about a month ago, I was driving down one of our main local routes into the nearest small city when I noticed something on the side of the road that looked like a turtle on its back. even though I was traveling at 45mph, and on my way to an appointment, I had an overwhelming desire to stop and turn around, to help the poor thing. ever since I was little I've had this deep sense of sadness come over me whenever I pass a dead or dying critter on the road, and as I live in what's considered to be a rural area of NY, I see a lot of critters on or near the streets I drive on, and I take pains to avoid hitting them with my car. over the past few weeks alone I've seen/avoided porcupines, baby and adult foxes, baby and adult raccoons, frogs & toads, mice, chipmunks, squirrels, and the ubiquitous deer. so seeing what appeared to be a turtle on it's back on the side of a four lane highway broke my heart, but I needed to get where I was going, vowing to myself (and the turtle) that if it was still there on my way back, I'd go and see what I could do to help, hoping some other kind soul might stop and rescue it before then.
|not 'my' turtle - an image from the internet|
on my way back, I slowed down and searched the opposite side of the road for the turtle, and saw it - still on its back in the same spot. I pulled into the parking lot of a shop and got out to inspect it, and it was most definitely dead. I felt bad for not getting to it sooner. so, for whatever reason or feeling compelled me to do it, I took a large wad of napkins out of my glove compartment, picked up the dead turtle, placed it gently in my trunk, and brought it home with me. while I found an appropriate spot to bury it, I told it how sorry I was that it had been hit in the road, and died alone on its back in the hot sun. I wondered where it was from, where it had been going, and assured it that I was digging it a nice, cool hole in the damp earth for it rest in, and be devoured. I asked if it wouldn't mind having its shell preserved as a scared item while wishing it a peaceful journey, then covered it over with dirt, and marked the spot so I could find it again in about a month. during that time, I chose to learn a bit about turtles, how and where they live, breed, and die, and how best to clean and preserve one's shell.
|tiny turtle vertebrae |
this morning, with prayers for its safe return to Void, I dug up the grave, and didn't find the shell I had hoped would be there. I wondered what could have happened to it...fox? coyote? cat? I sat in the shade of the pines for a minute contemplating, when I spotted a turtle shell - on its back - a few feet away, through some close-grown trees whose branches formed a barrier I couldn't penetrate. how did it get there? did some other critter really dig it up to eat? in any case, the shell was empty, so I tried to get around the trees one way, and failed. I knew I couldn't get around the other side of them, so I tried going through - no luck, too dense. I got out my tree lopper and cut a hole through the dead branches just large enough to force myself through, pushed my way around the live branches to reach the shell, and brought it back with me. the dead branches caught at my dress, scratched me on my arms and face, got tangled in my hair, and I had to yank myself free, knowing that leaving some skin and hair behind was a fair trade in this exchange. for a reptile that is considered in several cultures to be representative of portals and doorways, this was as it should be.
as shore creatures, turtles are seen as a bridge between heaven and earth - land and water. they are prevalent in the myths of many cultures around the world, and symbolic of good health, long life, perseverance, protection, self reliance, tenacity, slow progress, luck, strength, hope, steadfast tranquility, and are considered a good omen in many world religions. in several indigenous American traditions turtles represent Mother Earth as "Turtle Island", the turtle that carries the world on its back. most turtles have 13 'scutes' (scales) on their 'carapace' (top shell), which has been likened to the 13 full moons in a year, and relates to menses and motherhood. turtle shells have traditionally been used by some indigenous cultures to dispense medicines, and to make rattles.
|can you see the 13 scutes on this carapace?|
I found this piece of information which I just loved so much I had to share it in its entirety (the relevant website can be found at the end of this post): "Dr. Tami Jollie-Trottier, PhD, a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians and a North Dakota-based clinical psychologist specializing in indigenous behavioral health and healing has developed “Turtle Medicine” (Mickinock Mishkiikii), an innovative approach to post-traumatic healing in which spiritual and cultural symbolism and Anishinaabe animal teachings are used to explore healing through art, writing and storytelling". she believes that "westernized medical intervention alone cannot produce the level of wellness required, after a personal trauma, to return to the healthy state of mind needed to function in today’s world", and that "healing powers can be found within an individual’s own spiritual, cultural and creative energies".
in Hinduism, the god Kurma (Sanskrit for tortoise) is one of the 10 avatars of Vishnu, and in that belief system, the world is said to stand on the backs of four elephants, who in turn stand on the back of the tortoise Akupara. here, they represent truth because they carry the world on their back, and speak of both the journey and the destination. turtles remind us to be aware of our perceptions about time and our relationship to it while awakening both our physical and spiritual senses. there is a certain safety in knowing they can survive hard times, and the lessons they are said to teach are that we should stay faithful to our paths, and be at peace with our choices and decisions. they encourage us to release the negative things that hold us back, and remind us to use our heads to right ourselves. "pay attention," they say, "abundance is available to us in the right time - the Earth provides us with everything we need."
to be practical, and knowing that many reptiles carry salmonella, I researched ways to clean the dear turtle's shell, which I did by
soaking it in a solution of salt, baking powder and water for an
hour, then rinsing it off and soaking it in a solution of vinegar and
water for another hour. then I scrubbed it with soap and water, inside
and out with a toothbrush, and set it to dry in the sun. I'll
probably put a coat of varnish on it to protect it, so I can keep it on
my altar as a sacred item, and a reminder of all the good lessons listed above. in my searching, I also found some vague references to supposedly ancient tales coming to us from China and South America of "three legged flying iron turtles" and a sky-god-bringer-of-corn, killed in the underworld, whose resurrection is depicted by his emerging from a turtle shell. what do you think?
|Hun Huhnapu, resurrected as a Mayan maize deity? |
further reading and references: