Thursday, May 18, 2006

The Time the Land Has Not Forgot

Splat! I always turn to see who is there when I hear that sound. It echoes like a single fat raindrop hitting the rubbery surfboard shaped leaf of a Red Ginger or Heliconia. It could be the slow start of one of our occasional 10 second afternoon mauka showers. Far more often it is the sound of a lizard landing. The lizards in my garden leap through the air. It is not a scurrying run followed by a fall. They jump with intention and focus from leaf to leaf, six feet up from the ground. The wide longboard style leaves of the Red Ginger and Heliconia seems to create some sort of three dimensional lizard lily pond in the sky. Splat!

When I spy where the lizard has landed, by following their gaze I can often determine what may have been the cause of this dramatic mode of transportation. The lizard may have captured a bug and be holding tightly to its still struggling prey or already licking the edges of its opened and gaping jaws looking for the last tidbits of a meal. Many times there is another chameleon on a nearby landing pad and the social lives of lizards unfold in front of me.

Chameleons are very territorial and the males spend much time unfolding the large red beards tucked under their lower jaw to any unwanted intruder who should venture too close. A running jump is a good way to start off the show. Courtship involves the same display but without the aggressive pushup calisthenics of standing up as tall as they can on all four legs over and over. I have watched chameleons copulate in the late afternoon. After it’s over it is time to move on. Splat!


There is a fairly recent arrival to my garden. About three years ago a beautiful new gecko, the day gecko appeared and in no time at all the entire garden was filled with vibrant lime green lizards with bold red stripes and blue and gold etchings. That splat sound could mean a gecko and chameleon have crossed paths and a similar show of strength ensues. The gecko rhythmically sways its fat tail while the chameleon puffs out its pouch and both line themselves up to look as big as they can.

Sometimes that sound is only about finding a nice spot for warming up in the sun.

My lizards live very full and busy lives.

One day a rustling in the carport caught my eye and I looked to see what it was. When the motion stopped my eyes came to rest on the source. A large green chameleon had a blue-black skink clasped in its jaws. The chameleon paused for a moment, breathing heavily. Its entire abdomen rose and fell with each breath. It then began to rapidly raise and lower its head smashing the skink’s body against the concrete floor of the garage. The skink wiggled about in the chameleon’s clasped jaws but was unable to get loose. The body slams on the concrete continued as the chameleon slowly pivoted the skink in its mouth.

I was mesmerized watching this epic battle in miniature and stood quietly and watched this drama until all that remained of the skink was half of its motionless tail protruding from the victorious chameleon’s mouth. The skink had been slowly swallowed whole possibly alive, hopefully at least, beaten unconscious.

We catch ourselves looking intently at each other quite often as we try to go about the business of our day. When our paths cross it just happens. We stop, get comfortable, and look into each others eyes. Transfixed and motionless, an exercise in mind reading begins that rarely accomplishes anything before the spell is broken and the previous activity’s momentum kicks back in and we are moving again until the next encounter.

My lizards are trying to tell me something and I want to know what it is.

When Bert and Ernie started showing up on a regular basis at the entrance of the Wailea Fairway Estates and started chatting it began to dawn on me what the lizards sitting so patiently and staring had been trying to let me know. Tall, long legged and regal with copper plumes on the top of their heads, chest and back shoulders, Bert and Ernie strutted around me hopping and dancing about, then lunging quickly for the morsels of food stirred up by the lawnmower.

Two snowy white cattle egrets had found my routine. They preferred the shadier section of lawn under the Plumeria trees and glided in for a gentle landing once I had begun to mow this particular section. I did not need to alter my pattern for them. These elegant birds moved about me with ease and a minimum of fear. I watched them use me. They watched me and managed to maintain the same amount of distance at all times as they hopped and danced and lunged. Some inner personal space gyroscope appeared to be at work.

If I stop walking to gaze at them, Bert and Ernie stop too. I look at the layout of their bodies and the long sharp pointed yellow beaks and can see where the theory that the dinosaurs still walk among us had come from. Every week now a pair of small white Tyrannosaurus rex with copper crests land by my side to hunt for fleshy prey.

The anole chameleons landing with a thud on the Red Ginger leaves and lounging on the railing of the front deck assume their rightful shape as a small crocodilian relative. They sit close and unafraid.

I hear what they are telling me now. We may be small now and you may be big, but that isn’t the way it used to be. We were very big once and we can be big again once you are gone.

Tiny coils of DNA expressed as leaping lizards in my garden remember how it was 85 million years ago. This infinite memory stretches eons further back than mine and they wait patiently on the land my garden occupies.


christin m p in massachusetts said...

This is better than the Discovery Channel.

I have a theory which may sound ridiculous to you, since you are an expert on plants. But I'm going to go out on a limb (I know, silly pun) and tell it to you anyway.

Please don't laugh -- I have a theory that the herbivorous dinosaurs ran out of leaves, which, in turn, left the carnivorous ones without enough prey. So, in order to survive, the few that were left eventually mutated into these much tinier creatures.

Is that possible that they could have killed off too many of the trees by constantly stripping all the leaves off of them?

Also, while I was thinking about this just now, it got me to wondering about something sort of related... How did Bonsai trees come to exist? And why can Redwood trees become so enormous?

Christopher C. in Hawaii said...

Grasshopper, We need to teach you how to Google to answer your many good questions.

Over grazing, ie stripping off all the leaves can happen for sure and does happen today in many habitats. That has environmental consequences that can apply evolutionary forces. If that shrank some dinosaurs I do not know.

Bonsai is a human manipulation and art form and redwood trees are big just because they can be.

christin m p in massachusetts said...

You can probably imagine what my parents went through when I was growing up -- questions, questions, and more questions...

Thank you:) for your kindness in calling them good questions.

Now, if I had a larger vocabulary I could have Googled overgrazing, but at least I was sensible enough to know that Googling stripping off all the leaves would have been futile. I did try looking up Bonsai trees and Redwood trees, but I couldn't immediately find the answers I was looking for, so it was easier to just ask you, since I knew you would know.

christin m p in massachusetts said...

When I checked your link to Painter Charlie Nalepa, then clicked on the Recent Comments for Piiholo Nene, I found my favorite new painting of his. For some reason, that seems to be the only route to finding that painting -- it's not displayed with the others.

See... Now I learned that nene means Hawaiian goose, and piiholo refers to Piiholo Ranch. I was also inspired to look up jacaranda trees, as we don't have those here