on sinkholes

Whaaaaat

Eats up stairs

Alone or in pairs

And sucks em right into the ground

A hole, a hole, good god what a hole

Everyone knows the sinkhole!

In my senior year of high school, I took the Ecology class, which more specifically was Floridian Native Ecology And Other Supercool Things That I Wound Up Being Totally Into Despite Failing The Class. I had a lot going on at home and I was really good at hiding it. Still don’t know how I graduated. But that class gave me a firm grounding – hah – on the subject of sinkholes, aquifers, karst (not loess), saltwater inclusion, drought, water treatment, and all the other things that make Florida such a crumbly crust of sand to build upon.

Today I feel like sharing my knowledge with you. You are about to learn Sinkholes from a Genuine Lifelong Florida Girl. A defective one, mind, as I got the Estonian pallor and couldn’t tan at gunpoint, but a Floridian nonetheless. I instinctively do the stingray shuffle and I can identify bug bites by the welts they leave. I’ve earned my cred.

NOW THE DISCLAIMER: everything I am about to relate comes from the initial base of knowledge I learned in that class, bolstered by things I learned on the internet because I am a nerd and I like to spend hours learning about local geology in my free time. If I get something wrong, and you are in a position to know that for a fact and tell me what is the correct bit of information, PLEASE DO. Then I will edit this post, credit you for the corrections, and be more useful.

To explain this I need to get to very basic things and ancient history.

In the beginning, Florida was a sandbar barely peeking out from older, warmer oceans. The shellfish and tiny crustaceans that collected on it, over time, were calcified and compressed into limestone, which is porous, relatively fragile, and has a curious chemical reaction to acids like vinegar. (It was a fun day when we did Vinegar Rock Tests.) Limestone is made mostly of calcium carbonate, which is easily demolished by acids; if you drop ordinary white household vinegar on the stone, it will fizz impressively. It is not strong stuff, as rocks go, but it is perfect for the Floridan Aquifer. (Not Floridian. I don’t know why, don’t ask.)

Image via Wikipedia; fair use etc.

Image via Wikipedia & USGS.

The aquifer is made of porous limestone and water. Think of it as a saturated sponge, except the sponge is made of stone. This construction, a soluble waterlogged bedrock, is known as karst. There are lots of karst areas in the world; another that immediately comes to mind is the Yucatan cenotes, and I believe there’s another substantial one under the midwestern US, which has for decades supplied water to all of the farming that goes on out there.

This karst aquifer is a magnificent system. It has been tested by relentless nature for longer than humans have existed. It regulates itself. It functions just fine on its own terms. The problem is that those are not human terms.

Here’s how it goes: rain leaches through the soil and clay and sand, losing impurities as it goes. It sinks until it reaches the limestone bedrock which, being porous, absorbs and contains it. It stays there, circulating in a thousand beautiful subterranean rivers, until it burbles back to the surface in springs which feed rivers and streams.

Note I do not say lakes; although there are some spring lakelets (I’ve swum in beautiful Lithia which feeds the Alafia) most lakes in the Floridan Aquifer system are the result of sinkholes.

A sinkhole is simple enough. Water is dense and solid. So, too, is rock — even fragile rock like limestone. This delicate-seeming combination is quite sturdy and normally can support the ground above it. Sometimes, usually due to drought, the aquifer’s water level goes down. The limestone alone cannot support whatever is over it, so eventually gravity does what it does best and brings things crashing down. That is a sinkhole.

Most Florida lakes are sinkhole lakes: they began as sinkholes. Since water is always going down to the aquifer, it brings debris with it; if this plugs the hole, the water collects in the hole and becomes a lake. The lake then seeps into the ground and feeds the aquifer again, and all is well. On rare occasions, the aquifer level may drop and the hole may reopen, and where there once was a lake there is suddenly a dry mudflat.

Take a look at Google Maps, here; you can see all the natural sinkhole lakes, which are round, and then the manmade reservoirs which probably were built onto lakes, and are not round.

