In which Jill looks beyond the hard shell.

One day while walking my dog Lu in the neighborhood I found a turtle lying on its back. I assumed it was dead, but when I bent over to set it upright its legs did a few listless strokes. Its eyes were opaque and unreadable. Right above each cheek was a small red line, an ironic racing stripe. I took the turtle home and put it in a bowl on my dining room table.

I called our assistant David, who knows about things like free-range turtles. “You shouldn’t touch that turtle,” said David as he peered skeptically into the bowl. “It looks really sick. You could get some sort of exotic disease like kuru or something.”

I put Kuru in a cardboard box filled with sand. I added a lettuce leaf and placed the box on our patio table in the sun. Then I called the turtle rescue in Malibu. A turtle rescue in Malibu is kind of like a 7-11 in San Tropez—unexpected, but appreciated when it’s really needed. I left the rescue a voicemail message describing the turtle and asking for help.

Then I went to check on Kuru. He had escaped from the box and had fallen off the patio table. Once again he lay motionless on his back. He looked like he was dead. Or tanning. I lifted him up and the telltale leg strokes told me it was business as usual. I put him back in his box next to the untouched lettuce leaf and added a slice of tomato and a sliver of cantaloupe in case he preferred fruit.

A short time later the turtle rescue called. I told the helpful woman about Kuru.

“A box in the sun??? Honey, that turtle’s a Red-Eared Slider! He needs to swim! Go put him in water quick, before he dries out like a prune!” The turtle rescue woman told me she would call me back in a few hours. “Oh, and feed him some meat!” she added before hanging up. If you could hear someone’s eyes rolling over the phone, hers were.

I filled the bathtub with 3 inches of lukewarm water, placed a small soapdish in the middle of the tub as a dry island refuge, and fetched Kuru from his salad. As I placed him in the tub, his legs scooped with more vigor as if anticipating the water below. Then he swam back and forth, as if redeemed.

We gave Kuru to our 5-year old neighbor, Trent. Trent and his dad bought Kuru a habitat, a large filtered aquarium with plants and rocks and turtle food. Trent also gave Kuru a friend, Scarlett. Kuru and Scarlett now spend their days swimming to and fro, eating turtle food, playing with Trent, resting atop warm rocks, and stretching.

Over the holidays and into the new year, I hope I find all my blog readers playing with their friends, resting, and finding their ideal habitats, stretching, and—if required—redeemed.

photo by woodleywonderworks via Flicker (Creative Commons License)