A path that pedestrians or vehicles take informally rather than taking a sidewalk or set route, for example, a well-worn ribbon of dirt cutting across a patch of grass, or a path in the snow.
As I was walking this week, the one thing I consistently noticed was all of the jaywalking lizards. It struck me as interesting that my brain called their natural movement through this urban landscape jaywalking – an undoubtedly human construct.
Lizards freeze when their presence is noticed, like they know they’ve done something wrong. Really it is just an act of self defense (fight or flight), but to my human brain (with all of my learned societal constructs determining how I think about everything that I do) it feels like I have caught them red-handed. Each lizard I encountered has unknowingly admitted to being guilty of this very human, urban crime
First I noticed, then I followed, and suddenly my predetermined course was thrown entirely out of the window. Instead of an orderly stroll through my neighborhood, I began zigzagging in an unpredictable way. Following these lizards on their little journeys made me not only guilty of jaywalking, but trespassing too. Not once did I notice that I was headed into somebody’s front yard until I was already there. My path was not straight along sidewalks, but it instead zigged and zagged from one shady agave to the next. All of this irregular movement made me think back on a chapter from Rebecca Solnit’s book Wanderlust (which I highly recommend to anyone who has ever gone on a stroll) where she speaks of pilgrimages and talks of walks that are not for pleasure, but for purpose.
“Secular walking is often imagined as play, however competitive and rigorous that play, and uses gear and techniques to make the body more comfortable and more efficient. Pilgrims, on the other hand, often try to make their journey harder, recalling the origin of the word travel in travail, which also means work, suffering, and the pangs of childbirth.” – Solnit (45-46)
I imagine that lizards (all animals really), live somewhere between the two. Their pilgrimages (migrations) are for survival, their secular walking for territory and play. As I followed each lizard I existed between these two modes as well. In this same chapter, she describes journey and arrival in a way that could vary well transcend the human and animal worlds.
“To travel without arriving would be as incomplete as to arrive without having traveled. To walk there is to earn it, through laboriousness and through the transformation that comes during a journey.” – Solnit (50)
We feel more accomplished when we climb to the top of a hill rather than drive. There is pride in growing a vegetable garden instead of buying produce in a supermarket. The same can be said of raising chickens or cattle to feed your family, or hunting wild game for a similar purpose. There is unmatched satisfaction in knowing that one is capable of providing for oneself. Maybe this is as close as we as modern day humans can get to the creatures who have no other choice.
Eventually (and to be expected during this exercise), I saw a lizard that had been run over by a car. This got me thinking that they too would benefit from following our own human crosswalks and traffic signals. I then laughed out how ludicrous this notion was, recalling that them being squashed is the fault of humans encroaching on their natural habitats to begin with. Why would any animal go out of its way to cross a street legally when their source of water is a straight path across a road (this explains human jaywalking as well). This summer a friend who works for a township back home told me of a resident calling in to complain about a problematic deer-crossing sign. Their call was out of concern; they told my friend that the sign ought to be moved, explaining that they had noticed a large amount of deer being hit it that specific location. It was not a safe place for these mammals to cross; the sign should be moved.
We are so used to being humans that follow human laws, signs and symbols, that we forget our constructs are not the natural order of the world. This is how someone can confuse a sign meant to say ‘human drivers watch for deer on roadway’ for ‘hey deer, cross here for your own safety’. Animals will never follow our patterns, they live off of instincts and a sheer will to survive. These instincts prove deadly for these creatures most often where their natural world collides with our modern one.
“We tend to consider the foundations of our culture to be natural, but every foundation had builders and an origin – which is to say that it was a creative construction, not a biological one.” – Solnit (85)
Humans are heady in their walking – elsewhere and far from mentally present. If the lizards taught me anything, it was to be aware. They are always alert and on guard, always tuned into their environment. Maybe they know better than most that ‘wherever you go, there you are’ and so long as you look both ways before crossing the street, jaywalking is harmless and to be expected.
Left = where the lizard crossed my path.
Right = where I followed that lizard to.
Note: many more lizards were stalked through out this exercise without documentation.