The late afternoon sun was baking the damp asphalt of our cul-de-sac when my five-year-old, Jacob, spotted the turtle sitting in the road a couple houses down. The whole team quickly assembled in the street to greet the newcomer. Jacob and his three-year-old brother Bennett approached with relative caution. However, when I loosed one-year-old Olivia from her stroller she walked straight over to the turtle and attempted to explore its eyeballs with her little fingers.
“Don’t worry,” Jacob said. “I don’t think it’s a snapping turtle.”
This information came as a relief. It was lucky we had a turtle expert on hand to calm our worries.
“He’s kind of shy, though,” Jacob continued. “He wasn’t shy when I was standing over there, but now that we are closer, he’s kind of shy.”
“This is the most relatable animal I have ever encountered,” I replied.
“I wonder if this is our old turtle,” I continued.
“All growed up?” Jacob responded, incredulous.
“Yeah, it could be. Maybe he came back to visit.”
“He was probably trying to find us.”
“He’s probably trying to run away because he’s like, ‘What are they going to do?’”
“Why would he do that? We treated him well.” (Other than the letting him escape and get crushed part.)
As the boys stroked the turtle’s shell gently and I chased Olivia around while swatting away the mosquitos that seemed to be particularly ferocious, our neighbor from across the street and her one-year-old son came out to join us.
“He’s not a snapping turtle,” Jacob announced as they approached. “He’s nice!”
Again, what would we do without him.
The neighbor and I exchanged awkward pleasantries and commented on the turtle, as required.
“I’ve had a real run on turtles lately,” she said.
“Oh yeah?” I replied, widening my eyes and pursing my lips to express my keen interest through facial expression.
“I was driving with a friend the other day over on Lake Road and there was turtle crossing. We stopped and I jumped out. I had to stop traffic and carry him across. Then, people in the other cars gave me thumbs up!”
“Nice!” I exclaimed with suitable enthusiasm.
A few moments later, a large truck towing a bright blue car rounded the corner and ambled down our street. We shuffled out of its way and it pulled up in front of our next-door neighbor’s house. After a brief visit, the driver returned to his truck and drove back in our direction. As he drove past our little tribe and the turtle, he rolled down his window and said, “I can just take ‘em in the truck.”
It was unclear to me whether he was speaking of the turtle or the children. And while I was willing to entertain either possibility, our neighbor was vehemently opposed.
“No, it’s fine,” she said while waving him away.
After he drove off, she muttered, “He doesn’t need to take the turtle!”
“Oh,” I thought. “I guess he was talking about the turtle.” And while I didn’t share her passion for the topic, I backed her one hundred percent by offering a firm nod in response to her perplexed agitation.
Finally, our neighbor decided that since the turtle wasn’t making much progress on its own, we should relocate it to the pond behind her house. So, she went to her garage to retrieve a cardboard box. Needless to say, the boys were ecstatic and decided to tag along. Few things are as exciting as a turtle in a box.
As they walked back, the neighbor with box in hand, she said “He (Jacob) asked why our garage was so messy.”
I chuckled, but otherwise remained silent.
The neighbor lifted the turtle into the box and we followed her as she walked around her house, through the gate, and into her backyard. The boys skipped and ran behind and around her and I carried Olivia. Jacob helped set the turtle free on the grass beside the pond and we watched for a few moments as the turtle remained motionless because that’s what turtles do.
Eventually we said our goodbyes and continued on with the rest of our evening. And while this is where I’m probably supposed to wax poetic about the majesty of the natural world, what I’ll actually say is, how jealous are you of turtles? That shell with its glorious privacy and no expectations from anyone to move with any speed whatsoever or do anything at all. What a wonderful life it must be!