The first time I saw a painted turtle it was handed to me in a small shoe box. It was a number of years ago now and I had offered to transport him/her from the Animal Rescue League of Boston (where I volunteer, usually to walk the dogs) to Petco Burlington where it was to be adopted.
Before that I had never had much to do with turtles except to watch kids in a local library, their noses flattened against the glass, eyes shining, calling out to each other and their mums, hypothesizing as to what the turtle was going to do or what it might be thinking about.
Since both those ‘episodes’ in my turtle tutorage I have been introduced to them at Walden Pond. I’ve grown to feel a certain connection to these small creatures which share a love of Walden with me.
Over a month ago when walking along the cement promenade past the lifeguards table, a couple of girls were hovering around the guard who was holding one around its shell. It had the same yellow streaks, as though someone had picked up a thin bristled paint brush coated in yellow paint and run it along the turtle’s neck, and one coated in red paint along its legs that I remembered from the PETCO turtle years ago. Then one day a couple of weeks ago when I arrived back at my car in the parking lot, a girl laden with her beach gear called out, “Hey, have you seen this?” I threw my bag down and wandered over to where she had stopped and was pointing to the asphalt. The little fellow was waddling behind my car toward a patch of sun. We stood talking about what to do to save the little guy and decided she would take him over to the DCR workers who were collecting parking fees at the entrance. I felt so grateful she had been there, imagining the horrible crunch sound under the tires of my car as I reversed out of my parking spot.
A day or so after this encounter I noticed a couple of the DCR workers were carrying yellow signs with pictures of turtles on them along route 126 just past the parking lot entrance. They weren’t just surprise sightings then. There was a whole population of turtles living near the pond!
One day last week I had another not-so-happy interaction with a painted turtle. I had just turned across the traffic lane to enter the pond lot when I baulked, turning the wheel slightly to avoid a small raised lump on the side of the road. As I passed by it, I glanced out of my side window. Sure enough it was a turtle. I thought I had seen red but I wasn’t quite sure. I wanted it not to be too late.
Perhaps it has been since losing Jesi, perhaps as I get older and dig deeper into my own spirituality, the Hindu and Buddhist philosophies about the sacredness of all life, I find it increasingly difficult to face mortality. Not in relation to my own, as my belief in what awaits us on “the other side” gives me a brighter image of the afterlife now more than I have ever had. I think it has to do with suffering… watching my sweet daughter suffer through so many discomforts as I stood by her side powerless to stop them.
When I parked my car I went back to talk to the DCR employee at the entrance gate. He thanked me and called someone to come and take the turtle to where it would be safe, “Or if you like you can remove him and put him over the pond side of the road,” he finished. I walked down the driveway excited to be able to help the little creature make for safety. But it was too late. The poor little creature had a broken shell and lay flattened against the asphalt.
The following day when I was talking to another of the DCR employees he told me about the little critters. “They live in the swamp over there.” He pointed to beyond the car park. “And with the coming cold they are migrating across the road, heading for the pond and its protective deep water.” Then he got notably angry. “I’ve picked up seven of them squashed on the roads here. I can’t understand why people don’t see them. People drive way too fast.”
I did understand why people sometimes didn’t see them, when the shadows from the trees fall across the asphalt in blotchy patterns, swaying to and fro in the breeze. I tried to tell him this but he was too upset to hear. But when he told me a story about a driver accelerating up the driveway to the pay station and how they had refused to admit their hurry, I winced. I knew in my anticipation to get into the water, or in my hurry to fit a swim in when my schedule only just allows it, I too have rushed up the driveway, relieved to have finally arrived.
But I can tell you, since I saw that poor little turtle who didn’t make it to the sanctuary of the pond last week, rushing up the driveway has been the last thing on my mind. I’m too busy scanning the asphalt for small knobs of shiny dark brown camouflaged against the shadows of the leaves to be putting my foot on the accelerator.