Wednesday, October 1, 2008


I received lots of responses to Mum, the box turtle who appeared under the umbrella of a yellow marigold in my flower bed recently. The magic of a turtle sighting filled me with a strange feeling of exhilaration most of the day, particularly when I was able to get a photo of this creature with a tie dye design on its shell. As I said in the previous blog, turtles have always fascinated me.

And then the financial turbulence in Congress flashed across the television screen; my oldest daughter called to tell me she has been diagnosed with both rheumatoid arthritis and systemic lupus; the younger daughter in CA called to say she has health problems – a catalog of woes threatened to dissipate the magic of Mum. However, after Eucharist at St. Mary today, I came home to do mundane chores and decided I’d go outdoors instead of working—to search for the turtle of yesterday. After all, recent readings had revealed to me that a turtle sighting in Japan symbolizes felicity and is an omen predicting 10,000 years of happiness! Why wouldn’t I seek out this good fortune carrier? According to all legends and magical stories, the turtle is a creature in harmony with her surroundings, and a little harmony is needed everywhere in the world right now. One of the turtle’s jobs is to advertise this harmony that exists within the universe, despite the problems that sometimes overshadow our notions of universal balance.

I opened the kitchen door and was shocked to see another box turtle hustling through the grass near the giant hemlock in my backyard. When she came to a halt long enough for my friend Vickie and I to examine her, we found that she had similar shell markings of yellow, minus a few yellow striations that Mum’s shell exhibited. This is hard to believe, but she had a vivid yellow “2” on her shell, (see photograph) as if advertising that she was the second harbinger of good news to appear on my lawn. Her neck also bore a scattering of yellow dots, and two red eyes opened wide when I spoke to her. I named her “Mam”, as she’s probably Mum’s first cousin by virtue of the happy design on her shell, and I assume she belongs to the same species of box turtle. She didn’t possess the same degree of stillness within as her cousin Mum, but we managed to photograph her before she scuttled off to hide in the ground cover beneath the hemlock.

“Why are all these turtles seeking me out?” I asked my friend Vickie. “They seem to be looking for a place to announce something.” The superstitious Scot in me says that these turtles are serious about bringing me news of a fresh start as some myths purport. Mum and Mam inspire the play impulse in me and perhaps they’re looking for someone to come out in the yard so they can teach them how to play…how to develop harmony with the universe. Think of it – a turtle can make a home anywhere, and I believe Mum and Mam also showed up to advance the idea of new adventures awaiting all of us. They’re just “plain out” symbols of good fortune and new life.

The box turtle cousins reminded me of the child who lies locked within most of us, and of the night I celebrated my 60th birthday and decided I hadn’t been very adventuresome in my life, that I hadn’t played enough. Now that I have 10,000 years in which to enjoy happiness and seek new adventures, I suppose it’s time to reclaim my inner child. Here’s a poem I wrote about this feeling, the “play impulse,” as it appeared in AFTERNOONS IN OAXACA:


I am looking for the child within,
the one who broke through last Spring

and decided life was as much playground as battlefield,
who once sailed leafboats in city gutters,

casting off as the mistress of adventure,
the one who believed that fairies slept

beneath toadstools and that toadstools
were made only for hypermagical flights,

who hoisted a toadstool umbrella,
along with her mother and Mary Poppins,

learning how to fly in the heavens long ago,
forgetting how to fly, wanting to fly again,

who discovered friends, best of friends
in books, and has kept them always,

who has been blessed with good friends always,
is learning to explore, play, enjoy them again,

who has been given a play name
that she loves – Elizabeth, Elizabeth,

a double name that resonates
with double wonder and delight,

who, at three, turned the pages

“the world is so full of a number of things,
I’m sure we should all be as happy as kings,”

and has, at age 60, stepped out to claim that world.
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