This is how karst functions. There is nothing wrong with this system. It’s been doing this since before our ancestors were still hiding from giant reptiles. The problem, as I said, is that it’s not very good for humans to live on.

Or, more accurately, I might say the problem is that humans do not know how to live on the karst.

For at least the past thirteen years, we’ve been under significant drought conditions. Not enough rain coming in, despite what we’d have you believe when we cry havoc about all the storms. Florida is also a very attractive place for farming, since the winters are so mild, and we can grow lots of things here that we cannot grow in many other places. All of this farming requires water, and lots of it: when the agriculture was getting started, it was not a problem, because the aquifer was full and seemed a perfect endless reservoir.

We’ve since learned that it is not, but we haven’t learned to slow down.

There are other elements at work here that I do not know as much about. Saltwater intrusion is one: when the fresh aquifer water is low, and it is near the sea, the saltwater will be pulled into the limestone. This does two things: it salinizes the fresh water and it erodes the limestone further. Another is the use of fertilizers, which acidify the groundwater and, again, cause more limestone erosion. The mixture of water and rock is precise, and dictated by nature: when this is out of whack, it all comes crashing in.

Refer to what I wrote above; when there isn’t enough water to support the limestone, it collapses into sinkholes. This has been happening more and more frequently lately, in places where it hadn’t been before, and that is directly due to pumping more water out of the aquifer than it can physically support.

We don’t seem to realize that we stand on water as much as on rock. Without the water, the rock can’t hold us.

look away, juracán

Last weekend we had a hurricane. Kind of. We, more accurately, had the east side of a large, slow, and disorganized tropical storm that was mostly east side. Texas, across the Gulf, pining for water, got nothing while greedy Florida got as much as ten inches of rain in a single day.

We needed it though, so don’t look at us like that.

This is the time of year when the NHC gets shuffled into my open-daily bookmark folder in Firefox. When bottled water and plywood become precious commodities. When everyone here becomes a meterological expert, and can hmm and ahhh impressively over indeterminate blobs on a digital map of the central Atlantic that looks like it was drawn in Logo on an Atari in 1986. When newspapers and grocery stores give out flood zone maps (know your flood zone!) and blank storm-tracker maps that, I assume, somebody painstakingly uses to track storms, perhaps with a sextant.

It’s a thing we all put up with more or less willingly, or at least accept, because it isn’t blizzards or those scary Midwestern tornadoes or earthquakes. We pretend to be very tough about it. We pretend it ain’t no thang. And it ain’t, for certain definitions of thang, because when we think tornado we think Dorothy, and when we think earthquake we think Loma Prieta and that terrifying collapsed highway. Besides, we have to pretend we’re okay with it, to the benefit and/or detriment of everybody who isn’t.

I can’t figure out how to link to this because xkcd is smart and I am not, but this is pretty much how we function.

We polish our stories — lost my power for a week — tree fell into the back of my house — floods up to the porch — couldn’t drive anywhere for days — and then the island was split in two — it washed the beach clear away — that time the bays met — we save the best ones up, collecting them like photographs, to share and show off when the skies are clear. Can you believe this shit I survived? we like to brag. Nature can’t do a thing to me.

On the other hand, sometimes it really isn’t a big thing, because the weather here all depends on whim or whimsy or butterflies in Beijing, and it is entirely possible to get more damage from a ninety-minute thunderstorm than a weekend’s non-hurricane. When “I’ve seen worse” means it’s not bad as long as the roads are clear, the toilet flushes, and the trees are still standing, you do get a little indifferent.

“It’s not even a hurricane? Whatever.”

I’d had plans, last weekend, to visit the local Thai Buddhist temple, Wat Tampa (which I am sure is the Easy Version of the name for Americans); I am neither Thai nor Buddhist, but they have a brilliant weekend market. The place is always packed to capacity, because they offer up an astonishing variety of food, and there is a market with arts and crafts and plants for sale, and it all happens down by the river under a glorious canopy of oak trees with signs in Thai nailed to them, and there are river-damp dogs and dry monks (both, I assume, belonging to the temple) ambling about doing their dogly or monkly things, whatever those may be.

