Arcady are alive with lizards and ducks and turtles and carp and a friendly black heron. The arboretum is one of the little girl’s favorite places, so we are regular visitors.
Charlotte knows the territory and leads the way, paying little heed to the Guinea hens and Pea fowl. She’s here for lizards.
She crouches, sliding her feet sideways as she swivels her head side to side peering sharply at the ground and spying ahead to catch sight of her targets.
Almost immediately she slows, stops, then advances on something she’s spotted. Steadily reaching out an arm she suddenly grabs at the dirt where a gorgeous black Western fence lizard has scurried into the bordering groundcover. She wipes her hands off on her shirt. A few steps on, another lizard flits away untouched. “Darn it,” she laughs.
“They’re too fast in this heat,” I offer. Her look is a silent scoff. She set the record of 17 lizards last July, and it was hot as can be that day. The record is still in her thoughts as she misses another five targets.
She takes to crawling along the sidewalk, running her hands under the foliage and tree litter. She scares up a few swift reptiles and doesn’t lose her upbeat attitude as the score grows to Lizards 7, Charlotte 0. Through the blooming Aloe forest, the score mounts to Lizards 99, Charlotte 0, I joke. It’s a tough day for the World Champion Lizard trapper.
We abandon Australia and she makes a beeline toward the Sunset Magazine Demonstration Garden. Lots of vertical space here. Lounging on top of a wall gives the lizards ample exposure to the sun while allowing a little girl’s stealthy advance. Lawn bordered by low groundcover creates ample opportunities, too.
Charlotte’s fingers sift through the litter and sweep through the dirt hoping to flush the beautiful fat black lizard that escapes time and again. “Lizards one hundred, me zero,” Charlotte declares as she moves along.
Charlotte is stalking a likely spot ahead when I notice an alligator lizard cowering in the crook of cement steps rising along a rough wall of broken concrete. I worry some squeamish person has stepped on it and injured the fragile body. “Charlotte, look!” The substantial body and curled tail begin to slither away as it feels Charlotte’s excitement at such a prize find. She crouches above the step and leans down.
Catching a fly ball requires innate advanced physics to target, respond to trajectory, speed, environment, get to the spot and lift a hand at the same time and place the ball arrives. Lizard catching is exactly the same only a lot more fun.
The fleeing reptile climbs the broken cement, disappears into a shallow crevice. The little girl reaches in a finger and the lizard, finding nowhere to hide, slides out and up the wall. The lizard slides into another crevice that it immediately vacates. Here the wall makes a turn and the Alligator Lizard skids around the corner.
Charlotte seizes the moment when the lizard’s momentum has to slow as it slithers into the turn. She reaches out swiftly and gently seizes the Alligator Lizard behind its front legs. Her grip is sure but she doesn’t count on the flexibility of the snake-like body. The lizard turns and bites the little girl’s finger. Surprised, Charlotte drops her prize.
The lizard begins to scurry away but Charlotte kneels on the cement forming an imposing barrier. The lizard turns away. Charlotte slides her grimy fingers under its body and scoops it up, adjusting her grip behind the reptile’s front legs. Again, it bends toward her grip and this time latches its mouth around Charlotte’s index finger. The little girl’s eyes spark and she exclaims, “Hey, that hurts.” She won’t let go.
Grampa reaches in and gently squeezes the corner of the lizard’s mouth. That loosens its jaws enough for Charlotte to tear her finger out of the pink mouth. We hear a faint xylophone scale when the little girl’s fingers draw across the Alligator Lizard’s comb of tiny sharp teeth.
An Alligator Lizard is the golden ring, the golden fleece, ultimate goal, the best lizard one can possibly hope for. On the drive over, we’d talked about the chance of finding an Alligator Lizard as it were an impossibility, so Charlotte is not about to lose this prize. She adjusts her fingers around the Alligator Lizard’s body where it can no longer bend sharply enough to grab on again.
Charlotte lifts her prize to her nose, I take the foto, and the little girl relinquishes the golden fleece. Score: Charlotte 1, Alligator Lizard 1.
