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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  • 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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