As homework for her photography class, my wife recently was told to take a picture of something in motion, an assignment easier said than done in south Louisiana summers.
Nothing much moves here at this time of year, not much at all. Our neighborhood lawnmowers whir to life shortly after sunrise, then again near dusk. If you rise early enough, or check the feeders shortly before supper, there’s always the chance to see cardinals or chickadees descend from the tree canopies, dropping at intervals as if parachuting, rather than flying, toward their next meal. True soaring seems beyond their ambition in July, the air so thick with summer heat that flight must feel like a swim through amber.
From 9 to 5, when lots of things are supposed to get done, the city block where I live can seem as quiet as a kingdom suspended, through some sorcerer’s curse, in the slumber of a century.
In a landscape this languid, the slightest stir tends to stand out. At breakfast this summer, we have coffee and wait for a single green lizard to climb the den window and cross the glass, where he comes to rest on the pane each morning and puffs up his dewlap — the bright red sack just beneath the jaw that lizards flaunt like a power necktie to advertise their importance.
He’s an anole lizard, the kind every Louisiana resident soon comes to know. They’re bright green and slender, like pole beans sculpted to aerodynamic perfection. “Males display their brightly colored dewlap when they spot a female or wish to challenge a rival male,” author David Badger tells readers of “Lizards: A Natural History of Some Uncommon Creatures.”
But when our visitor arrives at the window each morning and inflates his neck, a piece of theater as reliable as a rail schedule, we notice he appears to be alone. Who’s he courting or coercing with his bright red cravat?
The lizard mind is a puzzling thing, as tiny and mysterious in its own way, as a digital chip. But I’m beginning to wonder if maybe, with each morning’s grand fashion statement, my lizard friend is answering himself, responding to his own reflection in the window.
Poised within the pane each morning, a frame as perfect as any that might grace a mantel, the lizard seems arranged, like a picture, for no higher reason than to be looked at.
It could be that the late-summer stillness beyond my window is part of that scheme of observation, too — the heat holding everything in place, like butterflies pinned to velvet, so that the world can be read as clearly as a book.
I don’t plan to be out there poking around very much — I prefer the shade and the cool. But from the den, the view makes me feel peaceful, as if everything has been halted, even the hands of the clock.
Danny Heitman is on Twitter, @Danny_Heitman.