Being halfway between anxious and with that ever-present hum of terror thrumming in the back of my mind, I'm sending my kid to school. It's political and frustrating and the board is nowhere near prepared. It's like we're tossing our kids out into space and simply hoping they'll stay tethered to the lifeline attached to the rocket.
Yet, that's not what I wanted to write about today. It's been a good year for wildlife up north. E's friend H found a teeny-tiny milk snake, and last weekend the boys, my son and his cousins, found a spotted salamander and a very small baby snapping turtle. I had photos of all of them. My phone died. And because the internet sucks so hard up north, nothing got uploaded to the cloud, I lost all the photos from the weekend.
The turtle was about the size of the palm of my almost ten-year old. The little guy wasn't moving much. He must have already been in trouble, they found the turtle on our cottage road, far away from the lake--in my mind he'd already been picked up and then dropped by a gull or some other large bird. But that didn't temper my son's excitement at finding him. He carefully placed him down by the swampy area at the bottom of our bay. Still, the turtle didn't move too much. And they kept checking on him, and he kept not moving too much. And I know I'm anthropomorphizing, but I worried about the little guy, wanted him to be okay. Heck, I don't even know if it was a "he" but the boys had already named him.
Fast forward another day, they tried to feed the turtle a blackberry half the size of its shell. Debated chopping up a worm to see if it would eat. It wasn't eating. It's Sunday of the long weekend now. My son's cousins go home, we're alone at the cottage, in our cabin that's seen far, far, far better days. The roof's leaking now and again, despite my husband fixing it at least a half-dozen times; at the beginning of the season we had a mite infestation; and now every time we turn around there's a chipmunk in the house. We're at the point where we can't keep the water, the bugs or the animals out of the house, something's got to give--it's like a metaphor for the news these days, relentless, terrible, life altering.
Back to the turtle. My husband was up at the other cottage drifting on the good wi-fi while my son and I watched the truly terrible Spider-Man 3 (don't judge too harshly, the DVD selection up there is seriously wanting). We turn the TV off and my son bursts into tears--giant, gasping, gulping tears--we have to save the turtle. He's worried about the turtle, he doesn't know what to do about the turtle, and can we not take the turtle back to the city to the animal shelter and see if they can save it. And I'm distraught because I'm very much of the mind to let nature take its course, and worried that if we take the turtle so far out of its natural habitat, back to the city, we'd be altering its life forever in not a great way. We look up how to care for snapping turtles. We make a plan. We are going to get the turtle and take him with us. The tears, they stop.
First thing the next morning, we go to get the turtle. Friends, we are too late. Something had eaten a part of its teeny head, and my son picked it up in horror. He made a small, last movement in my son's hand, and the tears, oh, the tears. We cried together in the muck, the smell of swamp around us, that deep earthy scent of damp squishy mud. My son wailed that it was all his fault, if he had only thought to protect the turtle sooner, and I didn't know what to say or how to comfort him in that moment because this has been a season of loss, for everyone.
We didn't bury him, I said to leave him by the side of the lake, so that he could be of use to the animals still there. And we left the turtle behind, both of us upset. I was crying, he was crying, but still we had to pack up, get ourselves sorted to go home, knowing there probably wasn't anything we could have done. But I felt guilty, nonetheless, that I didn't help the little guy when we had the chance. And, as a mom, the ache that I felt in the moment when there wasn't much I could have done to make my boy feel better, not knowing what to say, not being able to do anything except hug him and try to explain that nature, by its nature, is cruel and kind in equal measure.
And that little shell carried the weight of all our sadness about this summer--about the loss of half the school year, of his grandfather's passing after Christmas last year, of other tragedies that have happened in our circle, of the virus, how its changed the world, our little corner, the way he's growing up. There's always a silver lining if I can find it--the joy in finding the turtle, of saving him, even for a moment, the fact that my son's been outdoors for upwards of six hours every single day this summer, outside with his friends, outside at the lake with his cousin, of knowing that so far we've been safe.
The well of emotion didn't stop at the side of the lake for me. I thought about that turtle all the way home, I've thought about him every day since. I wish we could have saved him, done that one small thing for the lake, given him back next summer when he was robust and ready to chomp. Anthropomorphizing, yes. Projecting, absolutely. That little shell carrying the weight of the end of the season, the change in the air, the fact that nothing looks the same, and might never again--and we couldn't save him. Because as much joy as it's been having almost ten years with our boy, I know that life's going to have equal amounts of pain--and that balance is a bit off kilter these days. And the turtle, well, it carried off some of the anxiety, the emotion, and allowed us to let it go, and for that, I'm quite thankful.