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Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Conversation with a Terrapin

The jetty at North Shores, Cape Henlopen State Park, DE
There are lots of things I love about living at Llangollen, our wee cottage on the marshes of Rehoboth Bay.

I love watching the sun rise from my deck, and the way it begins to sparkle and shimmer and shine on the water. I love the way the gulls soar in front of it, shouting their Hosannas to the Lord of Life.

I love the way the fish jump up out of the water as if to pay their homage from The Deeps.

I love the 'unexpected guests' who swim by and sometimes come close for a visit.

For many years, we have had a family of ducks who nest in our yard. Not so this year. I'm not certain why, exactly. I've seen them swim by but no one has availed themselves of our hospitality.

However, this year holds a special delight. There is a wonderful gaggle of Canada geese who have taken to swimming by our deck several times a day.

They are not very interested in me but they are intensely interested in each other. One of them will stretch his neck, tilt his head back and honk. Loudly. I suspect it's part of some kind of mating ritual because, eventually, the 'honker' will disappear into a small cove in the marsh grass with one of the..... um... 'honkees'.

The rest of the gaggle sort of hangs out for a while while the other two have obvious 'gotten a room' for a wee bit of privacy.

It's obviously all business and no foreplay for these two - or, perhaps, the honking was the foreplay - and they soon emerge from the marsh cove and join the rest of the gaggle.

Not even time for some mood music and a cigarette and a drink.

Sigh. Whatever happened to romance?

This morning, there was a special treat - a diamondback turtle swam by my deck.

At first, I wasn't sure what it was, exactly. From a distance, I thought it might be a snake because all I could see was his head. As he came closer, I realized that it couldn't be a snake, so I went off my deck to get a closer look.

What was fascinating is that, as I came closer to the water, so did the turtle. He was a curious about me as I was about him.

We stared at each other for a while as he tread water. I could see the distinctive diamond patter of his shell through the water and make out some of the markings, which is why I decided that he must be a diamondback terrapin. 

Through the water, his shell looked to be brown and gold and orange in color. It was simply beautiful, especially when the sun's rays played with the colors and sent them shimmering in excitement.

His eyes were intensely curious. I suspect mine were, as well. I decided he must be waiting for some crusts of bread, so I went into the house to get some. Finding none (I've been dieting), I reached into a box of Cheerios and grabbed a handful, putting them into a plastic baggie.

By the time I returned to the water, he was gone, but I looked down the waterway and saw that he had joined another turtle who was sunbathing on a stump of a tree that had lodged itself on the bank of the marsh during one of the winter storms.

They were soon joined by another turtle and then another and yet another, forming a curious little 'terrapin cue', all jumbled up, one against the other.

I decided to walk down into my neighbor's yard and closer to the tree stump to get a closer look. They were maybe eight or ten feet from where I stood, seemingly nonplussed by my appearance.

I reached into the little baggie of Cheerios and tossed a few into the water. That aroused a bit of curiosity on the part of one of the terrapins, who decided to jump into the water to check it out.

That caused the entire 'terrapin cue' to disrupt its balance, and they all tumbled into the water. After a few moments of confusion, they decided to follow the leader and swim toward me to see what glad tidings I might have brought.

I began to throw a few Cheerios onto the water, delighting as they swam toward them to scoop the small morsel treats into their mouths.

Well, all except one. I couldn't be certain, of course, but I thought sure it was the first turtle I met this morning. He just kept staring at me - through me, really - treading water as our eyes locked.

It's so easy to project one's one stuff onto animals. Sometimes, their eyes become a reflection of what's going on in one's own soul. Sometimes, they are just looking at you with the same curiosity you are looking at them.

We stared at each other, my terrapin friend and I, as I mindlessly dipped my hand into the plastic baggie, pulling up a few morsels, and scattering them on the water while the three other turtles swam to scoop them up.

I remembered an old Native American story about the turtle, and decided to tell it to him. Later, when I returned to the house, I was delighted to know that I had been pretty faithful to the story from the Iroquois Nation which I found online.

Here's the Iroquois story of the Turtle Woman
Iroquois Turtle Woman
In the beginning there was no earth to live on, but up above, in the Great Blue, there was a woman who dreamed dreams.

One night she dreamed about a tree covered with white blossoms, a tree that brightened up the sky when its flowers opened but that brought terrible darkness when they closed again. The dream frightened her, so she went and told it to the wise old men who lived with her, in their village in the sky.

"Pull up this tree," she begged them, but they did not understand. All they did was to dig around its roots, to make space for more light. But the tree just fell through the hole they had made and disappeared. After that there was no light at all, only darkness.

The old men grew frightened of the woman and her dreams. It was her fault that the light had gone away forever. So they dragged her toward the hole and pushed her through as well. Down, down she fell, down toward the great emptiness. There was nothing below her but a heaving waste of water and she would surely have been smashed to pieces, this strange dreaming woman from the Great Blue, had not a fish hawk come to her aid. His feathers made a pillow for her and she drifted gently above the waves.

But the fish hawk could not keep her up all on his own. He needed help. So he called out to the creatures of the deep. "We must find some firm ground for this poor woman to rest on," he said anxiously. But there was no ground, only the swirling, endless waters.

A helldiver went down, down, down to the very bottom of the sea and brought back a little bit of mud in his beak. He found a turtle, smeared the mud onto its back, and dived down again for more.

