by Diana Dawson Plattner

The balconies on our buildings have been undergoing replacement for some time now. A few weeks ago I rolled our lemon tree out onto the new structure, as the tree had been looking sad and poorly without its usual summer sun exposure, but I knew that at some point I’d need to bring it in so the concrete could be sealed.

During those weeks, a wee baby anole took up residence in the tree. I couldn’t figure out how (or why) such a tiny thing had climbed a four-story brick wall to find a home on the new balcony, but we were happy to see it. Not only is there powerful magic in wild things, it made itself useful straight away by eradicating a troublesome population of mealybugs, each of which was almost larger than its own head. We called it Nolan, then Nola, then finally Nolie (to avoid the binary). In the mornings it would climb to the topmost branches and bask in the sun, monorail-style. At first I’d fill a tiny jar lid with water for it every day, but then I read they prefer to drink the morning dew off the leaves.

This morning, as Nolie was basking, we heard the clank of ladder on wall by the balcony rail and knew it was sealing-time. I went out to roll the tree back inside, but then I realized our indoor cats were going to be a problem. The female, especially, is a killer. She’s about twenty years old, and when she came to us five years ago she’d been living on the streets — skin and bones, asthmatic, and flea-raddled, she had no hair on her scabby gray ears and a case of pharyngitis. She knows what it means to be hungry, and she knows how to hunt for a living. The other cat, a Fancy Dan I raised on a bottle, has scarcely left this apartment in his six years of lordship. He’d hardly know what to do with an anole if he caught it, but he’d certainly poke holes in it until it stopped being interesting.

Andy helped me locate Nolie and herd it onto the windowsill before we brought the tree in. I brought a hanging plant for it to hide in for the time being, but it was having none of it and scurried out to the brick wall instead, right under the ladder. The worker on the ground began to clank and shift said ladder, and, understandably, the anole spooked. Scrambling against a smooth brick face it lost hold and fell, four stories to the pavement below.

It was a glimmer of good luck that Andy didn’t see this. I was nonchalant as I told him I needed to check on something downstairs (I’m on the homeowners’ board, so I’m always needing to check on something downstairs). Once in the hall, though, I scurried down to the driveway where Nolie had fallen, steeling myself for a one-person reptile funeral and a lifetime of deceiving my husband as to whatever became of our wee visitor. But, wonder of wonders, there it was, essentially unharmed but looking a little shook.

Catching a 2.5-inch lizard that’s thinner than the business end of a chopstick without actually smashing it is no easy feat; even the tiniest gap betwixt fingertips is an escape hatch. The hard-hatted chap at the foot of the ladder watched my feints and contortions in silence. When I finally caught the anole I explained that it lived in our tree up there and had fallen off. I pointed up at the balcony. He looked at me as one might expect a young man with little English to look at a middle-aged loon under such circumstances.

Nolie spent the day in a Mason jar on a stem clipped from the lemon tree with a few drops of water on a leaf. It spent hours alternating between climbing the glass and hanging from the rim under the lid with its filament fingers, but by evening it had given up its attempts to escape. It lay on the bottom under a leaf, its hands under its chin as if it were contemplating the end.

The workers say the balcony work may take a few days, which means at least a week or two. I checked with an online herpetology group I belong to, and they recommended releasing it rather than trying to keep it alive in a jar for an indefinite period. So tonight I gave it a sack lunch and an envelope with money for bus fare and took it back outside, gently placing it in a gardenia bush below our balcony. It whisked away into the dense leaves and vanished. I’ve read that anoles return to their home territories if moved; I left our address on the envelope, just in case.