It was summertime in Mooresville, Indiana and I was six years old when I saw my first lizard. I knew from pictures that lizards had scaly skin, different from wet-skinned salamanders who lived in the woods under rotting logs and damp leaves. I didn’t think lizards lived in Mooresville, since I never saw any. Then one hot day I was sitting on the ledge that went around the pool. I happened to look over by the dogwood tree with the low brick wall around it and I saw a dark, glossy-scaled creature slip out of a crack in the bricks. She had come from another time and place, I was sure. Thin gold stripes went down her body. She moved in spurts as though her muscles were so tightly wound they made tiny bursts of released energy. When a crow flew overhead she streaked across the patio taking my breath with her.
She showed herself only on the hottest days, so I called her my Hot Weather Lizard. I kept still and watched her flitting along the edge of the brick wall. I willed her to come to me. She moved like no animal I had seen, not just her ready-to-flee tense moves, but everything about her, even when she sat still, she was other.
That summer I was finding a lot of animals for the first time. I wanted to know who they were, and to learn their names. I had seen baby rabbits run out of their nest when my grandfather’s tractor came too close, and I could see that they were like mice. I’d held baby starlings who fell out of the nest holes in the martin houses that stood on tall posts in the field. They were in the same group as birds who came to the feeders. I saw fish in the ponds but couldn’t touch them. Moths, spiders, and dragonflies were bugs. Then, there were the wet and dry animals in a special group. These animals moved in different ways than all the others, sometimes fast, sometimes slow, but alike enough that I was tuned into them, to how they were in time and space. They were tadpoles, frogs, toads, salamanders, turtles, and snakes. Hot Weather Lizard belonged in this group, the reptiles and amphibians. They were my people.