Have you ever had a pet turtle? I've had several.
It all started when I was a kid. If there was a turtle by the side of the road, we picked it up. Every time. (Except if it was a snapper.) Why? I don't know. A family obsession? A family eccentricity? Because it was fun?
Most of the turtles we picked up were box or painted turtles, so they didn't need aquariums full of water or anything. Instead, we fed them lettuce and worms, and they wandered around the kitchen floor freaking out the cats and over-exciting the dogs. Every single turtle we picked up when I was a kid was named Turtline. Why? You'll have to ask my dad.
One day, Turtline disappeared. We looked everywhere for her--under tables, under chairs, behind cabinets--but she was nowhere to be found. One day passed. Then two days. Then three, four, five... a week. We assumed she had escaped through an open door, or been picked up by the dog and deposited in the driveway.
Then, one evening, my dad heard a thumping noise. He looked up and saw Turtline strolling casually across the living room. She had been hiding in the back of the shoe closet, doing who knows what, who knows why.
You'll have to wait for the movie to find out: The Secret Life of Turtles.
Now, you'll have to forgive me--I could only find two pictures of Turtline (and there is no guarantee that these are the same turtle, or even Turtline, for that matter). Both pictures are from a scrapbook I made when I was 12.
But despite my relative lack of photographic evidence, Turtline was an important player in my childhood. So much so, that when I was in college and found a turtle by the side of the road, I took it home.
I named him Lionel, and he was my first love. I built him a house made from a box. I filled it with mud and plants and rocks. I fed him lettuce and snails and worms. I let him wander through my very, very small one-room house as much or as little as he pleased. We went for walks in the park (which mostly consisted of me studying on blanket and letting him walk a few feet away and then picking him up and putting him back where he started). I gave him baths. I rescued him from trying to get down the porch steps--he would fall and land on his back, the rock back and forth until he flipped over and fell down the next step, landing on his back again. It's a pretty slow method for going down steps.
But my favourite thing to do was to feed him peaches.
Lionel loved peaches. They were his favourite treat in the whole wide world. I bought big ones, and then cut them into little pieces that I fed him one at a time. He would hide in his shell until he thought I wasn't looking, and the poke his head out, grab the peach, swallow it whole, and go back in his shell. If I turned around while his head was out of his shell, he froze. After all, I couldn't see him if he wasn't moving, right? Every day we sat on the porch and played hide and seek with peaches. Eventually, he ate them right out of my hand, but only if I wasn't moving, of course.
It was the best month of my life.
After a few weeks I knew I had to let him go. He was a wild turtle, after all. So I set him down in the woods, near where I had found him. There was a pond nearby. I watched him hustle through the leaves into the trees until he disappeared.
And every few weeks after that I would go, leave a pile of cut up peaches on the ground where I had left him.
Turtles love peaches.
I never saw him again, and I don't even have a photo to remember him by.
Since then, I've only had one other turtle: Gaheris. I didn't like Gaheris as much. He was cranky and a mud turtle, so I had to keep massive amounts of water on hand for him. He climbed all over my shoes, and didn't like to take baths. He didn't even like peaches.
Plus, he didn't get along too well with the cat. I only ended up keeping him for a week, and then I dropped him off in my grandmother's pond.
I guess it just goes to show that one is not always like another. Especially when it comes to turtles. I may pick up another turtle or two in my lifetime, but there will never be another like Lionel.
The Turtle Sonnet
Once I had a turtle named Lionel,
The greatest turtle I have ever known.
He never thought to cry or bark or yell,
Nor say a harsh word, growl, complain, or moan.
Instead we went for walks on sunny days,
And took long baths in the warm summer sun,
Lounged on the porch beneath the sun's bright rays.
I fed him peaches one by one by one.
Though our time together was much too brief,
Lionel now has a piece of my heart.
Time will drive us to turn leaf after leaf.
I think fondly of him though we're apart.
And although these things must come to an end
I won't forget my favourite turtle friend.