Wednesday, June 26, 2013

When there's no hare in the race, a turtle can have his day in the sun, or, A Winner!

Readers, you have outdone yourselves! I asked for your turtle stories, in celebration of the publication of Russell Hoban's wonderful and odd novel Turtle Diary, and you came through brilliantly!

Fifteen of you posted stories--you can read them all in the comments to this post, and I urge you to do so--and so many of them are good that picking just one to win the promised copy of Turtle Diary has proved to be very difficult.

It's probably no surprise that the most beautifully written, calling up a summer night in all its humid verdancy, comes from Patrick Kurp, discerning shopkeeper over at Anecdotal Evidence:
In the late summer, the fields and marshes along Riverview Road are dense green jungles dotted with the gaudy magenta of purple loosestrife. The road follows the southernmost edge of Saratoga County, N.Y., paralleling the Mohawk River and stretches of the old Barge Canal.
The rest of the story lives up to its opening, bringing together youth and age, wisdom and inexperience, and uniting them through simple care for an animal that most likely is incapable of understanding it.

The simplest, on the other hand, is Lisa Peet's account of dreaming of owning a turtle named Quonset, while the saddest is undoubtedly Bentham Hurtado, Jr.'s lament for his late turtle friend, Cabbage.

Alas, there can only be one winner, and that is Thomas, who shares this story:
In 1997, in Athens Greece, a cousin of mine had an extended house-sitting arrangement with an elderly woman who had gone to London for some kind of therapy. It was a one-floor house in Kypseli, an area of Athens that had once been both a popular middle-class neighbourhood as well as home to all kinds of writers, musicians and arts, but had now become overpopulated, even slummy in parts. The living room had French windows that opened to a shabby, dusty garden surrounded on all sides by apartment buildings. The old woman had rescued two turtles in the early 1980s and given them a home in this garden. They were still alive when my cousin was staying there and one of her duties was to make sure they had food and water.

One day she was sitting in the living room when she heard a thudding noise on the French windows. She tried to ignore it, but it kept occurring. Finally she got up. Through the window she saw one of the turtles knocking at the base of the door with its head. When she opened, it turned around and started walking away. After a few steps, it stopped and looked back at her. It took a few more steps and again looked back. To my cousin's amazement, the turtle was trying to lead her to the end of the garden.

She followed it to where some empty ceramic pots were kept, and among them she found the other turtle, which had somehow managed to fall over and was stuck on its back. She turned it over again, and the two turtles went off to another corner of the garden together.
I'm a sucker for a good Lassie story, especially when the Lassie character wears a shell. Thomas, if you'll drop me an e-mail with your address, I'll get the book out to you.

Thanks again to everyone who contributed. As William G. might put it, it's been nice to think turtle thoughts with you.


  1. That story got my vote too, especially since I have experienced the phenomenon of a tortoise "knocking" at the door, though it was to get food or be let in, not to help another tortoise. My husband wondered why the turtle in the story didn't just right the other turtle itself, if it cared so much -- they regularly knock each other over on purpose and usually manage to get themselves upright again. But chelonians aren't very intelligent, nor are they usually very concerned about each other, though they can be very sociable with their humans. Perhaps the turtle in the story had two dim thoughts: (1) there's a problem, and (2) knocking on that door often solves problems. Anyway, it was a good story. Thanks for the contest, Levi!

  2. oh my! i cant believe i forgot about this and only saw this post now! i cant believe my story got mentioned!

    but yeah, Thomas's story is amazing! Congratulations! :)