Turtle Takes a Trip


Turtle was snappish. It was almost the Summer Solstice and getting time for her to lay her eggs – and she was always hungry. Eat, eat, eat. She seemed to do nothing but eat, and she was never satisfied. Her bellyful of eggs grumbled all the time, but nothing she chomped down eased her craving.

It had been a fabulous Spring for Turtle. All that warm CO2 blowing in from up-along was fueling an explosion of green growth, and the succulent river plants were especially lush. Then there had been a bloom of frogs and fish fry riding the tide past Jimmy’s docks, Turtles favorite lair. Yum.

Last week Turtle had gone downriver searching for something special. She’d ridden the ebb down past Riverbend, her eyes and nostrils just breaking surface. Turtle had watched hungrily as Osprey dove on Carp, and she’d seen Beaver gnawing on popple saplings along shore. She knew fish wouldn’t assuage he strange longings, but what about popple? Turtle snagged a branch Beaver had downed and swam back upriver chewing on it thoughtfully. By the time she was on her home grounds, Turtle knew that definitely wasn’t it. She was so frustrated she thrashed around in the swamp grasses with the stick in her mouth, scything off the new growth and grunting angrily.

Turtle made such a racket that Raven came down to the river to see what was going on. You know, Raven and Turtle go way back as fellow carrion-eaters, and Raven is always interested in what the big snapper is up to. But Turtle was just throwing a fit, slashing around with that stick, which was very unusual. Raven is always fascinated by the unusual, so he lit in a big riverside pine and watched Turtle’s antics. Eventually the popple snapped where Turtle’s beak was grinding it. Turtle kicked the pieces left and right and stood there shaking in frustration.

“Looks like you’re about due,” Raven observed.

Turtle hadn’t seen the big black bird sail into the pine. Now she stared at him with one baleful yellow eye, and hissed, “What’s it to you?”

“Temper, temper, Sister Turtle,” Raven croaked. “Maybe I can help.”

Turtle grunted. “Help? I don’t even know what I want. I just crave something.”

Raven nodded. “I get the weird munchies now and then, too.”

Turtle stopped switching her tail back and forth and clawing in the mud. She turned both eyes on Raven.

“What do you eat then?” Turtle hissed.

“It depends,” Raven said thoughtfully. “Sometimes a fresh young nestling will do, and other times I can dig up a treat in the old dump. But you know what never fails?”

Turtle was curling and uncurling her claws in eagerness.

“What’s that?” she snapped.

“Mushrooms,” Raven croaked.

“Mushrooms” Turtle grunted in disgust. “Mushrooms? All they do is make me sick.”

“Not just any mushrooms,” Raven said soothingly. “Those orange ones the flies can’t stay away from. They’re different.”

“Huh,” Turtle grunted. “Probably won’t work for me.”

“Maybe not,” Raven said. “But if you want to try, there’s a circle of them in those hemlocks across the river.” And with that Raven dropped from his perch and swooped off into the woods.

“Mushrooms,” Turtle muttered, but she was already slipping into the Cathance and starting to paddle across.

By now the Sun had set and it was coming on dusk. The warm wind had died away and the biting bugs were coming out for their evening gorge. Coon and Fox were stirring. The air was full of sweet smells and Sister Skunk was thinking about fresh compost. Deer was up and ghosting through the thickets when Turtle dragged her gravid self up the slope under the hemlocks.

The mushrooms were there all right. A big fairy-ring of Amanita muscaria. Some just poking up like rude umbrellas unfolding, others opened up to the size of dinner plates. It almost seemed they were lit by some inner light, the way they glowed orange in the gloaming, with a glimmer of yellow speckles scattered over their tops. Turtle sat down to catch her breath.

“They do look kind of tasty,” she grunted to herself. “Maybe I’ll try a little bit.”

But Turtle isn’t made for nibbling. After a few dainty bites she was wolfing them down by the clawful. At first they didn’t seem to satisfy any cravings. Turtle’s belly grumbled, and she was so hungry. Then the light began to change in the trees. Turtle stopped gorging and stared in curiosity. Every plant around her, big and small, appeared to glow with its own color. The hemlock boughs were tinged with deep purple, glowing redder near the tips. The Jewel-weed shone orange and lemon. Looking back toward the river Turtle saw the marsh grasses all cobalt blue, edged in turquoise – every blade glimmering. Turtle blinked her eyes.

Turtle found herself floating toward the river. Not clawing the ground and dragging her heavy body, but treading ever so lightly, as though swimming through the air. The river itself was a ribbon of coruscating silver, and Turtle felt an electric tingle as she slipped beneath the surface. Turtle blinked her eyes.It was all very different under water. Instead of the usual murky brownish-green you had to smell you way through, the Cathance had a crystal clarity. It was like an immense hallway lined with silver walls and pillars, stretching way off into the distance. And there was a pulsating brightness coming from the farthest end of the passage. Turtle began to float downstream toward the light. Turtle blinked her eyes.

Turtle discovered she didn’t even have to paddle. She simply willed herself that way, and she flew through the water at a fabulous rate. After coming round a double curve in the shining hallway Turtle rose up and broke through the surface to see an unfamiliar green sky, all strewn with ruby stars. All the constellations were strange. Turtle floated for a spell, lost in the cosmos. Then she noticed pink and purple trees off to her left. They seemed to be the end of Centers Point. Turtle blinked her eyes.

She sank back into the shining hall and sped onward toward the light. The passage was tending downward now, and the shimmering silver walls slowly got brighter and brighter. Turtle began to hear a sibilant music vibrating off the silver walls. She realized, with a shock, the music was the echo of her own singing. She could see waves of sound going out from her, bouncing off the walls, and echoing back. The beckoning light ahead pulsed through the crystal water. Turtle blinked her eyes.

The shimmering silver hall was more like a tunnel now, and it pitched almost straight down. Turtle fell through time. She dropped out into a vast hall filled with light. It was too dazzling to see clearly. Turtle thought there was a mesh of radiant jewels pulsing in the center of the hall. As she approached they resolved into the huge body of a Great Turtle radiating brilliant light. Turtle blinked her eyes.

The Great Turtle seemed to be asleep as Turtle swam up to her. Then she lifted one eyelid, just a slit, and a shaft of golden light flared out from her eye, freezing Turtle into immobility.

“Welcome,” hissed the Great Turtle, and a crescendo of echoing music roiled the water. Turtle trembled.

“You were hungry for something wonderful, and now you’ve tasted it,” the Turtle grunted. “Are you satisfied?”

Turtle was speechless. Too stunned to be hungry, that’s for sure – but satisfied?

“I don’t understand,” Turtle managed to stammer, in a small voice.

“Of course you don’t,” the Great Turtle hissed. “You can’t understand magic. You can only be part of it.”

“But who are you?” Turtle asked. She was beginning to feel less intimidated. This might be magic, but she could talk to it.

“I am the before you, and the after you, and the always you,” the Great Turtle pronounced.

Turtle shook her head. She’d never been much for introspection, or any sort of mental puzzle. Give her a nice young striper to snap up and she was quick enough, but this “before you, after you” mumbo-jumbo was way too deep. Turtle rolled her eyes.

Instantly the Great Turtle lunged out her long neck and grabbed Turtle in her gigantic jaws. One quick gulp, and she swallowed Turtle down.

Turtle was terrified. Awash in a sea of churning emotions. Inside, the Great Turtle was filled with liquid golden light, and Turtle spun helplessly round in the pulsing golden fluid. The voice of the Great Turtle filled her head.

“I’m the Golden Turtle who brought you the Land out of the Deep. Before me there was nothing but roiling waters. Then I rose up from the murk to be the Earth for you to stand on. Do you hear me?”

“Yes,” whispered Turtle.

“Now you’ve found your way back to chaos. Are you satisfied?” The Great Turtle rumbled.

Turtle was uncertain how to answer. Squinting her eyes against the golden brilliance, Turtle thought she could see woven walls of light surrounding her. Nets of shining jewels whose colors where constantly shifting. The dazzling array was fascinating, but Turtle’s belly was beginning to growl again. No, she wasn’t satisfied. All this magic mephisto was a great show, but it didn’t butter any parsnips. Turtle blinked her eyes.

Then she began to nibble at the jewels. Each one had a different flavor, and each one seemed to relieve a craving. Turtle gobbled more of the jewels. The net began to unravel.The voice of the Great Turtle thundered with laughter.

“Yes!” the Great Turtle roared. “Gobble me up. Now it’s time for you to bring something out of the deep. Find a place to stand.”

With a sudden CLAP the net of jewels dissolved, and Turtle was spinning in a fluid darkness. She clawed her way up and up, until she broke surface under that lurid green sky. It was just beginning to fade toward an ink black. Just ahead of her Turtle saw the loom of something, against the paling ruby stars. It seemed to be one of the islands in the Kennebec below Chops. But it looked for all the world like the back of a great snapping turtle rising up, gnarled trees growing on her shell. Turtle swam hard against the current, and managed to grab a trailing tree root. Slowly she dragged herself up onto the island. Turtle felt safe at last. The colors were washing out of the shy. Turtle blinked her eyes.

And there she was under the Hemlocks with the remains of Amanita muscaria scattered around her. A young coon was sniffing to see if she was dead, and he jumped a yard in the air when Turtle opened her eyes. The coon scuttled off muttering. Turtle looked up. The sky was all black now, the familiar constellations shimmering points of white.

Turtle lay there wondering what the Great Turtle had meant about bringing something out of nothing, but she was too muddled to think straight. Turtle got to her feet dizzily. At least she wasn’t hungry any more. Turtle didn’t know about finding a place to stand, either – but her time had come, and she sure needed a place to lay her eggs. Turtle staggered off to find a sandy spot to dig in.

Which is why turtles get snappish around the Summer Solstice. And why each of us must find an island to stand on.