Hot Weather Lizard

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.

If you remember what Severn Cullis-Suzki said in 1992, you can see even better why Greta Thunberg is angry.

“We are a group of twelve and thirteen-year-olds from Canada trying to make a difference…We raised all the money ourselves to come six thousand miles to tell you adults you must change your ways. Coming here today, … I am fighting for my future… I am here to speak for all generations to come… I am here to speak on behalf of the starving children around the world whose cries go unheard. I am here to speak for the countless animals dying across this planet because they have nowhere left to go….

I’m only a child yet I know we are all part of a family, five billion strong, in fact, 30 million species strong and we all share the same air, water and soil — borders and governments will never change that…”

            –From Severn Cullis-Suzuki’s speech before the UN Earth Summit in Rio, Brazil in 1992

Praying Mantis

I am standing at the kitchen counter making breakfast for my lizards when I have the impulse to turn around and there in the doorway, inches from the door saddle, is a praying mantis, watching me. I put down the knife I am using to to cut greens and go to the mantis and kneel to say hello, but gently, in case my voice or moving mouth frightens him. I put out my hand and he climbs into my palm. (Mantes sometimes move away from me when I’m in a hurry or haven’t calmed myself enough.)

Tiny black dots in his compound eyes —pseudopupils— follow my pupils. We are looking at each other and feeling curiosity, I think, and hopefully the connectedness is mutual. As always happens when I open to another creature –bug, bird, toad, lizard, turtle, snake…– my eyes fill and my throat tightens with such built-up love it nearly hurts. (It can happen with people, too, but I’m always ashamed of feeling way too emotional. Tears only make others uncomfortable, and make me feel like a child who can’t control herself.)

The mantis doesn’t mind my weepy eyes. I feel accepted by non-human creatures.

I carry the mantis to the small garden out in front of the barn, a mix of herbs, weeds, and collard plants for the lizards. I encourage him to climb onto the broad, horizontal leaf of a volunteer squash plant, next to one of its open yellow blossoms attracting bugs. Perhaps he will catch a meal.

After settling the mantis on the leaf I start picking cabbage moth caterpillars off the collard plants. I still feel the mantis’ companionship in the garden and also that of a male spider, pedipalps swollen, who is clinging to the leg of a stool nearby. Even though we use tons of organic compost to nourish the collards about 30% of them have been eaten by the fat little green cabbage moth caterpillars. I pick them gently, placing each one in a collard leaf cupped in my left hand, and when I’ve gone over all the plants I take the caterpillars into the barn to Luna, who eats them up, plus the collard leaf.


Timber Rattlesnakes

timber 3 2018

A friend took me to a rattlesnake den where I saw my first timber rattler in the wild. He was coiled, his scales a mosaic of brown ones against ochre yellow, his body and head absolutely sculptural and his eyes were gold with vertical pupils.

I saw at least twenty rattlers that day, because it was a sunny afternoon in May and the snakes had come out of hibernation, but were still near their den, resting in coils, basking around the rocks.

Among the snakes I was exhilarated, and also at peace. I felt connected to them and to their ancestral grounds that resonated with their energy. I wanted to write it down so everyone could know about these miraculous beings and what it was like to be with them.

Other things happened that day, wonderful things I wanted to write about, but that could not be published. I wrote a personal essay about rattlesnakes, but not my visit to their den. Here is the link to my personal essay:

Weener & Spot


me at 16 with iguana

On St. Mark’s Place the rent was three hundred dollars a month. The apartment was on the first floor way at the back, like going back in time, and it faced a void between buildings and steel gates went across two tall windows, muddling the view, but letting in bright sunshine.

I put my futon on the floor of what might normally be a living room. If one had furniture, there might be a rug, a small couch, stuffed chairs, a lamp, maybe a coffee table and in the adjoining area, a desk and book shelves, and in the wide closet that led to the kitchen, one might hang clothes, and I did put mine there, but it wasn’t much, plus I needed the space for Mr. Boa. He coiled himself in the back and I hung a clamp light from the clothing rod with a red heat bulb.

It was my first apartment that I could set up the way I liked: Full of lizards.

When I think of St. Mark’s I see the sunshine pouring into that little room where I put Spot’s branch –the tree limb—and he is basking at the top under his Vitalite, watching over his territory.

Spot, 23 years

With swollen jowls and dewlap pushed out Spot shakes and bobs his head, talking to the new young females Pooky and Snooky. Spot has never seen females of his own kind, and he watches them with wide-open eyes, awakening to the new, exciting things coming alive inside him.


Memoir Excerpt: Half Lizard


The plumber stood in the middle bay of our barn, talking to my husband. Upstairs, Ava climbed down her ladder and started walking, kathump-kathump-kathump, down the hall and the plumber stopped talking and looked up. “I sure hope that’s a dog,” he said.

Ava climbs down from her sleeping box and walks her dinosaur walk, tail swishing side-to-side, from the north end of the barn to the southeast-facing deck. She crosses the door jam, claws clicking on metal, and she comes to rest on the sun-warmed oak boards. I spread a towel and sit down beside her. She tilts her head and peers into my eyes and my throat aches with love.

