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Call Me Woman Who Swims With Turtles

By Ferida Wolff

I have this strange connection with turtles. It started when I was four years old. I had a turtle named Myrtle. She was a plain, Woolworth’s variety, one out of a pile of turtles the store crowded into an aquarium in its pet section. One day my sister and I took her out of her bowl to play with her and somehow Myrtle vanished. There was no way she could have avoided being spotted on our white, kitchen linoleum but she simply disappeared. It was as if she had cast a spell on us and became invisible. We looked all over but could not find her.

For days we walked around the apartment with our heads down, partly because we were sad but mostly so that we wouldn’t step on her should she decide to show herself. We finally accepted that she must have been sick and crawled off to die somewhere. Two weeks later, when we were eating dinner, she scuttled out from behind a kitchen table leg. It was a mystery to us how she had kept herself alive with no food or water. But there she was, good old Myrtle, brassy and bold. We put her back in her bowl and gave her an extra helping of lettuce as a welcome home present. She acted as if nothing extraordinary had happened but somehow I knew that it had.

I met my next turtle fifteen years later. I was driving to the supermarket when I saw a rock crossing the road in front of my car. The rock was actually a large box turtle that must have been displaced by a housing development. I stopped in the middle of the street to block another car from running it over and took it home. I kept it in my bathtub, feeding it raw ground beef and lots of greens, until I learned that it was illegal to harbor a box turtle in my state. I had to let it go which was probably just as well as I was going on a long trip and had to impose upon my mother to care for it while I was gone. I released it in a wooded area near a pond and wished it a good life. Surely that was the end of my turtle connection. It wasn’t.

Ten years after my last turtle encounter, I was on my way to pick up my son at his pre-school when another rock stepped out onto my path. Another box turtle! I brought it to school where it had an extended month-long visit with my son’s class. Then it was let go on the teacher’s farmstead.

Why had two big, beautiful box turtles crossed my path when most people never come face-to-face with a turtle of any sort? Could my turtle encounters have been coincidences, chance meetings without further significance or did they mean something?

Being a firm believer that everything has meaning, I looked up turtle lore and found that turtles have always been seen as mystical creatures. They are a symbol of longevity and they bring good luck into a house. Some say that if you dream of a turtle, it foretells of an incident that will bring amusement or an improvement in business. Long life seemed like a good idea and good luck was always welcome. And, well, I was already amused by my turtle encounters. I thought it would probably be wise to pay attention the next time a turtle popped up in my life.

As soon as I started looking for them, the turtles stopped coming. I thought perhaps we are only allotted so many turtles in a lifetime. They seemed to have done the job, though. I couldn’t tell about the length of my existence but my life had been blessed with good fortune until then.

The turtles hadn’t finished with me yet, however. I was swimming in the warm, luxurious sea during a vacation in Hawaii when I felt someone beside me. I looked up expecting to find another swimmer and there was a sea turtle not three feet away. I held my breath, afraid that it would disappear. It was a huge creature more at home in the water than I was and graceful in a way that made my best sidestrokes look like wild flailings. We looked into each other’s eyes and continued to swim, side-by-side, for another five minutes. Then the turtle dived. I followed but it vanished along the sandy bottom. I propelled myself out of the water and sprinted across the beach to where my husband was reading, oblivious to the incredible adventure I just had.

“I am changing my name!” I yelled as I ran. “Call me Woman Who Swims With Turtles!”

I told him the story but I could not convey the sense of privilege I felt. Our mutual swim was a companionable bonding, a sea-earth connection that made me feel that I belonged to the turtles, to their 175 million year existence on this planet. I was expanded in a way that left all boundaries between living creatures behind.

The experience brought to mind Myrtle and every turtle I have met since. It took me a while to connect the turtles with my life but when I finally did, I realized that they were all there at significant points in my life: shortly before my family moved, on the eve of my first major trip abroad, when I sent my son off to preschool. And now, a magnificent being was affirming my spiritual journey.

Maybe there will there be more turtles at my life’s junctures, maybe not. If one presents itself, I will thank the turtle as is only proper, and keep my eyes open because something will change, no doubt for the good. And I must believe in the mystical nature of the connection for how else could my messenger of change come in the form of something that has remained the same for eons.

©2008 Ferida Wolff

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