September 30, 2002

Turtle Encounters: 3rd Kind


Walking our loop in a heavy drizzle this morning, wetness came as a shocking strangeness after a summer of dusty drought. Not a quick downpour, this was Gulf water flung wide by the spiraling arms of a wet, low-pressure bubble called Isidore. Strange that we name blobs of air; but it is the impact of that nothingness that makes it worthy of personification. For us, Isidore seemed benign enough, a martronly visitor welcomed only because she came gently, left presents of rain, and because we had no plans one way or the other that wind or wetness could batter or dampen.

The wet-heavy goldenrod and jersey tea was bent low, toppling over into what had been our clear footpath up the logging road, on our 'middle loop'. The rain itself was too meager to make noise in falling, and only after it accumulated on the drip tips of bushes and trees did drops fall kersplat, more patterings as the wind swelled gently, making limbs lift and fall in slow motion. Windfronts blew visibly with sheets of misty rain down the valley, south to north. We were getting wet, but our walk was a rain-or-shine routine morning ritual... until we realized we were not alone.

The dog, always the first in line on our woods-walks, stopped briefly to sniff at something down in the grass. I would have walked right past it but for the dog's nose. Brown and yellow, hidden perfectly among same-colored fallen leaves of maple, poplar, locust and spicebush, an immaculate female box turtle was minding her own business when her day took a bizarre twist.

Terrapene Carolina are a dime a dozen, really, though we don't see that many of this secretive breed unless they are made visible while crossing roads (or fatally attempting to do so; and of course we have stopped to assist that risky terrapin migration many times, especially when the kids were small. Adults, unfortunately, become resigned to the fact that some turtles, like some humans, will get hit by one tragedy or another in intercourse with the high-speed world).

This particular Box Turtle was remarkable and worthy of having its portrait taken back at the Mother Ship. Wet with rain, its carapace (the big shell on top) seemed lacquered in a heavy blanket of clear enamel, glistening like a dome of precious and magical stone. More than that, its odd markings, I felt certain, contained a runic message that might divulge the answers to Life, The Universe, and Everything. Yet, all I was able to discern of these hieroglyphs was the mysterious "3". Was this turtle put here, like the plaque on Pioneer 10, to tell us something about another reality? This, I felt certain, must be studied off the trail, contemplated back home out of the rain.

And so, making turtle history, at least for this chosen one, she found herself abducted out of the realm of mosses and leaf mold by an enormous grappling five-hooked appendage. And at a terrible height of a 50-story turtle building, at terrapin mach-8 across leagues and parsecs of space...more than could be covered in a turtle dream-like passage, with four clawed and scaly legs swimming rhymically in air, she was borne to another world.

"3" as the subject was named, was turned this way and that by her benevolent captor. She was offered a leafy food substance unlike anything in her normal diet of mushrooms, worms and fallen seeds. During the ordeal "3" was placed in and out of huge opentopped cylinders for the purpose of containment, and finally examined and imaged when the rains slacked and the sun shone weakly through the clouds. All during the interrogation, it seemed as if her abductor was attempting to communicate with her in benign, almost reverential tones, referring to her only as "3", muttering as if there were some deep, divine significance to this symbol in his alien mind. But it was beyond the realm of testudinal philosophies to think much of this. For the chosen turtle, a slow-motion escape was the only order of the day.

The rains stopped and the sun peeked briefly through the veil of Isidore's vast swirling gown of rain. The turtle heiroglyphs were recorded for further study. It should be mentioned that, in the varied attempts to communicate with the abducted turtle, it was finally concluded that turtles do indeed speak telepathically, but only when attaining full and sustained eye contact with the listener. It is a current hypothesis that turtle thought contains the same message as John Cages 4'33" of silence. Listen closely. There is much to learn.

Now, turtle: be free. Go back to the woods and tell your clan this strange story of your brief disappearance. But do hang around Goose Creek. I would like for us to meet again some day when I am wiser and, of course, slower and perhaps closer to the faint frequency of turtle thought. I will know it is you. Until next time, I will ponder the meaning of your yellow glyphs, and the cryptic significance of the numeric message: "3".

Posted by fred1st at September 30, 2002 06:51 PM

I think I know the significance of the number 3, Fred. It means, "You have 'til the count of three to put me down, or I'm gonna take a chunk out of your finger." ;-)

We don't find many turtles in the urban Atlanta environs, except maybe in some of the parks. They're always a welcome sight.

Great post, by the way...we may indeed be alien life forms to the average turtle, but I like to think they are grateful we are there to flip them back over on their plastrons when they get clipped by a passing tire.

Posted by: Curt at October 1, 2002 07:49 AM

Great post, you're a very good writer. BTW, the website is shaping up nicely. Glad I could help!

Posted by: Dave Worley at October 1, 2002 08:14 AM

Three! what an omen!

I found a box turtle at a girl scout weekend campout when I was in elementary school. I was very upset when I wasn't permitted to take it home with me!

Posted by: Anita Rowland at October 1, 2002 08:20 AM

I love your story. And the photo is beautiful.

Posted by: Fran at October 1, 2002 01:37 PM

It looks like a "3". But really, "3" stands for "42" in Turtle. That's what she was trying to tell you.

Posted by: Pascale Soleil at October 1, 2002 02:41 PM

Take the "3", multiply it by itself, and you have "9". Add that to the "42" mentioned above and you have, ta da! "51"

Goose Creek is the Area 51 of turtledom.

The turtle will be famous for having been abducted by aliens, perhaps spawning a turtle tourism industry.

Great photo, but I foresee a rake in your future. :)

Posted by: Jim at October 1, 2002 08:25 PM

I left out the part about our former pup, Zachary, who used to consider box turtles to be puppy potato peanuts. He would bring them to us from his ramblings in the woods, thoroughly chomped, infrequently dead or permanently damaged. But we would find them months later, scarred in battle with dog jaws. Hence, my amazement to find one without a mark on it.

Also, we found one back on our old farm, in which someone had carved the initials "HC" and date 1954. We inquired among our neighbors and sure enough, a Henry Crigger had lived on this place during the late 40's and into the 50's.

These old terrapins may be as old and wise as they seem!

Posted by: fredf at October 2, 2002 06:46 AM

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