A couple of days ago, on a walk, we met a guy motoring home on an ancient Honda, a man really, maybe 35--big, strong, very male. He turned up his gravel driveway and stopped because a mud turtle was sitting right in the middle. He turned off the engine, got off his bike, picked up the turtle, then brought it to the woods just beside the driveway. When he walked back to his Honda, he smiled at us. What he did was, well, sweet.
Who knows why some things stay in the mind and memory? But some do, and that little moment did, for reasons I can't determine.
But here up north, turtles are all over. You've got to live close to rivers to stumble over them on the Great Plains, where we live, because turtles need water. We're on the water here, in spades--"ninety lakes within a ten minute drive," one town says about itself. Hence, turtles.
Turtles have a storied mythic history among Native Americans, which is why they show up all the time in jewelry and on t-shirts. They're associated somehow with strength and fertility for women--something about 13 segments on their shells corresponding to 13 moons in the lunar cycle.
Even though they occasionally get help from husky guys on Hondas, to many Native Americans, turtles represent stedfastness and longevity, the ability to withstand whatever misfortunes life may bring. That makes some sense to me.
To Lakota and Navajo and other nomadic and semi-nomadic people, it's also understandable why turtles would be a favorite; after all, they're incredibly mobile: they wear their own houses.
In some Native creation myths, the turtle represents the link between the first world--the world of water--and the second, the world of earth because they lugged dirt up from the bottom of the water, dirt that became creation. Don't remember reading that in the Genesis account, of course.
Making a big deal out of a lousy turtle is sort of hard to fathom for a Calvinist like me. Basically, a turtle likes nothing better than sunning itself--see the picture. If the world were full of turtles, exactly what kind of world would we have, anyway? Buses would never run on time. Nothing would get done. Who'd do the dishes or bring out the garbage? You can bet the back forty that there ain't many turtles on Wall Street. Maybe there should be.
But on vacation, when I see 'em on stumps, I'm reminded of why I'm here, on vacation, that is. Maybe more cosmic-ly too, as in "why I'm here." One could do worse, Frost might say, than being a sitter on stumps.
Maybe I ought to take one back home with me. Or at least a t-shirt.