Recently on the way to work, walking alongside the highway, I spotted a turtle that seemed to be contemplating the prospect of crossing it. I couldn't believe my good fortune of being there at just the right time to prevent a disaster. Of course, there was a chance that he could survive the crossing if every single driver coming through was observant enough to notice him and compassionate enough to care. In other words, he was screwed. I approached him just as he was taking his first couple steps and picked him up, carefully avoiding his head in case he happened to be a snapping turtle. He apparently wasn't and just retracted into his shell. Oldest trick in the book. I could have just thrown him onto the ground until his shell smashed and been like "Didn't see that coming, did you? Thought you were so smart, didn't you?" But that would have defeated the purpose of saving him in the first place.
Now where to take him? I thought about running across the road and just taking him where he was trying to go in the first place, but all I saw over there were buildings and corn fields. I figured he didn't have a particular destination in mind. Later I noticed the almost empty stream that ran under the highway and realized he was probably following that, but if so, his decision to climb up onto the sidewalk and across the road instead of going through the culvert was a spectacularly stupid one, unless he was afraid of the dark, but as soon as I wrote that I realized it's got to be dark inside his shell, not to mention claustrophobic, so that shouldn't be an issue. But I knew a better place anyway. There just so happens to be a pond right next to the warehouse where I work, and I knew that it was a suitable habitat for turtles because it already had turtles living in it. When the weather was nice, they were always out sunning themselves on the log that drifted slowly through the middle, and if I got anywhere near the edge they jumped into the water despite me being at least three meters away. Surely they had room for one more.
As I carried him the remaining four blocks I felt really bad, knowing that he was probably terrified and had no idea where we were going. I talked to him, trying to soothe him, knowing it was silly and he couldn't understand a word I said but wanting to try anyway. Isn't this like how sometimes God rescues us from disaster and takes us somewhere better but we can't understand what the heck is going on? I considered running to minimize the amount of time he had to be carried by me but assumed that would feel even scarier, as moving quickly is not a natural state for turtles to be in. Other worries occurred to me. What if he was, in fact, a tortoise? Well, no matter, I wasn't gong to throw him in the water because I'm not a freaking idiot, so he could just wander off again and there was still plenty of wide open space for him to not get run over in. But what if the other turtles didn't welcome him? What if turtles, like ants and chickens and humans, mercilessly attacked outsiders who stumbled into their group? Well, he would still be better off dealing with them than with cars and pickup trucks and tractor trailers.
We arrived at the pond and I looked for a spot to set him down. There's a ring of cement around the whole thing and then it slopes down rather steeply to the water and almost the whole slope is covered with thick and tall vegetation, but I found a nice little flat and bare spot where I could set him down and he could then decide at his leisure whether or not to get into the water. I set him down, took several steps back, and waited. He sat there motionless inside his shell for so long that I began to worry he had died of fright or something. Then, very slowwwly, his head and feet came back out. He stared at the pond for a good long while, taking in his new environment. Then he turned his head sideways so he could see me behind him, and stared at me for a good long while. Then in a flash he pushed himself into the water and was gone.
The next day when I came back, he was sunning himself on the log alongside the other two. They jumped into the water as usual, but he didn't. He looked at me and I looked at him and he stayed right where he was. The same thing happened the next day and the next day and so on. One day he was in the water and I just saw his head poking out in one spot and he looked at me and I looked at him and he stayed right where he was. Now I don't know how much he comprehends and I'm sure he doesn't recognize the certain death I saved him from, but I'd like to think he understands that I didn't try to eat him when I had a chance and that I brought him to this wonderful place, and that he likes me for it. I think I'll do all right on judgment day after all if a turtle is willing to testify on my behalf.