An added bonus is that this temple and its Sunday market happen to be right across the street from a squat, red-bricked collection of buildings belonging to a Southern Baptist congregation, which only makes the loudly amiable multicultural mob that much more satisfying.

But I couldn’t go, because Debby, in the contrary and unpredictable manner of tropical storms since everywhere, zigged when it was expected to zag and we were forecast to get all the rain for the foreseeable future.

All the rain! All of it! (The Rainbow images are my favorite, though Funktop is a better name. Having a preference means I have been here too long, and also am now a Genuine Florida Hurricane Expert.)

Some of my earliest memories are storm related. For Elena, in 1985 (I was three years old), we had to evacuate; as I understand most everyone on the Tampa peninsula did, because it all wound up flooded. We spent a few days sheltered up at USF, where I learned about Garbage Pail Kids and those little toys (do they still exist?) that you fill with water and then push buttons that use air jets to shoot basketballs and things around into little hoops. This was the eighties, mind; we had to stay amused somehow. My mother tells me that the psychology and education students enjoyed organizing playtime for the kids; I don’t remember that, but I do remember learning how to work a vending machine, which must have badly shocked my mother, who until that point had kept me fed on baked goods from the Tassajara bread book, milk delivered biweekly, wheat germ in everything, and absolutely no refined sugar.

There were several comparisons made between Debby and Elena, at various points, because like its predecessor, Debby decided to do the fun thing and park itself out in the Gulf, moving at a grand total of zero point zero zero two four of a mile an hour, while it spun rain-heavy bands up from the ocean and emptied them on previously dry land. Look back up at the NOAA graphic; hurricanes spin counterclockwise, so all of that red-yellow-mauve storm stuff inched its way up the state and bled rain as it went.

The newscasters got gleeful, the way they do when there’s something interesting going on. They bring up the red-flag graphics and expound on wind shear and rotation and tides, because for once they know everyone is listening carefully to what they have to say.

This is why the Carolina Hurricanes hockey team makes me laugh until it hurts, because they only have one red flag. Which means, technically, they are the Carolina Tropical Storms and not really that intimidating at all. Hockey rivalry appears in the oddest places. (Screencapped from NOAA)

Plans were canceled, five-alarm panics were considered and scrapped in place of two- or one-alarm panics, and the rain started. It started with rain, and then there was rain, and then there was more rain. The place to be was inside, with news feeds, or Twitter, or whatever you have; the alerts and warnings came fast and thick, the maps were unrecognizable, and local news was having a field day along with the new breed of citizen-journalists who go gallivanting out sans blinding yellow slicker to share what they see.

We’re — wait, where are we? Oh, under all the rain. (screencap of Bay News 9’s awesome satellite pages)

It rained some more, and I came to an alarming realization: I was out of coffee creamer. I am too impoverished and too unimportant to be picky about everything, but by god, I will be picky about my coffee (Cuban, strong, 60/40 cream to coffee, but non dairy because I’d like to keep it IN me) and black coffee, as my mother (who taught me these habits) says, is “just…. uncivilized!”

I kitted up well before I headed out, with my kicky spotted rainboots, and a blue fleece pullover (note to anyone who thinks Trayvon Martin was inappropriately dressed: anything but, we use hoodies for rain cover out here in Floridaland) and since my hair was pitching a spazfit from the humidity I just contained the tangles as best I could. And so attired in only the finest and passing-the-sniff-test Tropical Storm Couture, out I went. Into the car and the gale, for an alteration of the French Toast Emergency Run: instead of eggs, bread, and milk, it was coffee creamer, Italian bread, and pop-tarts. I don’t shop well before coffee.

