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Leaping lizards and gripping geckos


Lizards startle me. Back in the long-ago days when I rode horseback to check cows, now and then I'd see a flash of movement when a lizard sunning itself on a rock was equally startled by me. My mouth emitted a screech without my permission and my heart swung into overdrive. I couldn't help myself. Meanwhile the lizard disappeared behind, around or under the lichen encrusted rock, a perfect habitat for its lichen colored skin. 

Fortunately, there aren't a lot of lizards in eastern Montana. More fortunately, my horse was smarter than me and had become accustomed to my ways. Otherwise, I surely would have been dumped into the prickly pear. To snakes, I reacted even more loudly but my horse simply flicked his ears and carried on. 

Even harmless salamanders gave me the heebie-jeebies. When I was young, a trip down into the dirt cellar beneath the kitchen for a quart of pickles was an exercise in courage. No, that's wrong. It was an exercise in fear. 

It surprises me that I've grown quite fond of iguanas, not the most handsome of beasts. But you know how we women are; we can become used to anything. 

There had to be geckos in my apartment. Clues were there for me to read. I moved to this place in November. It is hardly airtight. When I open the door to come in or go out, often a fly or mosquito, uninvited, flits in. I might spot the insect once or twice and then it would disappear. And I never swept its little carcass off the floor. So where did it go? 

Geckos have a distinctive chirp when calling one another. I hear them every day. Chirp-chirp-chirp-chirp. I scanned the walls. Searched the corners. Looked behind dressers, into the dark places. I never saw a gecko. Week after week. Month after month. Nada. Nothing. 

Despite my distaste for lizards, I like geckos. I recognize their service to humanity. Anything that eats mosquitoes is a friend of mine. Bats, swallows, geckos. Bring them on. 

Now I must explain that mosquitoes here are wimpy. Days go by and I never see one of the little pests. Compared to the mosquitoes-on-steroids we breed in the Milk River Valley, the variety here is the 98 pound weakling. We sneeringly kick sand in its face. However, small and seemingly harmless, it carries dengue fever, which is nothing to sneer at. So bring on the mosquito eaters, I say. 

Sunday, near evening, I was sitting at my dining table eating pitayas, the fruit of cactus, of which I've grown fond, when a pale green gecko skittered up the wall and darted behind a painting. "Samantha," I said. "I knew you were here, somewhere."

Silently I thanked her for keeping the bug population under control. I was nearly giddy with excitement. Monday night I was propped on my mound of pillows, reading before lights out, when across the room a light tan gecko popped from behind the dresser and raced up the wall and with gripping huge foot pads, cut across the ceiling at Interstate speed.I promptly named it "Sam-I-Am." 

Two geckos in two nights. Isn't this strange?

Tuesday night I went to the kitchen to refill my water glass when a smaller pale green gecko dashed across the floor in front of me. "Samish."

Wednesday might, a darker brown gecko made tracks across a living room wall. "Son-of-Sam." Is there a pattern here?

My theory is that gecko spotting is much like deer hunting. In my first hunts along the coulees, I never saw a deer. My husband would see 20. Gradually I learned their habits. I imagined the outline of a deer and the deer would walk into that outline becoming visible. Same technique with geckos.

I have a great "Hands-Across-the-Border" business idea — to export geckos to the Milk River Valley. Customers will line up to buy my little mosquito eaters. Each gecko will come with a name and pedigree, like Beanie Babies. Geckos will become a national craze. They are the perfect pet, quiet, nocturnal, unobtrusive. They don't climb on furniture. They shed their skin but then they eat it, cleaning up their own mess. Wintering might be a challenge, but, small problem, easily solved. We'll sell them in colors, stripes or speckles. We will employee hundreds of people.

Already my friend Kathy and my daughter Dee Dee want a piece of the action. Geckos-R-Us. 

(Sondra Ashton graduated from Harlem High School in 1963 and left for good. She found, upon her return, that things are a little different. Now, she has headed on a new journey. She has moved to Mexico. Keep in touch with her at http://montanatumbleweed.blogspot.com.)


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