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Death By Turtle

Friday high-noon, October 17, 2003

I sat at the edge of the pond unaware of the life and death drama about to unfold at my feet. I walked out here at lunchtime looking to escape my own struggles, my job: the artificial reality imposed on my existence by my employer and abundant others whose daily demands on my time and soul become the all important center of their universe. This pond, the size of a football field and probably fifteen feet deep at its center (q guess), is filled with this year's rain runoff, plentiful in this wetter-than-usual summer. Populated by numerous fish and turtles, with white and gray egrets occasionally stalking minnows on the shoreline, it is an oasis of life in a relatively isolated and quiet spot of the company campus, adjacent to the airport . Sitting atop a concrete runoff bunker ushering water and other elements out of the pond, it is a perfect perch to sit facing south and the sun and regain some measure of sanity and serenity as the orb crawls across a cerulean blue sky among swiftly moving cotton-like clouds, while mocking birds, crows, and redwing blackbirds cackle and sing sweet songs to no one and everyone. Given adequate time it would be easy for some measure of peace to squeeze out the draining cacophony of the workday. The pond's population of fish and turtles slowly make their way toward shorebound visitors and patiently wait for handouts of crumbs that may be donated from one's lunch. Little turtle heads, like periscopes, poke through and dot the water's surface while the fish remain below in just as expectant fluid formations. They all seem a friendly, tranquil bunch; turtles climb over each other in their posturing for position, hoping to swallow anything that disturbs the water. The fish appear similarly comfortable with each other's presence and closeness. The water at the edge is fairly clear, I can see the bottom out to a couple yards and the movement of the pan sized perch and painted turtles are a calming influence.

My search for serenity was abruptly halted as I observed one particular turtle, smaller and thinner and of slightly different color, draw close to a larger fellow from above and to its front. Suddenly it clamped down on the fellow's neck and the victim struggled to get free. This behavior surprised me. Among the calm creatures waiting for a handout, one upstart attacks another and holds on in what appeared to be a death-grip. What was this all about, I wondered? Did he think he was actually going to eat this prey, which seemed twice his size? It seemed unlikely. Or was he merely defending his position in the shallow water? But he wouldn't let go. They both slowly sank the short distance to the bottom where it appeared the little aggressor was going to drown his neighbor.

This was unacceptable! After a few seconds, when the assailant's intent became obvious to me, I looked around for a device with which to pry or poke him loose. All I could locate in the rush of the moment was a small branch about 5 feet in length which had dropped from one of the surrounding crab apple trees. I grabbed it and, holding on to the thicker end, reaching far over the water, I tried to separate the pair below me. The small end seemed to have little effect so I reversed the stick in my grasp. I poked at them as much as I could, stretching out over my seat on the concrete pad. I could feel the stick hit the hard shell of either turtle but their struggle continued. I threw the spear at the pair missing them. Determined to aid the hapless victim I grew a bit more frantic for time and looked about for a better weapon. The selection was limited but I grabbed a few more branches and resumed my poking of water and muck around the two. Not having the intended result I reluctantly gave up the fight. It of course occur to me that this is a natural, daily event in the wild. Still I felt dismayed and powerless to stop the reckless murder of this mild and gentle creature. Pondering the scene for another minute I again looked around for a tool in one final effort to intervene. To my left I saw half buried in the grass and weeds at the edge of the water another larger branch leading out into the pond. I jumped down and grabbed it and climbed back on the concrete pad. Pulling the branch with me I saw that it extended further out into the floor of the pond than I expected. In fact it seemed to extend along the bottom to about where the motionless pair lie. Again reaching out as far as I could I moved and swished and swirled the branch around in the water, its end seemingly fixed to the muck. The stirring released an abundance of stench, and a cloud of gunk spread in the water. I frantically fished around with this stick as much as I could and finally stopped, throwing the branch to the side acknowledging defeat. I sat back to await for the cloud to settle to reveal the inevitable, regretful outcome.

It took about twenty minutes for the water to clear while fish continued to swim around the area, as did the other handful of turtles, though seemingly a bit more cautious. I felt sure I failed and the turtle population decreased by one. Anger welled up in me that this loss of life should occur. I was angry at Death, that its ugly, horrifyingly repulsive grip on this universe should reign unimpeded, not only in the turtle world but everywhere! Yes, I know that death is just the other side of the coin of life. But it should not be this way! Certainly this was not what God intended in His original creation. Death was a monstrous intruder. A most unwelcome guest in that first Garden called Eden. Its arrival, thanks only to one miserably regrettable mistake by our first parents, ushered in this long era of agony, terror, and tragedy. It need not have been this way (I must have a long talk with those two when I get to Heaven). But after long millennia, knowing little else but the intimate dance between life and death, we are pretty much inured to its presence. Probably too inured. We should no doubt be much more outraged by its pervasiveness. If we were, there might be fewer wars, murders, and other atrocities on this planet. Humanity could dwell more securely. But we seem much too comfortable with this grim finality. And the earth is littered with the blood and corpses of those that fell for so trivial an excuse as the lust for mere possessions. Such travesty should outrage us all. But we, myself included, withdraw to our own shells, to our protected comfort zones, and turn an indifferent eye.

The water slowly cleared and I could finally see the battleground. Fish continued swimming among the new topology created by my stirring. Turtles, too, swam around, oblivious to the recently combat. I found no evidence of the attacker and victim however. I wondered if the victor swam off with his spoils, but doubted if such a larger, heavier prize could have been relocated by such a shrimp. Soon though I did spot what appeared to be the little turtle tyrant. Reflecting on his different appearance from the others I supposed this might be a snapping turtle, which could explain its nasty disposition. Still I wondered if the victim met his doom in this shallow end of the pond. There were still quite a few turtles paddling around the scene of the crime. This little mugger continued swimming near the others though and appeared to try to repeat his attack on new victims. Fortunately they would swim out of harm's way at his approach. And, at least while I remained on my lunch hour, no other attacks occurred.

Just before it was time to go back, one turtle did swim close by and I noticed what appeared to be small abrasions on his neck. It looked like marks that might have been left by a bite. I took this as a sign that my fight on his behalf may have been successful. Or maybe my mind merely needed this perception to regain its sense of tranquility. But I chose to believe that indeed this was the victim, who in his own way came back to thank me for a renewed existence in his small universe of water. And on that reassurance I walked back to my own small "eight to four-thirty" universe such was my cubicle, to continue my own fight for survival in a working world that seemed to care more about imposing its own cruel, unreasonable will on the peace and calm of the more rational among us.

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