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Spring break for turtles

Stalking the wild anaconda
We were gone for a few days, leaving Churchy the turtle to fend for himself. In the days before our trip, temperatures were unseasonably warm. We gave Churchy’s terrarium wide berth, lest he wake from hibernation. We closed doors quietly and spoke in hushed tones. The previous week, Churchy had awakened and Keith put him in the garden. But by early evening, Churchy was already burrowing into the ground. I found him by the fence, half covered with dry, brown grass. He’d been glad to go back inside, or what I take to be gladness in a turtle.

I toyed with the idea of asking someone to check in on him while we were gone—a turtle-sitter, if you will. What if he awoke and was stuck in the terrarium? He’d want to be let out, and would signal this demand to the humans who take care of such things, by tapping on the glass. Churchy is not a subtle, toe- or finger-tapping type of turtle. And why should he be, when he has that fantastic door-knocker on his back? I imagined his frustration as we failed to respond. He could easily wind up on his back, his three legs pumping fruitlessly. (One time last summer, Churchy got so excited by my shoes—cranberry velvet with a rosette on the toe—that as he made his way toward the right rosette, he flipped over and could not right himself. It was embarrassing for both of us. Since then I only wear my dowdy Sorel clogs in the garden. )

But I couldn’t ask someone to turtle-sit. I wouldn’t want anyone outside the family picking him up. Perish the thought, but what if they dropped him?

“Churchy will be fine,” Keith said. “He’s a turtle.”

I knew he was right, but I also knew there was a chance something could go wrong. And if I didn’t obsess about Churchy, I would have to find something else. Fretting gives me an odd bit of comfort, or maybe it just distracts me from the bigger worries, like my own mortality and the taxes that are coming due.

I whispered good-bye to the sleeping turtle and we left for our trip. When we arrived at the place we were staying, the first thing I laid eyes on was a set of three turtles. They were pottery pieces, molded out of clay. “Turtles!” I exclaimed.

“Yes,” the owner said. “And they are worse for wear, thanks to a couple of toddlers.” She picked one up. “See? This one’s leg is broken off.” She propped it back up on its broken leg.

I explained about my own three-legged turtle, at home in his terrarium—hibernating, I hoped. This seemed like a good sign. Maybe it was okay to take a little vacation and leave one’s turtle behind. Maybe nothing terrible would happen. Perhaps, like the clay turtle with three legs, the worst had already befallen ol’ Churchy.

When we got home, he was blissfully asleep, no sign of any disturbance or frustration. He woke up the next day and tapped on the glass. We took him out to the garden. Keith found a night crawler and set it in Churchy’s vicinity so he could find it himself, feel like a real hunter. By late afternoon, I thought I better go get him, since temperatures would be dropping 20 degrees overnight. But when I saw him there, I couldn’t let his garden party end quite yet. I went inside for the camera, so I could capture the look in his eyes.

Do you see it? It’s like he’s stalking an anaconda, or maybe just hoping for another delicious night crawler. I wonder if he even knew we were gone.
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