Fall is one of my favorite seasons, but it is also one of the busiest. Between winterizing the garden, gathering wild edibles, bringing in firewood, and generally readying ourselves and the homestead for the winter to come, it seems to me that we have been in perpetually motion – a frenzy, if you will. A word that seems to convey just a touch of obsessive compulsive behavior that can sometimes lead to strains, and bruises and bumps. But we humans are not the only creatures driven to frenzy in our preparations for the coming winter. In fact, sometimes the frantic nature of animals searching for food, mates and shelter lands them in a slippery situation.
A few years back, on a day much like today, I was busy at some fall task or another when I heard Dean calling my name from the bathroom. His voice sounded a little strange and I ran in there thinking that something had happened to him. When I walked in he was standing there looking into the toilet with an expression of surprise and curiosity on his face that caught me off guard.
He looked up at my confused expression and said, “There’s a skink in the toilet!” At first I thought he was joking. I took the last few steps to see for myself. In our toilet was an extremely large skink that had to be eight or nine inches long and as big around as a man’s thumb. We stood there side by side for a moment looking down into the commode with something akin to wonder.
There are three species of skink here in the Ozarks; the Southern Coal Skink, the Five-lined Skink and the Broadhead skink. Two of these species bear young with bright, iridescent blue tails. The young appear so different from the adults that for a long time herpetologists believed that they were a completely different species. Aside from their smaller size and iridescent blue tails, the young are jet-black with five thin creamy-yellow to orangish stripes running from head to tail. The only way to tell the difference between the young – and sometimes even the adults – of the different species is by the number and shapes of certain scales on their bodies. It is pretty obvious that the skink in our toilet is a five-lined skink.
Like many people who live in the country, we have friends among the wildlife. Some of them even become akin to pets. Our favorite wild friend was a broadhead skink that we called Felix. Like all skinks, Felix was very smooth and shiny like a snake. He was a luminous golden copper color most of the time. During mating his jaw would turn a vivid orange-red. Felix lived in a rotting portion of an old three-way-split oak tree that stood in the center of one of my flower gardens. He used to come out and watch me as I worked below. He would often perch on the flat part of a cut off trunk just above me and hang his head over the edge so he could see me better. Sometimes, he would actually climb down the tree and stop right in front of my face as if he were inspecting my work.
The skink in my toilet was not a broadhead, but a beautiful adult five-lined skink sporting alternating black and cream stripes from tip to tail. It was immediately apparent that it could not negotiate the slippery porcelain of the commode and that it was absolutely terrified. It repeatedly tried to escape the confines of the bowl only to slip back down into the water again and again.
Dean and I looked at each other. What now? Dean wasn’t terribly exited about grabbing a creature that had just been in our toilet with his bare hands, but that turned out not to be a problem because every time Dean tried to grab it the skink went berserk, throwing itself in every direction as it tried to get away. It was obvious that the skink could not get out of the toilet on its own, yet if we attempted to grab it again, it might just actually make it up and over the edge. Having a lizard running around the house didn’t seem to be a good idea – not because we were afraid of it – but because the idea was to try to save it, not let it die behind the refrigerator.
After a quick revision of our plan, I ran to the shed for a five-gallon bucket and a lid. We held the bucket up to the rim of the toilet and Dean gave the skink a good goosing from behind. As it tried to run he gently helped it up and over the rim and into the bucket. We cheered as the skink in the bucket panted in fear.
The obvious question was how did the skink get into the toilet in the first place? Obviously the skink didn’t negotiate smooth surfaces well so we ruled out the possibility that it climbed into the toilet from the floor or fell into the toilet from the ceiling. As we stood there looking back and forth between the skink in the bucket and the toilet bowl Dean looked at me with a knowing eye. I said, “Do you mean to tell me…?” and he said, “Yeah, I think so.” which is short for “it crawled up through the pipes”.
Skinks are curious by nature and they find much of their food by prying and probing into nooks and crannies. They explore any opening that seems to lead somewhere. And with the advent of cooler temperatures, it’s no wonder that this skink looked upon the drain pipe as potentially leading to an underground wintering spot and followed it all the way to the house. After a very long journey in a dark slimy, slippery pipe the skink finally found its way out via the s-trap of the toilet only to be confronted by two giant, but sympathetic, humans with a bucket.
We carried the bucket out to the garden – far away from the sewage pipe – and gently shook the skink out onto the newly fallen leaves. It was so traumatized and exhausted that it didn’t even try to run. It sat there panting hard and looking at us. We left the poor thing alone to regain its composure but it wasn’t the only one who had been shaken – it took a good while before I could sit on the toilet again without looking down first.
Parts of this article were excerpted from
A Journey of Seasons:
A Year in the Ozarks High Country
A Journey of Seasons is a beautifully recounted story of life on a rural Missouri homestead. Based on the changing landscape of the seasons and filled with nature notes, botanical musings, back-woods wisdom and just a pinch of hillbilly humor, noted author, naturalist and organic gardener, Jill Henderson, spins a story of delight and enchantment. This is one journey you don’t want to miss!