The Year of the Skink
People who live on Esplanade Avenue and its surrounding streets walk around all the time. There is no real reason to have a car in this part of New Orleans, or in any part of New Orleans, really. The buses run regularly. The 91 Bus runs from the Cemeteries to Walmart on Esplanade Avenue and a number of buses cross Esplanade Avenue. The Canal Streetcar Line, the Rampart Streetcar Line, and the Riverfront Streetcar Line all connect to Esplanade Avenue.
Whether you take public transportation or just amble from your home base to the one of the neighborhood groceries, pharmacies, bars, restaurants, cookbook stores, hair salons, bike shops, coffee shops, museums, convenience stores, clothing shops, banks, art studios, or to the race track, you'll get into a conversation with the people you'll meet along your way.
It's the Year of the Skink. At least, that's what someone told me the other day when we were both waiting for the traffic to thin on North Broad Avenue enough for us to cross. He was headed for the bus stop on the corner of Esplanade and Broad, in front of the dentist's office. I was headed a little more lakeside to CC's Coffee to pick up a newspaper, the New Orleans Advocate. I don't know anyone who buys the Times-Picayune anymore.
As we were waiting for the traffic to thin out, a thin black line slithered right in front of our feet and the thin black line, what seemed to be a whisper of our imagination slithered under an empty crushed bottle of Big Shot and into a crack in the payment. The lizard was quick and sinewy, as fast as a dart, as much whip as an eyelash. It was a skink. The guy I was standing next to as we waited for the light to change turned to me. "There's the proof," he said. "Everyone's been saying this is gonna be the year of the skink. I guess we just saw the proof."
Every summer seems like the year of the skink in New Orleans whether you live around Esplanade Avenue or not. The skinks are more lively around Esplanade Avenue, but that just may be my impression because I spend most of my time around Esplanade Avenue. Around June, July, August, skinks are everywhere for a moment. Once you spy them, they disappear, nowhere to be seen. They are pretty amazing.
What is a skink? It's a slippery looking lizard, but I don't they are actually wet to the touch. They are covered with fine shiny scales. They are not amphibians. Skinks spend all their lives on dry land. They aren't geckos. Geckos are bright green, or dull brown, or somewhere in between. Geckos are fast and they'll dart away once you get close to them but skinks are a different breed altogether. A skink will disappear as soon as you see it. Skinks have extra-sensory perception. A skink knows if you see it. If you see it, it will disappear in the blink of an eye. A gecko takes longer. That's one difference between a gecko and a skink.
The voodoo priestesses and the creole maw-maws and the hoodoo men are all proclaiming that 2017 is The Year of the Skink. They said the same thing last year. They'll probably say it next year, too. Maybe every year is the Year of the Skink.
I've talked to some herpetologists at Tulane University and they've told me that the most common skink found in New Orleans is the coal skink (Plestiodon anthracinus). Whether this is true or not, I have no idea. I listen to the experts, like I listened to the guy who was crossing the street to get to the bus stop.
Summer is here. It's the Year of the Skink. Happy 2017!
Skinks are insectivores. Their favorite food is palmetto bugs, which may be why there are so many skinks around Esplanade Avenue. Palmetto bugs are as thick as flies around you-know-what on Esplanade Avenue. That's an all you can eat buffet as far as a skink is concerned.
Walk down the sidewalk on Esplanade Avenue at night, under the streetlights, and you'll see palmetto bugs skittering out of your way. In the dark, even under the streetlights, you probably won't see many skinks. Skinks don't like surprises. At night, they lurk in the shadows. When the palmetto bugs skitter from under your feet, they skitter right into the open mouth of a waiting skink. Skinks are smart that way.
If you've never seen a skink, if you have no idea what I'm talking about, visit New Orleans in June, July, or August. Keep your eyes open and your wits sharp, which you should do anyway. With your eyes open and your wits sharp you might catch a glimpse of a skink. If you don't, you can be sure you'll spot a palmetto bug.