The drive was easy, and the shopping itself was quiet; not too many people there, which was unsurprising. I knew the best roads to take there and back again, which doubled the miles and time, but that was okay, because taking the long way around beats the hell out of stalling when you’re axle-deep in floodwater. On my way out, I saw a woman who had the same rainboots as me; “Nice boots!” I told her, happily, with my arms full of bags and my hair full of crazy. She checked herself, looked down, then up at me, then down at my feet, grinned, and said, “Nice boots!” So things go in Hurricanelandia.

The part where I blasted Led Zep’s “When The Levee Breaks” might have been tempting fate. Sometimes you gotta seize the moment.

When asked, I waffle around and stare off into the middle distance and fiddle with whatever I have in my hands (most recently, chopsticks, and a much-abused pile of collegetown Chinese buffet food) before coming to the conclusion that, religiously, I fall into some category of pagan, animist or pantheist not polytheistic, and after that, if you keep asking (which prompted more shuffling of chopsticks and a lot of stuttering because I am not articulate with word thing sometimes) I’ll go on about how the European tradition doesn’t mean much here in the subtropics. Winter is when you relax, summer is when you’re on edge. (And also melting.) So it’s all a little backwards and very much its own thing, and you have to pay attention and learn stuff yourself. Which is Florida down to its limestone bones.

It is useful conversational and cultural shorthand to personify things, though — this is why we name hurricanes, after all — so when the storms are spinning in the saltwater what I like to say, or think, is that Juracán is on the move. Juracán is the — Spanishized (there has to be a proper word for this) — name for the Taino-Carib-Arawak deity of hurricanes and, of course, chaos; it may be related to the Mayan Huracan but I’m not sure. Most indigenous records didn’t survive the conquistadores, being that a verbal history only survives as long as speakers are there to tell it.

The thing to do with Juracán, then, is precisely what you should do with hurricanes anyway: keep yourself safe and don’t give it a reason to notice you. Nature is a wild, impersonal, and violent thing; I know this well, but it helps, sometimes to give a name to a thing, to ascribe behaviors to it that then help dictate which behaviors you use in response to get through it.

Once the rain ends, the fun starts, depending on where you are; you go out, take stock of the damage, and then if you have the flood and the watercraft, you bust out the canoes and kayaks. You drive around to rubberneck at the destruction, or watch it on television, sorry for the people who it hit but at the same time glad it didn’t hurt you. It’s nothing personal, in the path of a hurricane; had things been the other way around they’d feel the same. You don’t want it to hit you, most of all, but you still feel for the people who do get hurt.

Then you find ways to laugh about it, because that’s how we roll, and besides it wasn’t even a real hurricane, and then the Tampa Police Department posts informative graphics the next day…

I am assured that this is an accurate depiction of events. Besides, I saw Baby Nessie chasing some fish a few days later. (source: TPD/Facebook/brilliant goofballs with Photoshop and spare time)

Since I know you’d wonder, I asked if TPD has a procedure for gigantic beasties attacking. Here’s what they said:

“There is no procedure, but since they seem to be harmless (and we don’t have a jail cell large enough), we decided to let them be. They weren’t blocking traffic…haha”

Once you and yours are okay, there’s no point in panic — not unless you’re new to this, in which case you’ll get over it quickly. Assure that everyone is safe, then find the humor. Find the fun. Get the canoe or the kayak or the pool floats and get some new perspective on roads where you normally drive. Go wading down the road, catch fish with your bare hands in inland neighborhoods — a hurricane without damage can be a holiday, a break from normalcy, a chance for the unusual to happen.

The unusual is never far from happening around here, in any case.

setima, sagrei, sir, and a bukkit

Note the Oxford comma in the post’s title. You can have my Oxford commas when you pry them from my cold dead hands, which is important, because this means I can Talk All Southern and still maintain some semblance of grammatical coherency. Sometimes. More importantly, I know how to point out when I see the lack in others, a trick my mother taught me and probably has regretted ever since.

A conversation from yesterday:

MY MOM: “You want some cwafee?”