When she gets home, Charlotte proudly tells her mother the story of catching and being bitten by an Alligator Lizard. Her mother approves, proud of her girl. My daughter remembers a day when she called out, “Dad! I caught an Alligator Lizard!” When I look over, my six year-old daughter has an Alligator Lizard hanging by its jaws at the end of a finger. It’s a family story Charlotte has heard dozens of times in her eight years, and now it is her story, too.
What are little girls made of? Sugar and spice, and of course, lizards and dirty hands.
Latinopia Features Lucha Corpi's Pasadena Reading
Among the pleasures of being honorary member of the Book Club of the Stanford Latina Latino Alumni Association in Southern California is hosting an occasional meeting at Casa Sedano.
Recently, I had the triple pleasure of hosting both the club and guest Lucha Corpi, plus being joined by Jésus Treviño, who documented the meeting for Latinopia.
Latinopia stands as an important resource for Chicana Chicano literature and culture. Treviño's packed the site with interviews, historical footage, and readings from a stellar assembly of noted raza writers.
Content updates weekly, but nota bene: Latinopia is like that snack food; you can't watch just one feature and be done. Visit Latinopia and you'll spend hours clicking through the links to interviews, music, movimiento events, and a richness unlike any other culture and literature web service.
Latinopia is a work of puro love. There is no advertising or intrusive stuff. Pura cultura is what you'll devour.
Three San Antonio Writers Elected to the Texas Institute of Letters
From Rafael Cruz' desmadres to weird textbook content, Texas has earned itself a bad reputation. But not everything about the state warrants a sad shake of the head: Most of the guys I served with in Korea were Texans, trained at Ft.Bliss' Air Defense Artillery School.
Now, in some good news, La Bloga friend Gregg Barrios sends along a Texas highlight worth smiling about.
For nearly 80 years, Texas Institute of Letters has been recognizing outstanding writers with a Texas connection, the likes of Larry McMurtry, Cormac McCarthy, Dagoberto Gilb, Jan Jarboe Russell, Rick Riordan, Lawrence Wright, Robert Caro.
The purpose of TIL is fourfold: to recognize writers with membership; to award annual prizes for distinguished literature by Texans or about Texas; to sponsor the Dobie Paisano Literary Fellowships in conjunction with the University of Texas; and to promote fellowship among TIL members while promoting books and literature in Texas.
Joining the Texas Institute of Letters this year are Gregg Barrios, Michael Berryhill, James Crisp, Nan Cuba, Benjamin H. Johnson, William Sibley. The members will introduce themselves as such in a public reading on April 11.
Barrios, Cuba, and Sibley are the SanAnto writers. TIL's president, Andrés Tijerina, shares these brief bios of all the newly elected members
San Antonio-based playwright, poet, journalist, and author. Board member of the National Book Critics Circle. 2013 USC Annenberg Fellow. National productions of plays, which include “Rancho Pancho” “exploring the little-known relationship of Tennessee Williams with Tejano Pancho Rodriguez.”
Long-time journalist, winner of the Stanley Walker Journalism Award from the TIL in 1981. Also a widely published poet, appearing in The Paris Review and other publications. Returned to teaching in 2006 at UH, then Texas Southern. Author of The Trials of Eroy Brown, The Murder Case that Shook the Texas Prison System.
Professor of History at NC State. A noted expert on the Alamo and the author of several books and articles (including Sleuthing the Alamo(Oxford UP) and How Did Davy Die?)
Founder of Gemini Ink in San Antonio. Winner of TIL’s Steven Turner Award in 2013. Reported for Life, Third Coast, D magazine. Assoc. prof of English at Our Lady of the Lake Univ. in San Antonio.
Benjamin H. Johnson
History professor at Univ. of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Author of two major books on Texas history that received substantial recognition, board member of TSHA, former acting director of the Clements Center at SMU.
Novelist, playwright, screenwriter. Founder of “Dobie Dichos” in Oakville. As a writer, “He seems nayrly the Texas version of Noel Coward...” Author of two novels set in Texas, both of which won national praise and recognition.