Ava senses the emotional shift and boosts herself like a cat, nose and tail raised, eyes shut, while I run my hand down her dry-silky flank and spikey dorsal crest. I put my cheek against hers and breathe in her sea mineral scent and I tell her what pretty nose horns she has.

When I lie down she climbs onto my stomach, scaly feet and claws not quite breaking my skin. She rests her chin on my chest, her belly on mine, and her tail drapes over my leg. She tucks an arm back at her side the way iguanas do when they are content, like it is the most natural thing for her to have a human basking buddy.

Ava 4





Turtle Huggers

under the dock

A snapping turtle at Higgins Lake

My aunt gave me VOYAGE OF THE TURTLE, by Carl Safina. One of the blurbs said: “Carl Safina is a rare breed of writer who doesn’t just do research to get the story, but enters the story and lives it [awesome so far!]… The result is a fascinating narrative that will appeal to a reading public beyond mere turtle huggers.”

mere turtle huggers

Why not just say the book will appeal to a wide audience; to readers unfamiliar with turtles?


I am a turtle and lizard and snake and tree and people hugger. Why do we shove animals and nature aside? “People first,” we say.

The clock is ticking on wildlife and biodiversity. I wonder how we will continue the everlasting fight for human rights, justice, peace, and ending world hunger on a planet that’s devoid of wildlife.

What about the Rights of Nature?

Here’s Birdfoot’s Grandpa by Joseph Bruchac:

The old man

must have stopped our car

two dozen times to climb out

and gather into his hands

the small toads blinded

by our lights and leaping

like live drops of rain.

The rain was falling,

a mist around his white hair,

and I kept saying,

“You can’t save them all,

accept it, get in,

we’ve got places to go.”

But, leathery hands full

of wet brown life,

knee deep in the summer roadside grass,

he just smiled and said,

“They have places to go too.”

A Mess

Mao & Me 1993

Sebastian’s grandfather Mao and Me at Finca Cyclura, 1993

This is how it’s been lately.

I picked up cellulitis in my left foot. Don’t wear sandals to the airport. Mom urges me to the ER, for which I’m grateful. All those antibiotics and shots in the butt. Years of restoring gut flora with probiotics and fermented foods gone.

A forced time-out.

One good thing, I got my memoir draft in on time for a workshop. And I’m not in the hospital, I get to keep my foot, and all five toes. My digestion is simply over, though. The “gut-brain connection.” I’m proof that gut flora imbalance causes terrible mood swings.

I’m doing Dr. Schechter’s books, THINK AWAY YOUR PAIN and THE MINDBODY WORKBOOK. It started with Dr. John Sarno. I recommend it!

This work has helped me more than any special diet or exercise! More than herbs, acupuncture, a vegan diet, a raw foods diet, juice fasting, yoga, Pilates, biking, weight training, homeopathy, deep breathing. Writing down responses to questions about emotions and physical symptoms. Connecting to the subconscious mind which regulates autonomic responses. Seeing how subconscious rage and anxiety shut off blood flow in my gut.

My own most valuable therapy is Lizard time, when I let myself have it. My lizards keep telling me to slow down. “Be with us,” they say.

My writing trudges, isn’t snappy. I blame the antibiotics today. I am struggling to let go, struggling to not struggle. Struggling for self-acceptance. I remember when Norma sent me this poem:

God Says Yes To Me

I asked God if it was okay to be melodramatic

and she said yes

I asked her if it was okay to be short

and she said it sure is

I asked her if I could wear nail polish

or not wear nail polish

and she said honey

she calls me that sometimes

she said you can do just exactly

what you want to

Thanks God I said

And is it even okay if I don’t paragraph

my letters

Sweetcakes God said

who knows where she picked that up

what I’m telling you is Yes Yes Yes

—Kaylin Haught

A Bit Blue

Ava's blue
spring sunlight bringing up the blue in Ava’s tail

I have been kind of depressed on and off for a little while. It has to do with my work, my writing, not feeling connected to a writing community. Feeling under-utilized, ineffective.

Last Friday I biked to my prayer place on River Road. I straddled my bike and looked across the river and asked, Why did I have to do everything kicking-and-screaming? Everything. Becoming a woman. Getting a job. Writing.

I saw how I had to open a new file and start the memoir again.

These past few years I kept thinking I was on-track, I show up at my desk every single morning. Still, I get in my own way. Perhaps I’ve lost another year doing this. I know it’s learning, and you can’t just pole-vault over the crappy first drafts. Still. I am so frustrated with myself for being afraid. I am terrified to make a big leap; I don’t actually know how. I push myself, but I haven’t thrown myself off the cliff.

My wise friend and brilliant reader said, “Maybe when it’s all down you will feel the freedom to go back in and tell the real story, in that [adult] voice, instead of the chronicle.”

I keep thinking well, that’s what I’m doing, telling the story! My friend said my writing was “SO solid.” Why isn’t it working, though? I strongly suspect it is because I haven’t identified the core of the issue.

A few weeks ago my horoscope said something about taking my rightful place. That went right in. You can interpret a horoscope any way you like. I took it to mean it was high-time I took my rightful place as LIZARD GIRL, which is what my memoir is really about.