Thursday, August 14, 2008

The bell tolls again

Tonight I buried my companion of the last 28 years down by the water. He had lived with me at home growing up and at college, in L.A., in Palm Springs, in Colorado, and here in NoVa. He outlived all of the companions I got him by far, although he did lose a few toes to the more fiesty ones. It was only two years ago that we lost his longest-lived companion.

And so it is, with the passing of The Rock that we have become a one pet household, and so it was that with the passing of a turtle, I found myself this morning sitting on the floor, dressed for work, draped over Barky, sobbing into his neck.

It's just going to be like that for awhile, although setting The Rock down in the soft sand by the river did lift a weight from my heart...even if he would have hated being set down in a hole. I know, I know, a turtle should like being down in a burrow, and all the others I've known have, but not The Rock. He was always cantankerous like that.

When I first got him, he would regularly climb up the corner between the wall and the screen door in the patio where he lived. He would always get stuck trying to get up past the door handle, then fall three feet back down to the patio floor where he would sit for a minute before starting up the door again. Cantankerous and obstinate.

He never stopped rattling around wherever I kept him, often literally rattling the walls. My college roomie, awakened again by clonking and banging of The Rock pacing the length of his aquarium, his shell rapping against the glass with every step, asked if he was building a rocket ship. Mama had her own ideas about, and words for, The Rock's nocturnal construction projects.

But the nighttime noise was a constant reminder that The Rock was there. He was always there. Through college, through friendships, through bad times and good, riding shotgun in his aquarium on road trips and cross-country moves, he was my constant companion. Far Side cartoons aside, there's really no point in attempting to train a box turtle, but I did manage to learn some things from him. One of my favorite lines in the Tao of Pooh goes something like...walk like a bird, sit like a turtle and sleep like a dog.

Watching The Rock sit taught me, as I was just beginning to practice Buddhist meditation, how to sit. Other things he wasn't so good at, however, like making friends. He often ended up with his foot stuck in the shell or jaws of his female companions after making somewhat inappropriate amorous advances on them. Usually, I would let them work it out in hopes it would teach The Rock a lesson.

It never did.

I learned a lesson, however: biting a woman's backside is not a welcome opening move in any species. I also learned about the power of perseverance. When I first got The Rock, he was suffering, as most box turtles do at some point, from an upper respiratory tract infection, the first of many. We had to give him antibiotics, tea baths, cod liver oil and perform other acts that were unpleasant for all involved--ever tried to give an unwilling turtle a shot without getting bitten?--but The Rock pulled through.

And he pulled through everything, including Colorado winters, where the wildlife biologist who used to raise turtles said he was easily the oldest turtle he'd ever seen, which is about the same thing that a vet had told me about five years before that. I used to joke that The Rock was just too stubborn to die, but I think that was somewhat true. Although until you've lived with a turtle for some time, it's hard to believe that one could have a personality, I'm convinced that The Rock loved life and simply refused to give it up for something as small as a cold.

I'll never know what it was that took him at the end, but I do know that he had enjoyed several beautiful days out on our balcony. Perhaps he had been reminded, as I had, of living in California, of long summer days out in the garden, and of winters in Palm Springs, roaming through the entire house, chasing down crickets. Perhaps he was thinking of roaming through the lawn in Colorado.

I imagine, however, that he was not thinking of anywhere else or any other time. I imagine that he was sitting in the sun, being right there, right then, doing nothing but sitting like a turtle.

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  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Anonymous4:19 PM

    Sorry for yuor loss. The King baby sat him for a few days once. He loved the Rolling Stones.

    TCB on a better place for him.

  3. Anonymous4:19 PM

    WOW why cant I spell Your?

  4. King: It's them perks and bennies messin' witchyoo.

  5. I'm so sorry. That guy was the coolest...even though we didn't interact that often. 28 years is a long time and he was lucky to have you.

  6. I think about him when I visit Mom's. I remember all the things she did to keep terrapins happy or at least separate. So sorry to hear that he is gone.

  7. Not all Box Turtles have personalities, but yours definitely did. Perhaps it was from reading too many Far Side cartoons to him.

    So Sorry to hear he is gone.

  8. Anonymous6:02 PM

    The Rock definitely had Buddha nature. I'm sorry he's gone.