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Monday, 25 August 2014

The Turtle That Looked Toward The East

By Vicki E. Jones

The year was 1984 and our son was eight years old. When he convinced us that he just had to have a couple of semi-aquatic Reeve turtles for his pets, we acquired a long 55-gallon tank and a wrought-iron stand at a yard sale and headed for the local pet store.

The female was larger than the male at about 8 inches in length and he named her Haywire, no doubt because her vision seemed rather poor and when we leaned over the tank she bobbed up and down excitedly, indicating she would like to eat our noses, which she probably mistook for meal worms or some other tasty treat.

The male, Bright Eyes, was about 6 inches in length and both were full-grown adults, meaning they were not young.

Reeve turtles were caught in the wild in the fresh waters of Japan and China back then, a practice that is no longer legal. They were shipped to the United States for sale at pet stores. Each of our turtles had a distinct personality and both were excited when we came near the tank to feed them or talk to them.

The tank was in our family room and faced long sliding glass doors that faced east and opened to our heavily-wooded back yard. The yard was full of mature trees including fruit trees, flowers and flowering shrubs and was surrounded on two sides by a wooded walking trail with trees towering high above our fence.

Flat rocks were piled up in the tank so the turtles could climb out of the water and they frequently did, but they were not inclined to look out at the yard or trees. They were far more interested in the people in the room and the family room itself and my husband had his office area in there so that they at least have some companionship.

Our children soon grew up and moved away and Haywire and Bright Eyes had just the two of us, my husband and me, for company.

The years rolled by and the turtles began to grow old. Then one day we found that Bright Eyes had passed away during the night. We knew that Haywire would be lonely. She had lost her constant companion.

Two years later, we noticed that Haywire was starting to act old and was slowly getting weak. Climbing onto the rocks was more of an effort and she had always been a voracious eater but her appetite was getting poor. She no longer got excited or bobbed up and down when we leaned over her tank.

As Haywire got weaker, she began to do something we did not expect: We would find her resting on the rocks early each morning, her neck outstretched, staring toward the east. She would gaze at the tall trees behind the property and at the sky above them holding her head up high, with almost a longing look.

Each day would find Haywire on the rocks gazing toward the east – the direction of the rising sun and the direction of rebirth. Perhaps she knew her life would soon come to an end. Perhaps she was longing for freedom from her body and her life in her tank. Perhaps she was patiently waiting for whatever would come next, since it is said that when animals die they cross over the Rainbow Bridge and are once again well and whole.

Each day was the same, until one day she could no longer raise her head and just quietly slipped away.

We will never know what she was thinking. What we do know is that each day she greeted the morning sun, staring toward the east in the direction of freedom and rebirth, stretching out her neck and raising her head for as long as she could.

Then she would rest, and then she would again raise her head, staring toward the east.

She embraced each new day by looking toward the east with peace and grace and dignity - and in that there is a lesson for us all.

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Please read instructions for submitting.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


Thank you for that account. It was moving, and I'm not sure why, unless it's because sometimes I feel like Haywire seemed to feel, looking east.

Haywire, Bright Eyes - what great names!
Being with her as her aging being lived - attuned to the now and later, as she did, well - those are magic moments to share.
Written so well and received with gratitude.

What a beautiful story, thank you. When weather permits, I start my day out on the terrace, facing east. I express gratitude for having awakened, and wish for strength to meet that all that awaits us that day. Now when I greet the morning sun, I will imagine little Haywire alongside in spirit.

A wonderful way to start each morning and so beautifully told. I however look the opposite way each morning, I look west, far across that huge ocean to my husband's homeland where I lived for almost 30 years. Perhaps I to am dreaming like Haywire.

I enjoyed your well written story. It reminded me of all the turtles and fish my children had as youngsters. No furry animals....inherited allergies. My son's kindergarten class had to give up their pet gerbil after the first week of school in 1971. A drawing was held with the names of classmates who had permission to enter and the gerbil went to one of my son's best friends who lived down the street. They could never play inside his friend's house again. We had more turtles than fish. The turtles lived longer.

I doubt that Haywire ever thought that she would change the life a human that lives a long way away, but she did today. Thank you for a moving story that really touched me.

Thank you, everyone. Haywire changed my life, too.

Vicki - Thank you so much for that - I had just finished reading deadatnon.com so this version of age and dying (albeit a turtle)was very relevant and touching.

Sorry - that was meant to be deadatnoon.com

You're welcome. Amazing what creatures we think are simple can teach us, isn't it?

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