I don’t have much patience with some people. You know, the ones who squeal in a shrill voice and jump around acting silly when they see a lizard or a harmless snake. I’ve heard those strange utterances coming from males and females alike, mostly adults. I want to say to them, “Look at yourself. How big is that lizard (or snake)? How big are you?”

A few years ago I was strolling through a local public garden. I heard three women screaming. I didn’t even need to investigate because I had already guessed the object of their fright. I just didn’t know what “kind” it was. I investigated anyway. The critter that struck terror in their hearts was a small garter snake scurrying across the dirt path. It was halfway under a bush when I finally spotted it.

Again, how big is that snake and how big are you?

Lizards and snakes are quick and crafty. They have been on our planet, in one form or another, for thousands of years. Their ancestors, the dinosaurs, were once walking around like bosses. But today’s snakes and lizards in the USA, unlike archaeopteryx, have one huge thing in common: They don’t have wings, so I can assure you -- they won’t be flying up and attacking you.

Forewarned is forearmed. That being said, educate yourself! For example, here in Georgia we have 46 kinds of snakes, but only six are venomous: Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake, Pygmy Rattlesnake,  Cottonmouth, Timber Rattlesnake (Canebrake), Copperhead, and Eastern Coral Snake. Learn how to identify them and teach kids to do the same. You may be surprised. Kids often know much more about snakes than adults do.

The simplest response to a snake encounter is to walk away if you see one. A lizard, well, there’s no excuse for screaming and generally acting ridiculous because of a lizard. Lizards are amazing little creatures who are harmless to you unless you’re an insect.

I once was called over to a neighbor’s house. She was freaking out, in panic mode, because a lizard had slipped into her house. She had followed it into a bedroom. She informed me that she had already hit it with a broom and sprayed bug spray on it. Why?

I caught the frightened little critter in a jar, took it home, and released it in the woods. As I turned it out to freedom, I reminded the lizard, “You are one lucky little critter.”

I never forgot that poor lizard, so I incorporated a version of that story into Chinaberry Summer: On the Other Side. This time, it is Aunt Pearl who shows no mercy to a lizard who dares to venture into her pristine kitchen. Sissie and Spud manage to wrangle the little lizard into a Mason jar and release it outside on a nearby azalea bush before Aunt Pearl can inflict mortal wounds on the helpless critter.

Reptiles and amphibians are unique animals that serve a vital role in our ecosystem. They stand between “us and them.” Were it not for snakes, our crops would be overrun by rodents. Frogs and lizards eat enormous amounts of pesky insects.

Enjoy lizards in your yard. They are always on duty, doing their job. If one gets inside your house, it's not a big deal. Kindly put it outside. You don't have to like lizards, but you don't have to harm them either.

My advice to people who try to rid their yards of nonvenomous snakes is always this: You may not like the snakes, but you’re really not going to like what comes to live there when the snakes are gone.

How big is that snake? How big are you?