Then the ducks joined in. They loved getting muddy and they too brought beakfuls of the ocean floor and spread it over the turtle's shell. The beavers helped-- they were great builders-- and they worked away, making the shell bigger and bigger.

Everybody was very busy now and everybody was excited. This world they were making seemed to be growing enormous! The birds and the animals rushed about building countries, the continents, until, in the end, they had made the whole round earth, while all the time they sky woman was safely sitting on the turtle's back.

And the turtle holds the Earth up to this very day.
After I told the story of the Turtle, he dipped his head into the water for a few seconds and then came up and looked at me again.

I tossed a few more Cheerios into the water and this time, the others hung back as he scooped up the three or four circular morsels into his mouth.

I sprinkled the remaining treats from my bag, and all of the turtles ate heartily until there was no more.

I don't know why, but I found myself doing a bit of a bow to my terrapin friends before saying goodbye.

As I started to walk away, each of the four turtles dipped their head into the water and then swam back to their tree stump and onto the serious business of bathing in the glorious morning sun.

I realize that, in many ways, I a woman who has fallen through the sky and landed in this place, this amazing place I have named Llangollen.

I realize that I am home. This is where I will build my home, on the back of years of the dirt and grit of dwelling in the city, among concrete buildings and pavement and steel and noise.

Oh, I miss the city - the ability to walk anywhere and, within 10 minutes, find a great cup of coffee or a delicious meal, chosen from the cuisine of many nations. I can catch public transportation and, within thirty minutes time, be by the water, or at a great museum, or in an open park or at the symphony.

I'm more dependent on my own car these days, to take me where I want or need to be, but in exchange, Nature has given me a great gift.

In the quiet of my home, I began to hear phrases from Psalm 115:
1 Not to us, LORD, not to us
but to your name be the glory,
because of your love and faithfulness.

2 Why do the nations say,
“Where is their God?”
3 Our God is in heaven;
s/he does whatever pleases her.
4 But their idols are silver and gold,
made by human hands.
5 They have mouths, but cannot speak,
eyes, but cannot see.
6 They have ears, but cannot hear,
noses, but cannot smell.
7 They have hands, but cannot feel,
feet, but cannot walk,
nor can they utter a sound with their throats.
8 Those who make them will be like them,
and so will all who trust in them.

9 All you Israelites, trust in the LORD—
s/he is their help and shield.
10 House of Aaron, trust in the LORD—
s/he is their help and shield.
11 You who fear her, trust in the LORD—
s/he is their help and shield.

12 The LORD remembers us and will bless us:
S/he will bless her people Israel,
S/he will bless the house of Aaron,
13 S/he will bless those who fear the LORD—
small and great alike.

14 May the LORD cause you to flourish,
both you and your children.
15 May you be blessed by the LORD,
the Maker of heaven and earth.

16 The highest heavens belong to the LORD,
but the earth s/he has given to humankind.
17 It is not the dead who praise the LORD,
those who go down to the place of silence;
18 it is we who extol the LORD,
both now and forevermore.

Praise the LORD.
I'm home. This is my home. Among the creatures of the earth and sea. Amidst the beauty of nature. It is here that I will build my home, until I am called back to my once and future and eternal home in the heavens.

I think I've always known that, but it took a conversation with a terrapin to make it right in my heart.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

Elizabeth,
Canadian geese mate mid March-May. So the couple may be checking on their nest not procreating. Canadian geese mate for life. But if their mate is killed they may take another. The geese generally return to the same place each year unless: 1.) They are died; 2.) It is too crowded;3) The nesting site has become uninhabitable.
Welcome home :)
Maria

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Well, it is only a few days into June and, it was really just a few days ago that I saw the honking behavior, and, well, geese don't have calendars.

Then again, these are Canada geese, so maybe they do.

This is the first year they've been here so I'm very curious to know why here - in this place - and, having assumed 1 & 2 - where they came from.

They aren't saying, so I may never know. It's okay. I'm just enjoying them every day.

PseudoPiskie said...

Geese will eat out of your hand if you feed them. But they will eat every green thing and poop an amazing amount in your yard. I love the geese but not on our yards.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

True enough PseudoPiskie. They leave a HUGE mess on lawns.

JCF said...

Blessings in this, Lizbeth!

Meanwhile, on my regular hike today, there was a large puddle (we've had lots of atypical rain here in NorCal of late) on the trail, and in the 6 inches to get around the puddle, there was a rattle snake.

Yelling: no snake move.
Small pebble w yelling: no snake move.
Larger rocks w/ yelling: no snake move (just coiling and looking peeved!)
Finally, I had to backtrack, and got a 6-foot downed branch. W some judicious poking, I got the Rattler to slither off the opposite direction from the slender land bridge! Adios, serpiente!

Bless God for ALL God's Queer Creations!

Hutch said...

What is there to say but Alleluia and sigh for the beauty of the world?

Liz "pansyliz" said...

Nice morning it seems. i really like the turtle story. Due to various issues, i always say i will work like a turtle today and that story brings a new dimension to my plans.

LFS pansyliz

Lindy said...

That's a wonderful story. I miss being able to kayak everyday, and seeing what all the animals are up to. There were lots of snapping turtles and red-eared gliders, big ones too! And, of course, every kind of water bird you could imagine. Thank you for sharing your stories of life on the water.