Monday, September 29, 2008

VISIT FROM A TURTLE


Some mornings, I open the back door and peer out to see how many flowers have faded, then walk outdoors to snap off the dead heads of marigolds, mums, and geraniums. This morning, I surprised a box turtle, probably an Eastern box turtle with yellow markings, just the color of the marigolds she had crawled beneath. She kept her head up but stiffened her close-fitting armor and froze in a stance so unmoving that we were able to photograph her. She has been named “Mum,” and as I write she has disappeared into the nearby woods, just as I began to think about making her a pet. All that remains of her appearance is a small indention in the mulch around the yellow mums.

Box turtles are reputed to adapt easily to captivity and even crave raw hamburger, along with fruits and berries (there go my wild blueberries again!). Some people feed them scraps from the table, and with proper nutrition (?) they can live to be a ripe old age – 30 and 40 years, with heartier ones reaching 100 years. Box turtles can become obese, unable to close their shells tightly; therefore, they’re vulnerable to predators. I don’t know how old Mum is, but she appeared to be in her teens from the looks of her flashy armor sprinkled with unorthodox yellow E’s turned backwards.

Turtles have always fascinated me, and I collect replicas of them. Several turtles appear in my writings – one giant-sized alligator turtle appears in THE KAJUN KWEEN and becomes the catch of the heroine Petite Marie Melancon, deftly drawn by folk artist Paul Schexnayder who illustrated this children’s book. Petite’s Uncle Ti’ Joe tells about 300 lb. snapping turtles found on Last Island, off the coast of Louisiana, that were so large they had to be kept in water pens similar to hog pens.

Much mythology has been passed on about the turtle, and in the Far East, the turtle was regarded as magical, a creature that united heaven and earth. The shell represented heaven; its flat bottom, earth. Early Christians didn’t like turtles and regarded them as carriers of evil during wars – and why were the early Christians doing battle? Greeks thought turtles were symbols of hell. However, Indians revere turtles and regard them as symbols of longevity and immortality. In the Hindu religion, turtles represent temporary residences for souls that are traveling through many lives on the road to Nirvana. Turtles, worldwide, are symbolized as spiritual creatures and are said to remind us that the path to heaven is through Mother Earth who will protect and take care of us.

Another turtle reference appears in this poem about my oldest daughter in THE BOOK OF UNCOMMON POETRY, one of my chapbooks:

ON BEING NEEDED

Any kind of a pet will do.
We found a turtle raffling in tall grass,

coin-sized like a dime store relic,
just daring her to take him in.

She has an infant sister
but five years passed before she had,

and so any kind of pet will do
to guard the inner differences.

She sleeps now, close to his green back,
asks me to baby sit

the small something left behind,
not to shriek the way I do at her,

turtles, absolutely, any pet will do.

For graver reasons she believes
he got lost from the race,

just to prove that needing
reigns more important than running;

to the swift, a chase,
getting winded to pull in your head,

to the slow…
becoming the cared for.
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