This evening, while running with my dog, I spotted a turtle on the wooded path we frequent. I saw him treading peacefully towards us with his perfect, shiny jade-orange-brown shell.? The moment he saw us, he immediately retreated into his shell of protection and showed no curiosity in coming out again to meet my dog or me, despite my most persuasive sweet turtle voice.
Heading home, I started remembering the many pet turtles of my childhood. Always in the summer and usually in the middle of some very hot day, we?d happily find a turtle. Sometimes in the hills behind our house where we played but more often he?d be making his way, slowly of course, down the middle of our blistering hot street. One of the six siblings would pick it up and carry it back to our house, while the rest us would rush around excitedly, focused on making a home for our new pet. The turtle home was always the same. It consisted of a brown cardboard box lined with newspapers, scattered with green tree leaves and outfitted with a water dish. Our turtles? cuisine never varied. It consisted of small pieces of iceberg lettuce, mixed with shredded carrots. We were really proud of the turtle habitats we came up with on the spot.
It?d be a couple of days before the turtle recovered enough from the trauma of capture and confinement, along with his own shyness, before he?d venture out of his safe place. Finally, he?d poke his head out of his shell to explore his new home and nibble a little of the lettuce, which was now drying out and brown on the edges. Any of us who happened to be nearby would lean over the box to take in his every move. Now as an adult, I can only imagine how this little turtle felt with four or five children staring at him from above, while he tried to figure out how his life came to this. We?d take turns picking him up and petting him. I loved to touch the hard, shiny shells and take long, close-up looks at their colorful and beautiful markings.
During the couple of days our turtle was still in hiding, we?d come up with many possible names for him, finally collaborating on one. It was always a boy?s name such as Ted or Harry. I?m not sure why we thought every pet turtle we found was a male but we did.
Some afternoons, we?d transport our turtle outside so he could enjoy the sunshine and fresh air, while we played in the backyard. But, he always came back in when we did. Our turtles received a lot of attention and affection for being such shy, reclusive pets.
As children, we didn?t have any concept that our new-found pet would be happier living life on his own, in nature where he belonged. We thought he was as happy to have found us as we were to have found him. We couldn?t imagine that our turtle would rather be free and outside the confines of four cardboard walls than to live a life pampered by us.
Finally, after about four or five days, our parents insisted we let him go to live a turtle?s life. Together, a few of us would set him free in the shade trees bordering our backyard. We?d move on with new summer adventures but held onto the cardboard home for a few more days. It would sit in the garage, just in case our turtle came back to us.