ME: “Watch out, Ma, yer Jersey’s showing.”

MOM: “My what?”

ME: “Cwafee?”

MOM: “Oh god, did I really do that?”

But she gets her own back, on a regular basis.

ME: “So we’re laughing, we’re joking around, then he turns all serious and says, ya gotta do it like this, and I go very serious too, I’m all, yessir.”

MY MOM: “Sir?”

ME: “Huh?”

MY MOM: “You actually said, ‘yes, sir’ to him?”

ME: “Yeah.”

MY MOM: “You are so Southern sometimes! God!”

This is what happens when English majors are allowed to reproduce, and then produce offspring with a decent grasp of linguistics aided and/or abetted by a walloping big case of dyscalculia. Not that I knew what that was, when I was a kid. Not that anyone else did either.

We get into it about words all the time. It’s a thing with us, a habit, a tradition. We’ll dissect sayings and accents, we’ll pick apart lines on television. Which is why this next item had me, and then my mother, so horrifically outraged.

The best part of Tampa is a little place called Ybor. It was originally Ybor City, its own entity entirely, back a hundred years when Port Tampa was still the port and Henry Plant was drawing railroad schematics and Teddy Roosevelt and his Rough Riders were digging tunnels under the UT hotel in case the Spanish-American war went badly. It looks like the French Quarter in New Orleans, all wrought-iron and brick, but it’s more accurately the Cuban Quarter – well, that and Italian, there’s a lot of Italian history there too. Recently Ybor was decided to be the official historic birthplace of the Cuban sandwich, which ends the sub/hoagie/grinder debate entirely because they are none of them Cubans and, thus, substandard. Ybor is small. It is also very pretty, very old, and very important.

Image shamelessly ganked from the TB Times. I will shoot some of my own before they’re torn down.

The recent to-do concerned the main drag, Seventh Avenue, which is not always actually marked as such within the confines of Ybor proper. It is La Setima, a slangy alternate spelling of septima, which means Seventh. The newer street signs say both Seventh and Setima, one above the other, but the old brown ones ditch the English entirely, which is as it should be.

At least, it was. Until today. The City Council, in possibly the dumbest move in their recent history (and man, have there been some doozies with that lot) decided that, because the RNC is coming, we cannot have one of our most important streets misspelled. They are ignoring a hundred years of tradition and renaming that strip of cobbled brick – down which I drove this very afternoon – La Septima.

I’m so angry I could spit. (Is that Southern enough for you, Mom?)

Nevermind the fact that fancying up the town for the RNC is like having a house redecorated before the ghost of John Belushi throws a frat party. Nevermind that all these outta town tourists are going to be asking how to get to Why-bor City. The council has decided that this one particular quirk, in a town bursting with them, is something that they will not be having with for a moment longer. Because the RNC might make fun of us. I’m shivering in my flip-flops at that notion, I really am.

Besides — if they can say ‘Houston’ wrong in Manhattan, we can bloody well call it Setima.

And so help me god, the next tourist to ask me how to get to “Why-bor City” is being directed onto I-4 and told to turn left after the Plant City exit.

Speaking of Setima and highways, I spent a decent amount of time today on both – heading out across town for therapy, because it is apparently a law of my universe that the quality of a therapist increases in inverse proximity to my house. I bet the shrinks in Alaska are amazing. A friend lives out there – the one who has the frog fear – so I pop by and see her after my sessions.

I hopped into the car, plugged in my music, stowed my ever-present water bottle, and gunned it twenty miles across town, weaving through the suburban assault vehicles and the everpresent construction – all perfectly normal.

Until.

I had a guest. I’m sure you know what this means.

Lady, you drive like a crazy person.

I keep my phone in my pocket when I drive – or in my bag, if I don’t have a pocket handy. I shot that photo while stopped at a particularly long red light. (So don’t worry or fuss.) The long red light was an intersection between a four-lane road, where I was, and an eight-lane road, which I was waiting to cross.

