I was driving home from work the other day when the pickup truck in front of me came to a sudden stop in the middle of the block. Leaving his cab, the driver flashed a smile and gestured for me to wait a moment while he tended to urgent business. He circled the front of his Ford, returning with a box turtle that he placed in the bed of his truck, rescuing the turtle from rush-hour traffic. I assumed the turtle would find a new home in the driver’s yard, safe — at least temporarily — from more misadventures on the road.
The kind deed, which cheered me after another day darkened by bleak headlines, brought to mind a similar rescue I’d undertaken some years ago. After dropping off my son at summer camp, I spotted a box turtle heading across one of the busiest five-lane thoroughfares in town. He seemed likely to get flattened, so I pulled over and brought him aboard. The turtle wasn’t happy with the change in plans, relieving himself on my floor mat.
Once we got home, I released him on the lawn, expecting to watch him awhile as he ambled around his new surroundings. In no time, though, the turtle had vanished, slipping into the shrubs when my back was turned.
I’m always surprised by the speed of turtles, so long lampooned — I think mistakenly — for being glacially slow. Even so, they don’t seem quick enough to tackle city streets without risking ruin, so I was glad that the motorist in front of me had taken the time to remove one from harm’s way.
I was heartened, too, that the turtle had been noticed in the first place. I’m often too busy — or feel that I’m too busy — to spot what’s in front of me.
This has been a year, though, when more of us have paused to look around. As I mentioned in a column last April, being homebound during the pandemic encouraged that kind of awareness. “Perhaps the biggest irony of the current contagion,” I wrote back then, “is that a deadly virus, a terrible turn of nature, has forced so many of us to slow down, helping open our eyes to creation’s kinder gifts. It’s a humbling mystery I ponder a lot as I scan our yard each day.”
Maybe that renewed connection has been deepened by a growing sense that we’re not as separate from the world of wild things as we once thought. COVID-19, along with a busy storm and wildfire season, have reminded us that for all of our know-how, we can still be as vulnerable as a bird on the wing, a squirrel threading through an oak.
Navigating a troubled year, I still think about that box turtle I saw last month on a busy street. We are, like him, on an angry stretch, hoping to land in one piece on the other side.