Urosaurus ornatus

Tree lizard
Elaine Webster



Laura settled down next to the petroglyphs she had sketched in her notebook the week before. A side glance produced a common springtime sight—an Ornate Tree Lizard doing pushups on the warm smooth boulder.          


“Well, hello mister, I see that the weather meets your approval. I don’t normally converse with strange men, but I’ll have to admit that you’re awfully handsome. I especially like how your blue-green accents shimmer in the sun. I’m sure a few ladies will be by shortly to check you out.”


Spring had exploded in the Chihuahuan desert, which is colder and wetter than the Sonoran. Cactus flowers bloomed next to perennials such as Datura—a favorite of the artist Georgia O’Keefe. Lizards had come out of hibernation hungry for meals of aphids, beetles, flies, ants, wasps, termites and any other insect that can be taken by surprise. A Tree lizard’s life of two to three years is often cut short by predators such as snakes, other lizards, owls, and hawks. Laura’s new-found friend was vigilant, yet undisturbed by her presence. Something caught his eye, and, in a flash, he scurried to the ground and devoured an unsuspecting fly.


“Gosh you’re quick,” she said as the reptile returned to his post. “That fly didn’t stand a chance.”


Laura reached for her sketch pad and pencil. In the past, she had copied the petroglyphs—a series of pictures and symbols chiseled in the rock. Later, she would fashion stories from them and write poetry to capture their essence. Today, she would sketch her own modern-day version—a story of her people to add to the ones depicted on the boulder beside her. She had learned that the existing artwork could be anywhere from 800 to 2000 years old and could only imagine what the original artist would think about present day scenarios.


“Since you’ve been so cooperative, let’s start with you, my friend,” she said to the lizard. The drawings contained all that she saw around her, including the family of Gambel’s quail which scurried every-which-way then disappeared under the nearby creosote brush.


Still talking to her lizard-friend, Laura wondered aloud, “Those quail mate for life. Did you know that?” she asked, half expecting a reptilian answer. “I wish I could say the same for people. My Dad left yesterday, and I miss him so much. But he couldn’t keep it together; couldn’t stop the drugs. Mom asked him to leave for my sake. But I don’t feel that way. I wish he’d come back because I love him anyway.”


A few tears fell from Laura’s eyes as she added drawings of her family to the open page of her notebook. She depicted her father—strong, yet confused and angry. She knew he loved her and her mother; why couldn’t he see that all they wanted was for him to succeed? She added her mother’s picture—arms flailing in frustration—yelling for him to get out of their lives. Finally, she drew herself—slim and tall, almost an adult, with long braided brown hair and deep-set eyes.


“Don’t you think I’m pretty?” she asked and then realized the lizard had scurried away. Above her soared a Red-tailed hawk hunting for his next meal—his effortless flight suspended by a slight wind. Laura shivered as she added him to the sketched scene. She undid the arms of the jacket tied to her waist and slipped it on. “Time to go,” she said to the air, although there was no one to hear. Laura held the drawing up next to the petroglyph and gasped. Her sketch had the same elements that it had—a man leaving, a woman with her arms outstretched and a girl kneeling as if to pray. A lizard, a quail family and a hawk completed the group. The only difference was that the overhead sun had what seemed to be healing rays that engulfed the rest. Laura decided that this was a good omen—she could now see how they would be alright.




Elaine Webster, author of several memoir-style non-fiction works, has segued to fiction and poetry. Her short works have been included in several literary anthologies and journals. It is her love of the Chihuahuan Desert that drew her to live in the shadow of the Organ Mountains. Her website is elainewebster.com.