Alas, I soon wondered if I had actually done him any favors by putting him there. It became clear now that the other turtles in the pond are of a different species, as they're smaller and differently colored. There are only two of them and they appear to be mates, if not in the sexual then at least in the Australian sense. One day he was on the log and they were right next to him - it was plenty big for them to give him some personal space, but no, they opted to be right next to him - caressing each other's shells in what I can only assume was an affectionate manner. This other turtle, my friend turtle, was third-wheeling like a boss. I don't actually understand the expression "third wheel" because it always makes me think of tricycles, which are supposed to have three wheels, but people use it so I use it. It's actually supposed to be "fifth wheel", which makes a lot more sense, but as happens all the time it's become corrupted and lost its original metaphor and people continue to mindlessly repeat it without exercising one iota of actual brainpower. But I could care less. (See what I did there?) Anyway. Turtles. Third wheel.
Do animals feel loneliness? Despite the risk of anthropomorphizing them, I think it's a reasonable assumption that they do. It must be one of the basic sensations instilled by them in evolution that keeps them going. When they are low on energy, they feel hunger telling them to eat. When they are injured, they feel pain telling them to avoid further injury. When they are confronted by a predator, they feel fear telling them to run and/or hide from it. So when they are without a mate, I imagine they feel loneliness telling them to get (at least) one. I'm put in mind of the Tropeognathus in "Walking with Dinosaurs" who, if memory serves me, made a long and arduous journey to the mating grounds every year, and failed to get a mate every year, and had less and less chance every year as he grew older and weaker and his colors more faded. Spoiler alert: he died of exhaustion and was devoured by the offspring of the more successful Tropeognathuses. That was so sad when I was a kid and actually it still is.
But maybe this turtle isn't that desperate yet. Maybe he's in no rush. "Yeah, I'm only five," he might say if he could understand and speak English and I asked him about it. "I'm still discovering myself and enjoying the bachelor life. My mom keeps pestering me to settle down, but I'm like, mom, you abandoned me when I was an egg and you have no business butting back into my life now. Lonely? Nah. Maybe if I ever get bored of sleeping and eating, but I don't see that happening until I'm at least seven. Yeah, those guys are kind of annoying with their PDA but I understand they're just happy someone's finally here to watch them because their relationship doesn't seem valid unless it has an audience. The fish and frogs and ducks just ignore them and it drives them nuts. But they share the log, so it's whatever. Now if you don't mind, I have some more sleeping to do. Bye."
Granted, I don't even know if he's male and I've just been using a masculine pronoun because anything or anyone of indeterminate sex gets lumped in under it. If he's a female, then maybe the conversation would be different. "Oh, I'm just waiting for Mr. Right to come along," she might say. "I was actually going out to look for him myself when you picked me up, and now I've come to my senses and realized that taking initiative like that is highly dangerous and stupid. But he's bound to find his way to this pond eventually, isn't he? Unless he's too stubborn to ask for directions. That's probably it. Ugh, males."
"Maybe he's just shy," I would say. "Maybe he needs some time to... come out of his shell."
"Get out of here," she would say.
"Maybe he's had negative experiences with mating in the past," I would continue. "Maybe he's... shell shocked."
"We're not friends anymore," she would say.
"Fine, my shift starts in a few minutes anyway," I would say, turning to leave. I would look to the air bubbles where the other two turtles had disappeared at my approach as usual. "Tell Shelly and Sheldon I said hi," I would add.
So maybe, immediately after saving his/her life, I ruined it. That would be about par for the course with all my other efforts to accomplish good things. But since Milo died, he/she is the closest things I've had to a pet, so it turned out pretty awesome for me at least.
Kermit the Frog - On My Pond
A song about a pond, because off the top of my head I don't know any songs about turtles except for the "Franklin" theme song. I see a lot of Franklin books at work, and for some reason every single one of them is from Chick-Fil-A.
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About the Author
C. Randall Nicholson is a white cisgender male and a Latter-day Saint, so you can hate him without guilt, but he's also autistic, so you can't. Unless you're an anti-vaxxer, in which case the feeling is mutual. This blog is where he periodically rants about life, the universe, and/or everything.