The pond in it’s overflowing spring glory of three time the usual size. Note tiny rock a third of the way in just in front of the fence.
The mad happiness of spring on same tiny rock
This is the turtle’s favorite part of the pond and therefore mine. I cannot get past my love affair with turtles. Do you know what turtles do? Absolutely nothing spectacular. They are slow (except in the water), shy, and unimpressed by humans. Despite a rather staggering record of survival success (they are some of the oldest reptiles – 220 million years and counting by some estimates) they are unphased by their accomplishments. One would be hard pressed to describe turtles as self confident. Were we to find a way to communicate it is almost certain we would find them somewhat withdrawn and anxiety ridden. And yet oddly confident too. Who else walks across the fields past cows, dogs and sheep whenever they feel like it with their only defense strategy being to curl up and wait it out if the dog is curious? We’ve got metaphors for quiet people involving turtle body parts, yet to my knowledge not a single turtle has ever sought therapy in search of tools to help them leave their shell. They keep it handy and use as they see fit . . . dog boredom device, solar panel, party dress.
I’ve said this before. When my grandchildren are born I’ll still be saying it. When my great grandchildren come visit me and sit arguing in front of me about what it is I’m actually trying to say and if it proves my attachment or disassociation with reality, I’ll be on the patio pointing at a turtle.
They always get to where their going. It’s just not fast, I’ll say.
Does Grandma think it’s time to go?
Did she say fast? What if she’s going on a hunger strike or something?
That’s not what she said, another will say.
But that’s what she meant. I’m calling mom.
At this point I will take my cane and strike his/her mobile device to the ground, whereupon I will totter over to it. Unable to crush it with my bedroom slipper, I will content myself to sit down on it and refuse to move.
The more high strung among them will go to fetch a nurse and possibly a tranquilizer.
To any who remain, I’ll point again at the turtle, who by this time will be four feet away and almost to the top of a rock.
They always get where they’re going, I’ll say. It’s just not fast. One step at a time.
If anyone gets it, I’ll get up off the cell phone and totter into my room. I’ll get some of my wooden turtles off the shelf and give one to whoever’s there with instructions to put it out where they can see it.
One step at a time, I’ll say. They get to where they’re going.
This tidy girl doesn’t do justice to the ones I see with seaweed trailing off them.
The snapping turtles are laying eggs again. It’s hard not to admire them, hauling their soggy selves up out of their primordial worlds to the warmed up gravel beside black roads. I counted twelve along a stretch of road one evening. I find it all strangely hopeful.
Not that I can’t see. The roads are bad for them. A lot of the females die crossing them at night. The general population suffers greatly from too many roads. But I can’t help it, seeing them gives me hope. I’m running around my life trying to do it right, and there they are, hauling their hefty selves one deliberate step at a time. They’re not attractive, they’re twenty pounds of turtle with fat mouldy toes, algae growing all over their shells and strings of seaweed dripping off them like hair. With speed as a non-consideration, they find their spot, hunker down, claw some gravel, lay 25 – 80 eggs, and cover them up.
Then they saunter back to whatever swamp they crawled out of. According to their own census last year, 98% of them ranked the following as, “no concern:”
*Number of microbial creatures harmful or otherwise invading my person
*Quality of motherly care as compared to others
*Chances of survival
*Progeny success potential
*Birth rate (despite survival rate of roughly 1 in 100 eggs laid)
*Color coordination of algae, seaweed, and shell
*Distance to road (***this is obviously a weakness that I wish they would worry about . . . but lack of worry in general may still prove a key to their ability to survive across time and in all kinds of habitats. Maybe National Geographic knows.)
If they survive the roads, turtles typically live 30 -50 years. As a species, they’ve been around a very long time. I don’t know how to justify how much they amaze me and amuse me, but I slow down for turtles, I watch for them everywhere I go. They’re so simple. So boring. So good at plodding. Reading specifically about snapping turtles, I learned they can go days without food or water. Females can hold sperm in their bodies for years, so no need to rush out for a man every year. They can walk ten miles to find a good place to lay their eggs. No anxiety ridden rushing around, just one step at a time.
Turtles remind me of Horton the elephant, from Dr. Seuss. They don’t appear to have a lot going for them, but they survive by faithfully doing what they know. And they do it without a whole lot of fanfare. They keep it simple and I like that. There’s a wisdom to their tiny brains that’s quite remarkable. They’re worth slowing down to watch and think about.
It is hunting season around here. My neighbour always kindly reminds me, or I might forget. Forgetting wasn’t a possibility the other day. It was so loud that I looked out the kitchen window to see if there was a confused hunter out shooting our sheep. Whether it was target practice or boredom, the dog and I stuck to the roads for our walk.
The kids and I call the woods that I usually walk through, “The Magic Forest.” It’s pure Narnia. Especially in winter. Kids who are ambivalent about walks in general, almost always accept invitations to the Magic Forest. Hunting season is short, but I miss my magic trees. Gravel, pavement, telephone poles, and plastic food wrappers (reminding me that living in the country does make the one immune to self-indulgent stupidity) are just not the same, even without the cars.
The only magic on the roads is when I happen on some of the creatures passing by. Skunks, deer, racoons, rabbits, a family of foxes, wild turkey. I always slow down to look. One night a porcupine stopped to look back so we had a conversation in the dark until he finally ambled off.
I think my favourites are the turtles. Every year in May or June, there is a week when the turtles line the gravel on the sides of the road like vacation destinations. A road just around the corner from us seems to be prime real estate. At dusk, huge snapping turtles dig nests in the gravel and lay their eggs. I always want to explain that the benefits of warm blacktop can’t possibly outweigh the danger of cars. I never see the babies, only mothers in the spring. But despite the fatalities, they keep showing up to lay eggs, so something must be working.
On my unmagic walk, I tried to convince the dog that removing the burr from her tail would make her more attractive. We have been having this discussion for about three weeks now. Turns out she doesn’t care what she looks like. Every time she paused to sniff something, I would give a futile attempt to grab at that burr with my fingers. Bent over trying to grab the burr in motion, my eyes caught sight of a hole. For a second I thought some moron had buried their white plastic garbage in the gravel, but logic prevailed and I took a closer look.
On the side of a most un-enchanted and ordinary road, magic. Turtle eggs. Already hatched. No baby turtles, but I dug out five or six dusty white broken shells and took them home to show the kids. In the dance down here between miracles and madness, mark one for the miracles.