out of the mountains with ed the turtle

This morning my sister Diane took me on a walk around her property, 10 miles outside of Monticello, in Wayne County, Kentucky. We started by walking westwards from her house. The trail wound through a deciduous forest along a rough limestone escarpment. The limestone leaned out over the trail, providing several rock shelters along the way. In a few places, large slabs of limestone had broken off and fallen onto the forest floor. The ground was covered with moss and fallen leaves, and wet from a recent rainfall.

About 3/4 of a mile from the house, we came to the meadow, approximately 30 acres of rolling grass. (Ed is annoyed that it’s not a 50-acre meadow, and intends to log until it is.)

We climbed over a split-rail fence and walked out onto the grass. Diane was telling me that Little Joe, her horse, was a lot like a puppy. “If he could climb into your lap, he would” she said. “He’ll come running towards us but don’t worry… he’ll skid to a stop just before he hits us.”

She was telling me this as a huge black workhorse thundered across the pasture directly towards us. If I didn’t love and know horses, I would have been running for the fence screaming. As it was, I tensed up to jump out of the way. Little Joe is big. Think a jet black Clydesdale and just for fun imagine flaming hooves and glowing red eyes.

As Diane said, Little Joe skidded to a halt just shy of where we were standing, dirt and clods of grass flying into the air as his hooves dug in. Then he came up between us and butted me affectionately with the side of his head, nearly knocking me down. Diane pulled his head down to her level and gave him a noogie, telling me that he likes to play rough. We continued west across the meadow, detouring around the several sinkholes that had been fenced off. Little Joe trotted along with us, occasionally getting as underfoot as a 8-foot-high horse can get.

We crossed an electric fence into another part of the meadow, and Little Joe raced back and forth along the fence, wanting to me with us. On the far side of the meadow, we continued onto the neighboring property, and Diane led me into the woods where a really deep sinkhole descended into the earth. We climbed down the blocks of limestone to the bottom of the hole. Unfortunately we didn’t have a flashlight, but several tunnels seemed to go off in various directions. Straight down I could see a waterfall, though I could not see where the water came from or went. Overhead a skylight opened to the trees. Wow, I really wished I had my caving gear with me!

We pulled ourselves away from the lure of the unknown and headed back towards the meadow. Crossing we could see Little Joe cavorting in the distance against a background of trees and stony mountains.

Unfortunately I had to go, as I wanted to also visit with my brother Donald in Missouri. Before I left, Diane and I went into town and ate at a local café. I got confused and ordered fried chicken gizzards when I really wanted livers. The gizzards were edible, but very rubbery. I’ll probably avoid them in the future.

And then I was off, driving westwards from Monticello across Wayne County. I stopped just outside of town to put up a “Vote NO on the Amendment” sign right next to a “Jesus is Coming!” sign. I figured it was appropriate… Jesus would definitely have voted against the mean-spirited amendment.

Kentucky’s constitutional amendment not only bans marriage for same-sex couples, but it also denies any legal arrangements that seek to emulate marriage. For example, the Durable Power of attorney that allows me to make medical decisions for Dan could be ignored in Kentucky if this amendment passes. The wording is so vague and sloppy that the amendment, if passed, will result in a flood of lawsuits.

About 30 miles outside of Monticello, I noticed a moving lump in the road, and swerved so that my tire just missed a turtle. I pulled alongside and ran back. I had a lump in my throat as a long line of cars passed me. Amazingly, the turtle was still alive, slowly plodding across the road.

It was beautiful, with a high dark-brown shell and yellowish markings. I immediately recognized it as a box turtle. As a kid, I always wanted a box turtle, and I wanted to take this one home with me.

So I took Ed (the name just came to me) back to the van and called Dan. I asked him to research whether Ed was threatened or endangered. He did some research and decided that Ed was an Eastern Box Turtle, and not endangered or threatened. The species is at risk from overpopulation, however. They’re frequently run over as they cross roads, chopped up by lawn mowers when they hide in tall grass, or chewed up by dogs.

I wrestled with my conscience… should I return Ed to the side of the road, or should I keep him as a traveling companion? The metaphoric advantages of keeping him were overwhelming. Even more compelling however was my inner child, who always wanted a box turtle. And here was a very pretty and lively little guy crawling around the floor of my van.

Well, as the title of this posting suggests, Ed stayed with me. I stopped at a grocery store and picked him up some fresh fruit and chicken-ish dog food. And the two of us slowly made our way northwest out of Kentucky, each travelling with our own comfortable home.

I settled for the night in New Harmony State Park, in southwestern Indiana. I fell asleep to the sound of rain on the roof and the (perhaps imagined) trod of tiny feet across the van’s rug.

What do you think?