TURTLES, CHICKENS, AND SPIDERS-OH MY!

Christmas and his small exterminator crew work the grounds.

I’m told that Bloomington got three times its normal rainfall this June. It must be true. The ground squishes beneath my feet with every step. I don’t think we’ve gone more than three days without a rip-roaring thunderstorm. The skies have been heavy with fat, black clouds. This kind of weather—when it seems endless—can set up an army of black clouds in my mood, and I find myself struggling to keep some sunshine in my inner world.

I’ve learned that focusing on nature and my animal family and taking time to settle more deeply into their daily lives is the best medicine—the best mood enhancement—I have for such sodden times. Blessedly, I’ve been surrounded by an unlikely array of “light bearers” these past few cloudy weeks, and had more than enough sunshine moments to get me by.

Early in the month, while tending a bed of squash seedlings in my front yard, I discovered a hole near my most hearty zucchini plant. Mostly, I attribute these small warrens to salamanders and such. Putting my face closer for a better look, I was startled when something quick, fat, and big popped up out of the hole, perhaps to have a better look at me. For a short moment, we were eyeball to eyeball—my two eyeballs to her eight.

I’ve never seen a spider that big out in the wild (if my squash bed can be called “the wild”). I’ve seen some large wolf spiders hunting in my garden, and some pretty hefty cat’s head spiders swaying in their webs, but nothing quite like this. In the brief moments before she darted away, I noted the round, coffee-colored abdomen, the robust legs, and  rectangular carapace. Her body was about the size of a large walnut, decorated with splotchy mocha patterns. In the time it took me to gasp, she was gone into the dark depths of her burrow.

As a child, I had a deathly fear of spiders but I’ve come to be utterly fascinated by them. I raced into the house to tell Carter about our newest resident, bubbling over like an excited child. I am easily amused these days, and the sunshine joy of coming face to face with the Spider Queen of the Squash Bed remained with me for hours. Such unexpected, exotic beauty!

The frog nursery

If you are inclined to dark moods, I can tell you that it is very helpful to cultivate childlike delight over small events. Glee is powerful medicine, even in tiny doses.

Around that same time in June, I discovered a mass of frog eggs—finally!!—in my bathtub pond by the vegetable garden. Glee when I found them. Sunshine in my world when they hatched out into tadpoles the size of a pinhead. Continuing moments of joy as I take time daily to watch them grow, wiggle, dive, and lay like blobs on the bottom of the tub.

I’ve never taken the time to watch tadpoles grow before now. Each tiny speck of a pollywog is like a window to a foreign land, a miraculous world of metamorphosis and transformation. The tadpoles are small, but the wonder of their complex lives is a balm of healing in a crazy world.

Maybell, the banty hen, is taking her two tiny chicks out for forays into the big world of the yard now. I named the little peeps Twinkie and Donut, because they are that sweet. Maybell is teaching them to be great little free-range foragers, pointing with her beak and calling “puk-puk-puk” when she finds something tasty. If she’s found a morsel or a bug too big for the babies, she breaks it up with her strong beak and the chicks spin with excitement and cry “peep-peep-PEEP!” as Maybell prepares the feast. Sometimes they just can’t contain themselves and they leap up, snagging food bits from Maybell’s beak.

Maybell and her peeps at a week old

After the meal, tired from all that hard work and excitement, Twinkie will race under Maybell’s feet, peeping until Maybell sits down, covering up her baby with a thick down blanket. Then Donut will dive into Maybell’s soft breast feathers, and the little family will take a well-earned afternoon nap. They are so much better than television for entertainment, and they are commercial free! Every moment I see them do something new is a moment of joy. And at their tender age, they are doing something new every day.

Driving toward town one recent morning after a heavy rain, Carter and I made frequent stops to help box turtles cross the road safely. The last little guy we got to too late. The truck in front of us side-swiped the baby turtle and sent him spinning like a hockey puck up the hiway. Carter put on the breaks and the emergency blinkers and I leaped out of the car to grab the turtle. Five cars pulled up behind us. As I was hurrying back to the car, a woman rolled down her window and called out “Thank you!”

The traumatized turtle was locked down tight as a clam shell, and his shell had a half-inch crack down by his tail. Besides the obvious shell damage, these kind of injuries often result in neurological damage for turtles, robbing them of the use of their back legs and any hope of freedom in the future.

I cradled the small turtle in my hands, hoping for the best, and wishing we’d arrived just one car earlier. He was a lovely little boy with orange eyes and bright yellow patterns on a high-domed shell. Nature’s jewel boxes, I call them, because each turtle is decorated so ornately, and so uniquely. And each fancy shell box carries something precious—the ancient, mysterious presence of the turtle inside.

When we reached home, I quickly cleaned up the crack in the turtle’s shell and looked him over with a magnifying mirror to assess the damages. The small crack was the only one I could see. I breathed a sigh of relief, hoping he had fared as well inside that beautiful box.

We have an old sandbox that I use as a turtle recovery station. I fill it with fresh leaves and a water pan, and cover it with a lid at night to protect the turtles from the raccoons that come to the deck each night for their treats of dog food and table scraps. It’s the best way I’ve found to keep the coons’ interest off the chickens. An added bonus is the clown show the raccoons put on every evening. Watching them, I swear I can hear circus music in the background.

The Road Warrior

The following morning, the day dawned cloudy and wet, but there was abundant sunshine in my heart. I opened the lid of the sandbox to see the turtle traveling through the leaves like a motorized toy car, all legs working beautifully. He paused to eat a handful of worms I tossed in, then clambered into the water pan for a good soak. He had a lovely smile on his face.

It rained all day, but there wasn’t a single cloud in my sky. What a treat it was to be privy to such a small miracle: in the clash between a little turtle and a very big truck, the turtle came out a winner. When I released him a week later, I had the giddy delight of watching him march off into the woods with that good-old turtle determination.

Moment like these save my life a dozen times a day. To have such moments means I must keep my life at a slow pace. Small wonders are easy to miss if you move through your life too fast. When I was younger, I would plunge into busy “doing” to keep from sinking into dark moods. It worked, but it felt crummy. The older I get, the more I realize that healing finds me far easier in slow time. Nowadays, when I feel the interior clouds coming on, I slow down my pace to a snails gait and look for the small moments of glee I can always find in my animal family and the forest outside my door. In this simple way, I conjure sunshine. Who says you can’t change the weather?

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One Response to TURTLES, CHICKENS, AND SPIDERS-OH MY!

  1. Dave Whitney says:

    “Chicken Watching” as a spectator sport! Love it. And co-mingling with turtles at any opportunity or excuse-can’t be beat. Susan you DO have a knack for buoying up sagging spirits–both yours AND ours! Tadpole worlds and spider encounters: keep it coming!

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