I vacillated. To drive or not to drive, that is the question. I don’t like to drive to take a walk, but my regular walk in the nearby park can be crowded on a sunny afternoon. In the end, the river called my name and I joined Art, who was heading for the Vedder where life is better. He parked the car and we each took our own path for a while before meeting up for a walk. Taking J’s Sabbath questions seriously (What would feed my soul? What would fill me with delight?), Art went to sit at a bench to perfect a previous photo, while I wandered aimlessly through paths I had never frequented, enjoying the lush foliage and the ripe red salmon berries.
Taking a side path I came upon a little pond with several turtles of the Western Painted Turtle variety, the only remaining pond turtle in B.C. I stopped. The afternoon had turned bright and sunny and one turtle basked in a warm spot on a nearby log. I guess my arrival was an intrusion on his or her reverie, so she slipped off the log and swam to an adjacent one, hoping to procure a spot of sun and regain her privacy. Struggling valiantly, she made it to the top of the new log, but due to the lighter weight of this particular log along with her cumbersome shell, she spent quite some time rolling back and forth with the log, while still clinging on with her toes. With each roll, she would drag herself back up to the top and advance an inch before reeling back into the water. I could see she was determined to reach the end of the log from where she could access the stable log.
I was already feeling sorry that my arrival had been such a disruption for the turtle, but I was laughing too. When she was several minutes into her workout I took out my camera and videoed a further seventy-five seconds of her (very) slow but steady progress, hoping that I was joining God in laughter, not just delighting in the suffering of God’s creature. I hoped that God could both feel with the unlucky turtle’s plight and also see the humour in her pluck.
Her resolve was exemplary but eventually she slid into the water and went for a quick swim before heading straight for the prime log. To her dismay (maybe it was MY dismay), by the time she got there, another turtle had taken over her spot. Not one to be deterred, however, she mustered everything to defend her right to the warm spot at the top resort. She made several attempts to push the newcomer off the deck, but was met with hostility and a declaration of new tenant occupation rights, so she released her grip and slipped into the water to regroup. Making her next approach a little further along the prime log, she pulled herself to the top, but by this time her opponent had repositioned himself closer to her. Eyeing him, she seemed to perceive in him a ruthless determination to maintain possession of every inch of log. He was now firmly established on the top, while she, slightly lower down, hind feet lacking a solid grip, was at a disadvantage. Hopes dashed, she settled again for a swim in the slough.
At that juncture I took my leave and headed for the river, savouring the sound of the flowing water and the turtle scene. Pondering what I might take from these moments into the week ahead. I was reminded of Aesop’s fable, “The Tortoise and the Hare,” where the reader is advised, “slow and steady wins the race.“ This proverb brought up a slew of questions for me: “Am I in a race, and if I am in a race, which race am I in? Why am I racing? Does slow and steady really win the race? Is ‘slow and steady’ an appropriate maxim for my particular race? Right now I’m heading towards 70, but I’m not exactly racing to get there. I’m not hoping for a sluggish slide towards seventy, but “race” doesn’t adequately describe my journey. Race implies competition, contest, rivalry, but my desire is to be detached from all that.
Perhaps Aesop (620-564 BCE) borrowed his words from Solomon (an early document fits the dates), the presumed author of Ecclesiastes, who wrote, “I have seen something else under the sun: The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favour to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all.” Indeed, time and chance can expand but also limit our living, but how I live with time and chance affects the quality of my inner and outer life. In Covid or whatever season, I want my heart and mind to be held in the Peace that passes understanding (Philippians 4:6-8); I want my whole being to be rooted in the Love that surpasses knowledge (Ephesians 3:16-18). A slower, turtle pace certainly lends itself to those desires.
I like to imagine my intrepid turtle, in the late afternoon of her failed prospect of a languorous lie-down, yawning and musing, “Someday, when everything becomes new, we will each have a warm spot under the sun.”