I found this turtle while walking the dog. The dog saw it first, and I thought at first that it had been hit by a car, since it was only a few inches from the asphalt we were walking on, and not many yards from the tank it must have come from. It was sitting at an odd angle, and holding perfectly still. But it wasn’t injured, and appeared to be digging into the soft patch of ground beneath it. It—she–had apparently found, in a highly unlikely place, what looked to her like the right place to lay her eggs.
She must have done this a few times in her life—she was a good eight or nine inches long, making her a very decent, I suppose several years old specimen of a slider. Sliders are one of the commoner North American turtle species. They’re the ones with the pretty red spots on either side of their heads, and there was a time when thousands of baby sliders were sacrificed yearly to the pet trade—until, luckily for them, it was discovered that they frequently carried salmonella.
The sharp splash of disturbed sliders bailing from their sunning spots on rocks and floating logs is one of the iconic sounds of a southern childhood spent at various fishing holes. I still look for them when I pass a body of quiet water, and think of sitting beneath swags of Spanish moss while my grandpa demonstrated the proper way to thread a night crawler onto a hook.
But this lady stirred other thoughts and memories. What she was doing—above all, where he was doing it–was so very dangerous. So ill-advised.
Yet motherhood is nothing if not the triumph of faith and hope over reason. On her wedding day, Barbara Tuchman, future historian extraordinaire, insisted to her new husband that it would be a good idea to start their family immediately—in fact, that night. Young Dr. Tuchman, who was shipping out the next day to the war in Europe, was taken aback. It didn’t seem right to him to bring a child into the world while Hitler was still in it.
But as the new Mrs. Tuchman pointed out, there would always be, somewhere, a Hitler. And that if everyone waited until the world was free of humanity’s monsters, no child would ever be born.
The motion carried. Nine months later, the first of several daughters saw the light.
So I wish this turtle well, despite my misgivings. Mother’s Day—now two weeks past– has always looked to me like an unfelt collective apology and motherhood too often like the mother of all bum deals. I have seen too much of the condescension and contempt that underlies a lot of the official, self-conscious ballyhooing of motherhood, and I am not alone in this. There’s a reason why a lot of women, from Italy to Japan, are choosing careers over babies—with potentially dire demographic results for the countries in question.
But motherhood, in its unromanticized essence, is arguably the ultimate act of faith. And it is faith, not despondency, that moves mountains.