One September, when I was in third grade, I found a turtle in my back yard, with whom I fell in love instantly. I’d found a huge treasure. Technically, I didn’t even know enough to tell if my turtle was a he or a she, but I decided this amazing and beautiful being was too perfect to be a boy, so I named my turtle, “Teresa”. Her top shell was perfectly arched and form-fitted to my eight-year-old hand. Her head and forearms had yellow-orange spots in precise formation. Teresa’s underbelly shell was smooth and flat. She looked festive and flawless. I decided “finders-keepers”, and my parents were OK with the idea. They assumed my fascination would fade in a week or so.
When asked, “What do wild turtles eat?“, a neighbor told me that box turtles would eat garden food like fresh tomatoes, lettuce and beans. They also feed on flies, worms, butterflies, and mine enjoyed raw hamburger. My mom found a decent-sized box from the grocery to keep Teresa in. She filled the bottom with grass and leaves and gave me a tin-foil potpie dish for her water.
I loved Teresa. I would dash home from school, sit with her on the back porch and tell her about my day. I’d let her out of the cardboard produce box to roam a bit in the cut grass, and I drew turtle pics of her to hang in my room. Teresa, the Common Box Turtle, was absolutely one of the most fabulous creatures I had ever seen.
Unlike my dog, however, Teresa was a wild animal, and as October drew near, I knew she couldn’t live with me forever. She needed to prepare for winter and be in nature. One late afternoon in October my mother and I let Teresa the Turtle go free in our back yard. My heart broke as I sat on the back step and watched her scoot off toward the trees behind our house. I cried but I knew it was best for her.
Today, turtles are still sacred animals for me. They are persistent, steadfast survivors. They are deliberate and focused. Turtles remind me to slow down in a hurried society. They inspire me to never give up on my goals, but tell me that it is also okay to “hibernate” and take a break till the next season if necessary.
Native American Turtle Creation Legends
Many Native American creation stories are based on turtles and their capabilities to form the earth in such a way as to sustain human life. No wonder I appreciate turtles so much! Whether they are gliding around reefs in the oceans or crawling across a field toward a cluster of shady trees, turtles and tortoises work to keep nature in balance and share peace and beauty with all other living things.
Paige Adams Strickland, our Adoptions Editor, is the recently published author of, Akin to the Truth: A Memoir of Adoption and Identity. She is a Spanish teacher in Cincinnati, Ohio and is married with two daughters and a son-in-law. She has owned both cats and dogs but currently has four cats. Her book blog is www.akintothetruth.squarespace.com, and she welcomes visits and comments there. Her book is available on iPad, Kindle and as a print version at: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/akin-to-the-truth/id711164304?ls=1
or: Akin to the Truth: A Memoir of Adoption and Identityat Amazon.