That, of course, is when the anole peeped out from under the windshield wiper and took a good look at me. We crossed the eight-lane road safely and made it a couple of blocks before the little critter started tap-dancing up and down the hood of the car. I’m sure you can guess what happened next.

I pulled over onto a side street, hopped out, grabbed another Useful Paper Bag from the trunk, and set about trying to catch the lizard. It skittered away to the ground and under the car. I rolled the car forward about five feet, hoping I hadn’t squashed it, then hopped back out to replace the bag in the trunk. There, in the same place but on the opposite side as my first anole stowaway, was this new lizard. So I did what I do: caught it, bagged it, folded over the bag, probably scolded it for being difficult while I was catching it, and then lizard and I were on our way.

While I was doing this, a rather unkempt man with a large and darkly-furred beer belly peeking out from under his wifebeater stared from the front step of his house. He didn’t ask me anything. He just watched.

Pal, you live in FLORIDA. If you think a girl with a purple bandana on her head pulling over a car blasting the Beatles to catch a lizard on her windshield wiper is weird, you need to get out more.

The anole was safely released by a lovely large oak tree behind my therapist’s building, and as I folded the bag up I tried to figure out what would be a better lizard-catching apparatus to keep in the car, because clearly this is becoming a theme in my life. The best thing I could think of would be one of those plastic pitchers with a lid that snugly fits into place: no danger of animals getting crumpled, or getting out. I need a lizard bucket, is what.

After my session I met up with my friend, and for a treat we popped down to the nearby burger joint and got ourselves some delicious deep-fried American gastronomic atrocities. While we ate, I told her about a concept I’d learned on the internet, a long time ago. I can’t remember the site where I first read this, but it is called the White Queen Threshold. In Carroll’s book, I think it’s Through the Looking Glass, the White Queen tells Alice: “Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” The White Queen Threshold, then, is when you don’t have to work on believing the impossible things anymore. You are no longer surprised, whatever happens.

“But that’s our entire lives!” my friend pointed out. “That’s every day for us.”

“Yeah,” I told her, “that’s my Florida version of the theory. We hit the threshold when we’re about six months old and just keep going from there.”

When a man in a dark grey coverall barged in and dashed off behind the counter as though he owned the place, I did not bat an eye. He reappeared and started arguing with the store manager, I assume, over a bucket. HE CAN HAZ BUKKIT? In tones loud enough for everyone to hear, the man explained that he’d come to fix the leaky water heater that morning, and when he left he’d forgotten his bucket, and some tools inside it, and they were not there anymore.

“Must’ve taken them with you,” the manager was saying.

“I left my bucket here and I need to get it back!” the plumber kept telling him. “Now I don’t know what you did with it, but you need to find it!”

The moral of this disjointed jumble of stories is: don’t sit on the hood of a car in heavy traffic, always rescue the lizard, don’t change historic names, own your regionalisms, look calmly upon the unexpected, and never get between a plumber and his bucket.

“You know what else?” my friend said, later on. “Costumes. I am never surprised when I see people in costumes. Doesn’t matter where or when it is. Just, oh, hey, guy in a costume. Whatever.” This is true, too. Pirates and Rough Riders, mostly, and that one memorable time in Ybor with a leprechaun; though, that’s a story for another time.

the curious case of the pepper-tree

It is late April; the pollen is supposed to recede, and I have about a month before the rainy season sets in. Thus it is time to ready my implements of destruction and violently attack the jungle that is my back yard before the storms set in and make everything grow six inches overnight.

The highest priority target is something I’ve been warring with for about a decade. There is, and always has been, a pepper tree in a most awkward spot in my garden: wedged into the twoish feet between the a/c heat pump and the wall of my home.

At least, I think it’s a pepper tree. Brazilian pepper, to be precise, a particularly nasty invasive wossit that’s been pollenating and poisonating its way all across Florida. These things are the cane toads of trees. My theory with my garden is “it’s better than sand,” unless it’s sandspurs, but this thing is in a bad spot and it needs to go.

