“I don’t think Zelva’s coming back.”
That’s the Bohemian on day three or four since he cracked an opening in the fence to see if our turtle wanted to be free. She’s been gone for days, though I’ll admit, I hadn’t noticed until the Bohemian pointed it out.
Which is how we got here in the first place.
Zelva was always kind of his. One day, the Bohemian had looked down to find this turtle under the puakinikini tree in our backyard. The discovery seemed special. No neighbors were missing a pet turtle. Where did she come from?
We researched online, figured out she was a painted turtle, most likely female, and learned that she needed to be in water in order to eat. Using an old kiddie pool on the property, the Bohemian fashioned a make-shift pond by a stand of banana trees. He sunk it into the earth, making it level with the ground so she could easily get out- something else important for her. She needed to dry off and get sunlight on her shell, daily.
A low, portable fence was set up around her area to both protect her from straying animals and to keep her from wandering away. The Bohemian planted nasturtiums, tarragon, edible hibiscus and cosmos flowers in her zone.
I enjoyed Zelva. There are various posts here in the Archives dedicated to her. I especially loved that when I was with her, I slowed down.
And maybe that was part of the issue. I often didn’t slow down enough to spend time with her. Positioned in the yard a good distance away from the house, she was often out of sight. Usually, if she was in view, sunning on a rock, as soon as she saw me coming, she would plop right back in the water to hide under floating leaves.
Jeb never really got attached. Begging for a dog since he was five, Zelva was hardly a substitute. No puppy play or cuddling with her. It was most often reminders like “Careful, go slowly, don’t scare her.” Or “Now make sure you wash your hands very well – with soap – since you were just picking her up.”
Over the months, Jeb and I interacted with Zelva less and less, sometimes forgetting about her for days. It was the Bohemian that made it a part of his regular routine to check the garden, find slugs under rocks and pots and feed them to the turtle.
The last time I saw Zelva, was on an afternoon when I wasn’t rushing. I had found a huge snail inching across our driveway and come to her with the delivery. She was out of her pool, sitting next to the metal fence, bordering her area. One of her scaled feet was outstretched, her pointed nails poking through the space in the gate to the other side of her barricade.
I slowed way down and spent some time with her. She didn’t recoil, though after a while she left me and made her way back to dip into the water.
That was a couple of weeks ago.
The way the Bohemian tells it, he wanted Zelva to have a choice.
Which is what he was thinking when he made a very small crack of an opening in her fence. It was more narrow than the width of her shell, which would mean that she would have to use some determination if she really wanted to get out.
On day two of no Zelva, I go with the Bohemian to her empty zone, looking for tracks in the dirt at the fence opening. I search for some sort of sign of struggle. Nothing seems disturbed. There seems to be no trail of a dragging shell, no turtle prints. No trace. She has exited our life as mysteriously as she entered.
We take the fence down but leave the pool, thinking that if she’s wandering our acre of land, she’ll have the chance to come back to her water if she wants.
We come back to check for a few more days, but still no Zelva.
Jeb seems unfazed. “Let’s get a dog!”
He seems not to understand that Zelva’s helped to build a case against our readiness for pets. If we don’t have time for a turtle….
I understand there may be some readers that think opening the fence was irresponsible, maybe even cruel. Shouldn’t we have relocated her instead of just opening the gate to leave her to find her way to who-knows-where in a wild world of who-knows-what?
I reflect on this myself.
The Bohemian explains that he didn’t think she would stray far, if at all. And when he had come to check on her, it was with the expectation that she’d still be nearby. He was thinking he’d scoop her up at that point and we’d drive her to a river down the road.
Maybe he should have done that first. Or maybe on that first day the Bohemian discovered her, we should have left her under the tree to her own fate. Maybe we should have run an ad on Craigslist seeking a new home for her. The maybe’s and the things we could have done are endless.
But now it is day five. The pool still sits with water, though we do not think Zelva will return.
Perhaps I’m just trying to make myself feel better, but I’m trusting her resilience. She made her way to us, somehow, and she deftly made her way out of the cage we crafted for her, too.
There’s plenty in this world that can endanger her, I’m sure. But at least she’s free. And it seems, that’s what she wanted.
Thank you, Zelva. May you live long, be free and happy.