Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Winter’s Tales

Let’s pretend that today is just another day and I am not obliged to produce a retrospective of the last year’s posts nor philosophize about the year ahead. Let’s pretend it is just another dark winter day and you and I have met for coffee at your favorite place. Somewhere cozy.

Tell me your story. No, I don’t mean “tell me the story of you”. Tell me one of the sweet or funny or comforting stories you carry about in your heart to keep the dark away. Snow or no, it is winter and we must huddle together and share whatever we’ve got.

I’ll start. I’m feeling sadness descend over me like a thick mist so let me reach into my drawstring bag of healing tales.

I’ll bet I haven’t told you this one.

Once upon a time, in a first floor apartment in Bolton Hill with a deck and a bit of a yard, I found a turtle. It was quite unexpected. I had recently moved in following my divorce and I was clearing away weeds and brush in order to put in a sandbox for my daughter. I went at it with much enthusiasm and cleared away a large swath and then: there he was. As I recall, he was a box turtle.

I panicked. Here was this unassuming, peaceful box turtle and I had destroyed his habitat. I called my mother on the telephone and asked what I should do. Should I move him into a greener area? Should I put out food for him? Should I call Animal Rescue?

At her suggestion I put out some lettuce and an aluminum pie pan of water. It was a very hot day. By the time I came back he had gone under the deck. I worried. I was a destroyer of worlds.

That evening I was out taking a walk in the neighborhood with my daughter and we noticed a sign posted on a tree.

Runaway Turtle

What an image! A runaway turtle! I laughed. I explained to my daughter. She laughed. But then, a realization. Could it be? The sign listed an address. It was nearby and the house backed on to our alley, across from our back yard. We rang the bell.

A friendly, sandy haired man answered and listened politely to my story.

“That must be him! My boys brought him back from the Eastern Shore but he got loose.”

He came straightaway, across the alley, through our back gate.

“I think he’s under the deck.”

I watched as he got down on his hands and knees and peered into the darkness. I waited.

“There he is, see?”

And then he did something I had not expected. He called the turtle. I wish I could remember what the name was, but, yes indeed friends, he called a box turtle.

And the turtle came. He called it, and it came. Faster than one might expect, actually.  I could see how it had managed to make a getaway from the yard across the street. Soon his relieved owner was carefully picking him up and getting up off the ground. He thanked me. He welcomed me to the neighborhood. And then as an afterthought he introduced himself.

Rouse, the name was. I can’t remember whether he said Jim or Jimmy or James but the name didn’t mean anything to me until I told a Baltimore local who said, “oh, you know! Louie’s Bookstore Café!”

I did know. Louie’s was a very cool place that truly was a bookstore and a cafe and the service was always curiously uneven because all the waitstaff were starving artists whose works decorated the restaurant and were for sale. They weren’t so focused on the waiting tables part. But we all loved it just the same.

It wasn’t for many years afterwards that the name Rouse meant more to me than that. And then I marveled at this tiny and perfect adventure I had with the great man Jim Rouse’s son and a runaway turtle. A treasure found amidst the greenery as I began a new life in my own place.

It’s a good story to keep your heart warm when the days are short and the news is bleak, isn’t it?

Your turn now. I’ll listen.

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