I turned to the internet, and found that, short of Agent Orange and/or fire (I’m not joking about the fire, every guide says things like “If fire is not an option then the following labor-intensive methods can be used but success is not guaranteed” and then they’re going on about backhoes) the removal and eradication of pepper trees here is a Big Fucking Deal, and also a Big Fucking Problem. Errgh. Seriously, fire? Kill it with fire is the best option, in reality?

Here is some of what I found. A detailed how-to guide and explanation of a “pepper bust” (PDF) put out by the internet side of one of the local papers. It has a disclaimer in case of injury right at the front. That’s heartening. Next I located a website full of gardeners having a collective bitchfit about these damn trees. Not that I blame them. Because fuck pepper trees in the ear, especially when they are putting roots under your (vital in FLA) air conditioning apparatus.

The pepper bust printout has given me hope; there’s a method called “basal bark application” of herbicide that will eventually kill the thing off, leaving a dead stump and roots that won’t grow under the house and break the AC or eat my plumbing more. (I already have seventeen thousand a hell of a lot of native trees on my eighth of an acre and their roots eat pipes and fiber-optic wire.) So I can do that, I figure; I can use the hedge loppers to strip the thing down to its trunk, then cut slices into it with my machete and dribble Tree Poison into the cracks. I don’t much care if a dead woody stump is still there. It’s not like it can make a heat pump more unsightly.

But first I need to find and sharpen my machete, which came from the local army-navy surplus and has whacked more jungle than Indiana Jones. Maybe it’s under the gimpy glue cat. It’s not under the stupid boneless cat; she sleeps in trash bins. And it’s not under the dog, because usually I am. The point is, attacking the jungle with hedge loppers is no fun, but attacking it with a wicked two-foot blade is, and especially when you have overwrought nautical revenge songs stuck in your head to sing loudly while you defoliate, you gotta do it with style.

snippy-snappy lizard earrings

To fill space as this shiny new blog is telling me to write something, and because I figure everyone’s gonna want to know eventually: sagrei is the name of a type of lizard, the Brown or Cuban Anole, which runs rampant in my hereabouts.

As kids we’d catch them, of course, because when there’s tempting little animals that can’t poison or injure you running around, you’re going to want to get your hands on them. We’d try (and inevitably fail) to keep them as pets, constructing uselessly elaborate little habitats inside buckets and boxes. A lizard needs more than that.

The best thing, though, because it was the most ridiculous, was to wear them as earrings. They’re feisty critters, and a few gentle taps to the nose will generally get them to open their mouths, ready to fight back. So we’d do that, and then offer them up some tasty earlobes to clamp down on – which they, of course, would, and then refuse to let go. They’d stay a good ten minutes before boredom or gravity (or both) got the better of them, and then they’d finally let go.

So I learned, outside in back yards and front yards and alleys, how to be, if not an anole whisperer, then at least an anole charmer. How to pick them up safely, how to hypnotize them, the visual determinations of age and sex, how to warm them when they’re cold, why they turn colors and what it means, how to keep them from dropping their tails – and while it’s an old superstition that a lizard will feel pain from its dropped tail until you bury it, I still will bury the things, because autotomy is a respectable evolutionary quirk, and because I like to drop tales around too (har!), and besides, some rituals you just have to keep. Too, speaking of evolution, they caused quite a stir with some lizard-quick natural selection.

I find them inside the house and let them out, which is hardly uncommon here; the Repeating Anole Bogey is most often in the kitchen, though the last one was the bathroom, and one time I got a gecko on the stove instead. I photograph them when I can (the header, assuming it’s still the anole, is one of mine) because they are lovely little things in their own way, with shiny inkdrop eyes and an awareness I respect in an animal so small.

I joke that they’re my spirit animal, and that someday I’ll upgrade to alligator. But they fit, in a way; they’re familiar to me, and I know them, and I love what they are.

That, and I totally still hang them from my ears when I get the chance.