XI: Abelard

            As if 14 snakes were not enough, now I have a gecko too.  Geckos are lizards, and look a lot like snakes with four legs.  I wasn’t there when Abelard the gecko arrived, but Maria de Gracia told me what happened.  Some of the snakes had gone to one of my storerooms to hang out on the electric blanket, and found Abelard already there soaking up the warmth. They were not pleased to find an outsider in their territory. “Who are you?” asked Shasta. “You’re not a snake!”

            “True,” said Abelard, “I am not a snake, I am a gecko. But I am a reptile like yourself.  Be kind to strangers, for kindness will bring you good fortune.”  

            This was startling to the snakes – they had never heard anyone talk like this before.  DeWayne asked, “Are you planning to live here?”  Abelard answered “Who knows? I am here now – tomorrow we will know if I am still here.” 

            Olga, always practical, said what was on a lot of snakely minds.  “There aren’t that many mice,” she said.  “You are going to eat our mice!”  But Abelard answered. “You get free meatballs.  You get unlimited kibble.” (Olga wondered: how did he know this?)  “And as for hunting,” Abelard continued, “do you see that moth on the ceiling?”  None of them had noticed the moth, but when they looked up there was a big one. “Watch this.”

            And then Abelard walked calmly up to the wall, continued walking at the same pace directly up the wall, and at the top of the wall continued walking upside-down across the ceiling! He walked so silently that the moth did not notice him until suddenly he was in Abelard’s mouth, and the gecko gulped him down.  Abelard called down from the ceiling “O snakes, could you have caught this moth? Are there any mice on the ceiling?  Don’t worry, I won’t interfere with your hunt.” The snakes were really impressed, as much by his strange way of speaking as by his hunting on the ceiling, so they agreed to let him stay, at least for a while.  

            Snakes have no tradition of discussing their troubles with each other, the way dogs and rabbits and monkeys and people do.  Unhappy snakes just go off by themselves and mope – they don’t want to talk about it!  Or sometimes they get angry and aggressive and pick fights.  Except with rare souls like Roscoe, I couldn’t help much – I meant well, but I didn’t have that special reptile point of view.  But Abelard helped a lot of the snakes when they were unhappy.  He would spend a long time just listening; sometimes he would advise them (he spoke several snake languages as well as French and Spanish), and he could interpret their dreams.  So the snakes came to love him, and rely on him for help.  I bought an extra electric blanket and set it up in a secluded corner so he could meet with snakes privately.  It became the consulting room for Abelard’s counseling practice.  I have to say he even helped me with some problems I was having.1

            He hasn’t joined our household permanently, and sometimes disappears.  But he is often here, and always welcome. Sometimes he comes with us on outings.  There is much we have not learned about Abelard.  Walking on the ceiling we figured out – specialized toe pads with billions of tiny hairs on them too small to see.  But why the French accent?  He is very mysterious about that.  He is not actually European at all, but a western banded gecko (Coleonyx variegatus), native to California.  In fact he grew up in Los Angeles County.  I asked him why he came up here, so far north of his regular range.  He said it was too hard to find parking in Los Angeles.

            Abelard is a wise and sophisticated animal – what the snakes accept as the way life is, that they can’t do anything about, he understands as one just way of being among many, and knows that the way we think controls how we feel.  This gives him a way of looking at the snakes’ problems that lets him help them.  He has given me much insight both into my snakes and into myself, and also some deep secrets of the Way of the Reptile, which I cannot tell you about, because they are secrets.  We are all really glad to have him here as long as he wants to stay.

  1. He also accompanied Lakshmi on the keyboard, using his feet and tail to play the bass notes while she concentrated on the melody.