A Turtle’s Gaze

DSCF7672copyIts beauty is stunning. I had forgotten. It’s been months since I walked the trails. A desk and responsibilities are easy excuses not to get out. Inertia, routine, habit prevail unless vigorously challenged by sticky notes and memos and spontaneity. Or a friend, a spouse, who refuses to let me settle into a sedentary life.

DSCF7670copyThe air moves breathlessly through the leaves and along the water, warm with a hint of northwest chills to come. It radiates an endless stream of iridescent waves that literally mimic the steady flow of the universal ether coming from the Big Bang. We indeed always have one foot in the water and one in the stars.

For all the movement, however, there’s a sense of calm and tranquility, a still point between seasons wherein the exuberance of a summer swim off Sampson Island, kayaks in the day and fireflies circling at night, early evening cookouts and pool parties that linger into dusk, cicadas humming through sleepless nights, all hover in silent repose waiting to be banked as memories. The migration is on!

DSCF7675copyTwo visitors on the boardwalk steer my gaze toward one of the giant turtles surfacing from the mud, kicking up plumes of vegetative dust and debris that has settled to the bottom of the pond, signaling its arrival by a succession of bubbles that pop on the surface of the water. At first he swims to avert my gaze, wandering through a maze of wooden supports to escape detection. His movement is effortless, rhythmic, much like that of an ancient warrior who’s too familiar with earlier battles to be flustered by a novice such as me.

DSCF7673copyI search through my own shadow for signs of life, but he is too cagey, too illusive, to signal his destination. I turn my head only to see my notebook and pen blow off the railing into the water, an ironic and not too subtle reminder that such moments as this are to be savored, swallowed whole, not broken up into discursive scratches, lines and dots.

DSCF7679copyAnd as quickly as I lose sight of him, he resurfaces twenty feet behind me, as if to laugh at my inexperience in this game. He looks at me intently, perhaps thinking me a possible adversary, or more likely wanting to know the source of my curiosity, the reason for my joy at his gnarled and knobbed beauty. He seems equally entranced by my aging body as I am his, either that or he revels in the warm September air that circles above, keeping us both warm before we burrow down for the winter.

DSCF7671copyThen he sinks, slowly, silently, unself-consciously back into the alluvium from whence he came, and I think “so shall we all one day, I hope with equal grace.” Not a death, but a brief departure. The game to be replayed another day.

As I walk back to the Nature Center, reflecting upon the turtle’s gift to me, I am greeted politely by a handsome woman whose husband trails behind her, a frail, disconsolate victim of Alzheimer’s, head bowed, body bent as if in pain. And I realize in passing that I know this man, this once proud doctor who no longer remembers my name or my daughter who worked with him when she was in college. And, thinking back to the turtle, I am reminded that Nature reveals itself to us in such evanescent wisps of truth and beauty, some of which linger forever, some of which burst into flame.