Lizard Medicine

horned toad close-up

Close-up shot with telephoto lens

So ferocious-looking, yet so harmless. I love “horny toads” (horned toads to you). Easy to catch out in the open because they freeze when you approach. Primary food? Big red ants. I found this fellow at Taos Valley Overlook on BLM land. He tolerated me way longer than I ever would have.

When I was a boy, I had a mania for catching lizards and snakes. It was like the greatest thing in the world to catch an actual lizard. I even found a few in Germany at Boy Scout camp. There never was any way to feed them, not that I knew of at the time, and I always let them go. Keeping them wasn’t nearly as important and finding and catching them, anyway. Holding them in my hand, looking at their little white bellies and tiny claws, bewildered at how such beauty and precision could ever come to be.

Later on snakes were more important. For some reason, I had to catch them, too, especially great big blacksnakes back in Maryland. Those were tricky because they’d try to bite or poop all over your arm—there’s nothing quite like snake shit—but once I had one all calmed down and quiet, I felt like I’d achieved this crazy union with my nameless prehistoric ancestors. As if holding a five-foot blacksnake in my hands made me a man. As if the snake allowing me to hold it was the truest thing. The highest order. That which made me whole.

I’d never try to pin down and catch a horned toad or lizard now. (Don’t want to scare or hurt them.) But I do speak softly and of course they know I’m there.

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John Hamilton Farr lives in Taos, New Mexico, U.S.A. with his classical pianist wife. “Possibly the only place I can get away with this,” he says. As New York Times best-selling author James C. Moore (Bush’s Brain) put it in a review of John’s first book, Buffalo Lights is the work of a man attuned to the world who sees it differently than you and I and writes about it with a language and a vision of life that is impossible to ignore.” John is the author of BUFFALO LIGHTS, TAOS SOUL, ANOTHER DAY IN PARADISE, and THE HELEN CHRONICLES. He has been publishing online since 1996 (Zoo Zone, Farr Site, MacFaust, GRACK!, FarrFeed) and blogs regularly here at JHFARR.COM. See also → John’s Twitter profile, Amazon Author Page, video channel at YouTube, and website photos at SmugMug. To email John, please see CONTACT INFO on About page.  

  • Ken Webb May 31, 2013, 5:51 AM

    They’re so ugly they’re beautiful! No wonder they don’t try to elude predators – who would want a mouthful of horns? But flip this critter over and you’ll find an astonishingly soft and silky underside. We used to rub the bellies of these guys rhythmically and watch their beady eyes go out of focus and shut as we did it. We thought we were hypnotizing them. But actually the expression was more the complacent smirk of a jaded rock star “not in the mood to be adored”.

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