Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Mini-Reflection: Turtles


I’m all about turtles lately. I guess I always have been, in some room of my mind. When I was a kid, a neighbor who babysat us had a turtle living in her back yard. Along the side of the house, where there were dense bushes and some rocks, and a trodden dirt path. But the turtle was a rare sighting. Sometimes, we looked around for him but only once in a great while would we find him exposed, maybe chewing on some grass or slowly making his way back to his corner. Her yard had an element of the wild, knowing he could be anywhere within its perimeters at any given time. I remember her telling us the turtle had been there when they bought the house, a couple of decades before I was even born. She said turtles could live to be a hundred years old, and I remember being awed by that at the time, this sand-colored being, living his simple life while tenants came and went. I wonder what happened to him?

I wrote a turtle into my most recent novel, and gave him a special relationship with one of the main characters. I think many of us writers have been drawn to the turtle as metaphor when thinking of characters. That protective shell, that seeming wisdom and zen. The long lifespan, the contemplation of which prompts us to broaden our daily preoccupations toward something grander.
There is an exposed rock at the northernmost end of the north lake in my neighborhood. It’s on my jogging route, so I run by it often. Once in a while, I’ll see a turtle sunning himself on its craggy surface. I always stop. A mini moment of reflection, I guess, that always centers me. But these sightings, like the times in my old neighbor’s back yard, are infrequent. Maybe once every fifty passings, maybe even less than that. Which makes today’s event extremely rare, a first-time occurrence, and I’d have to assume, maybe once-in-a-lifetime. Two turtles, basking in the sun side by side, perfectly symmetrical on that same rock. Both with wrinkled necks strained towards the sun, both shells dried in the heat, one more faded than the other but both that distinct brown/green color of common turtles. They were perfectly situated on the surface, only inches of rock around them. All sorts of metaphors came to mind, particularly the same but different, existing harmoniously. I would have loved to see how they got into position—one first, then the other? Or at the same time, in an orchestrated maneuver? And I would have loved to stay longer than the moment it took for that mini-reflection, to see what signal would prompt them to lower themselves back into the greenish water. And how that would occur—again, together, or apart? But I had to hurry off and finish my run, many things to do and many preoccupations before the next pause.


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"As soon as we express something, we devalue it strangely. We believe ourselves to have dived down into the depths of the abyss, and when we once again reach the surface, the drops of water on our pale fingertips no longer resemble the ocean from which they came...Nevertheless, the treasure shimmers in the darkness unchanged." ---Franz Kafka