I was zipping down our curvy back road the other day, happily going about 9 miles over the speed limit (as I am wont to do, because there are places to go and things to see and never enough time. And yet in these rural parts, I also don’t know when I will see a fox or a deer or a possum or maybe a person jogging).
That day, as I rounded a corner, I saw a large dark spot near the double yellow lines that appeared to be moving slowly. This was not roadkill—this was road-alive.
Aaargh, I won’t get to tennis on time! I thought. But I slowed down, pulled my car over to the side, put on the hazards, and got out.
The dark spot was a turtle, and he was moving slowly. So slowly that he only moved about an inch every 15 seconds, and paused a long time in between. As I approached him, he turned his head slightly and started angling off in the other direction—back toward the center line.
“No, no, no,” I said. I moved around him, and put my feet in his path. This made him turn his head again, and he started slowly moving his body the other way.
He was a snapping turtle—I could tell by his rough black shell, his sawtooth back, and long tail.
“We don’t have time for this, Mr. Snapper,” I said out loud, as he was meandering. I picked up a long stick and nudged the back of his shell. At my touch, he flinched, and then I felt bad.
“I’m trying to save your life, little buddy,” I said.
The turtle didn’t seem to care. He had no sense of urgency, which to me, made him seem so vulnerable. It wouldn’t take much for him to be crushed by the many cars like mine that speed along this road. But he didn’t seem to know that. Snappers have fierce dispositions—reportedly having evolved that way because they are too large to hide in their shell when challenged. But this little guy did not seem concerned.
So the two of us just kept up the nudging and flinching and slow meandering until he was safely in the brush at the side of the road.
As I got back into the car, feeling quite accomplished, I asked myself, “So what was that about?”
Years ago, an Abenaki medicine man friend taught me to pay attention to animal medicine whenever it shows up. Animals signs often have some apt meaning or wisdom that might be worth considering, if you notice them, and pay attention.
So that night, I looked up ”Turtle” in Animal Speak by Ted Andrews. The text said, “The turtle is one of the oldest reptiles and thus has one of the most ancient mythologies…it has been a symbol for Mother Earth, for longevity, and for the awakening to heightened sensibilities.”
Andrews also says that “Long life and groundedness within life is part of what is associated with the turtle. It does not move fast. It is as if, on some level, turtle knows that it has all the time in the world. Turtle medicine can teach new perceptions about time and our relationship within it.”
Me? Issues with time? Seriously? My favorite phrase to my son when he was growing up was “Quick like a bunny.” I was forever saying to him, “We can play if we have time when I am finished my work,” and “We only have ten minutes, so let’s get going.”
I am driven by my Outlook calendar. I have workweeks with literally 27 meetings, which can take me late into the night or can require early mornings to prepare for. So every 15 minutes of time, whether it’s for work or for play with family or friends, is very precious.
These days, I am that much more aware of time as my father just passed away last spring, and my mother died eight years ago at age 67. When you are only 45 and you have already had to face your parents’ mortality, it certainly does make you think about your own and how time can tick away mercilessly in the background of life.
I’ve been thinking about time lately, so it’s not surprising I saw the turtle. Just yesterday, I came across some notes that I had taken during a Quantum Think workshop 15 or 20 years ago. I remember really being impacted by this workshop at the time because it challenged my very notions of time. One of the questions the leader had asked us to consider was “What would be possible if you were centered and calm and less frenzied?”
He had pointed out that when you create a conscious intent to experience life in the moment, time slows down, and in fact, doesn’t exist. When you slow down enough to study a bird, and not leap on the bird’s back, you move to a new level of conscious awareness. That is when we start to see chronological time as a tool, rather than to be run by it.
All that is easy to say and not easy to do. As he said in that workshop that day, it’s not always easy to change our thoughts about time, because the thought usually gets there before we do. But we don’t necessarily have to change our thoughts, we just have to become more conscious of them, so we can create a different intent.
So what is my intent in this coming new year? To study my friend the turtle, and learn from him. I want to learn about the certainty that he experiences by just taking one step at a time. I want to live more in this moment, rather than focusing on moments in the past, or future moments that are still to come.
Ted Andrews writes, “Turtles have amazing survival skills and strategies…this can be a strong reminder [for us]. Is our life becoming too hectic? Are we not taking time for ourselves? Are we so busy that we can’t really see what is going on? Are we going too slow and need to pick up the pace a little? Turtle can help you decide.”
It’s a good thing the turtle showed up for me that day, because I have so much to learn.
I suppose it’s possible there might have been a hare too that day, but that darn hare moved too quickly for me to see him.