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October 27, 2008
Out of the blue
Went over to a co-worker's house the other day to pick up some stuff he had left there. I saw this feller in an aquarium by the window:
Meet Trachemys scripta elegans, otherwise known around here as a common red-eared slider, or just a slider. I don't know why they call them "sliders" but I can see where the "elegans" comes from; they sure are elegant in their own reptilian way. They're pretty common all over the country; they even do pretty well around here in the semi-desert waterways. My co-worker friend told me he thinks he's about five years old, but he's not sure. He keeps him around for his granddaughter who thinks he's pretty cool. I asked him if he had a name.
"You mean I haven't told you about this turtle?" he asked.
He then proceeded to tell me the story of this remarkable beastie and how he came to be a resident in his home.
About five years ago, a wave of tornadoes blew through this area. Not an unusual occurrance around here, especially in the spring. A neighbor of my friend, not realizing tornadoes were approaching, stopped to put gas in her car on her way home from work. As she pumped the gas, she saw the sky getting dark. Rain had begun falling by then, just a few sprinkles to indicate trouble was on the way. She finished filling up and was putting the handle back on the pump when she heard a strange "thunk" behind her. She cringed, thinking it was first lump of hail preceding the bad part of the storm. She turned to look but didn't see any hail. Instead, she saw a little turtle about two inches long laying in a puddle. Thinking some kid had thrown him, she looked around. There was nobody. She knelt down to pick him up, thinking he was dead. But she saw some movement. She was going to leave him there but the realization hit her:
He had fallen out of the sky.
She looked at the horizon and saw the tornado storm approaching. The tornadoes must have picked him up from a lake or pond and hurled him into the sky.
The storms were five miles away at the time.
She picked him up and drove home. She showed him to my friend, a tough retired Marine, before she took him to a nearby pond to release him. They examined him for injuries under the light, and saw that he had no visible damage to his shell. However, when they coaxed him out of it, they saw that he had not ridden the heavens unscathed; the tornado had sucked out his eyes.
There was some discussion about taking him to the vet and having him euthanized. Certainly the little guy would die if he couldn't see. Releasing him into the wild was not an option.
"Can I have him?" my friend asked.
"Sure; I don't know what to do with him."
So my friend scrounged up an old aquarium, fashioned a pretty good creek bed in it, got all the accutrements of turtle raising together, and put this little guy inside so his granddaughter would have a pet when she came to visit him.
That was over five years ago. The turtle is indeed blind, but he does very well, thank you. He eats well, hangs out and swims like turtles do, and is quite a big feller now. May even need a bigger house soon.
We can all learn something from this turtle. First, is the tenacity of life. Even getting thrown halfway across a county by a tornado isn't always enough to snuff out a life that wants to keep living. Second, even the toughest of tough guys have can have a kindness about them, a little spark of humanity that peeks out from the darkness every now and then. Third, God didn't mess around when he made turtle shells; they don't look like Frisbees for nothing. And Fourth, none of us ever really know where we'll wind up, when all we wanted to do was go outside to catch a few rays of sunshine.
Oh, and this lucky turtle's name, you ask?
"Twister" of course
October 13, 2008
As most of you know, I wrote a novel about an elephant several years back. Since then, I frequently get emails from some fans of the book, usually pointers to an article or something interesting about elephants. I received one of these today, a little story from the Associated Press:
Kenya's elephants send text messages
High-tech solution to help protect elephants and crops they like to raid
Sat., Oct. 11, 2008 OL PEJETA, Kenya - The text message from the elephant flashed across Richard Lesowapir's screen: Kimani was heading for neighboring farms. The huge bull elephant had a long history of raiding villagers' crops during the harvest, sometimes wiping out six months of income at a time. But this time a mobile phone card inserted in his collar sent rangers a text message. Lesowapir, an armed guard and a driver arrived in a jeep bristling with spotlights to frighten Kimani back into the Ol Pejeta conservancy. Kenya is the first country to try elephant texting as a way to protect both a growing human population and the wild animals that now have less room to roam. Elephants are ranked as "near threatened" in the Red List, an index of vulnerable species published by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. The race to save Kimani began two years ago. The Kenya Wildlife Service had already reluctantly shot five elephants from the conservancy who refused to stop crop-raiding, and Kimani was the last of the regular raiders. The Save the Elephants group wanted to see if he could break the habit...
Something about this didn't seem quite right, so I got ahold of a couple of contacts of mine in Africa associated with elephant conservancy. They did some checking and confirmed my suspicions. Just as I thought, there is more to this story. Here is a screen capture of the actual message sent by Kimani to the security guards:
So there you have it. Remember that if elephants had thumbs, they'd rule the world.
September 5, 2007
Yeah, yeah I know. Haven't posted in awhile. Like a month. Or more. Sorry. I'd say I was busy and all that but you really wouldn't believe it/care/etc. Anywho, just got back from a little jaunt to Missouri to see my mom. Always a nice thing. While I was there, saw and did a few things:
I stared into the face of my mortality.
Buster is my mom's new dog.
He wanted to tear my head off. But that's okay; I kinda like him around my mom when I'm not there. He loves his momma.
Saw some half-ass Amish people.
Not these in particular; these are some pretty upright and faithful Amish/Mennonites, whatever. I sneaked the picture of them through the windshield; sorry for the bad clarity. Seems they don't like having their photos taken. Some sort of aborigine-type belief, stealing the soul or whatever. Maybe, I don't know. The ones I really wanted a picture of were the girls in their Amish bonnets and long plain dresses, riding their bicycles to their electricity-free house to churn some butter, yacking on their CELL PHONES the whole time. Yes, I speak the truth. I really wanted proof of this, but I was afraid of getting my ass whipped by some Amish farmer boyfriend type who decided to break his own Amish vows by taking ju jitsu lessons. I guess these girls were like some of the Amish men who drive cars, but only if they paint them black first. Like the carriages.
Saw some cows.
That's about all I have to say about that. Oh, yeah; these are eatin' cows, not milkin' ones.
I learned about the social values and mores of a small, traditional rural community.
Note the name of this fine establishment. As a flea market & sales emporium, it isn't much. But as a statement on the sorry-ass state of corporate America and government ineptitude, it screams at us.
You see, this place was a gas station. Last year, the area experienced a horrific ice storm that completely shut off power and road travel. The community came together and took care of each other, sending food and water out to those trapped. Stores without electricity (and cash registers) let the few people who could get out buy supplies on pencil-and-paper credit. The grocery store gave away all its frozen and refrigerated food before it spoiled. Mom and pop stores and volunteers saved the day. Then there was this place.
The owner decided to jack up the price of gasoline and other supplies, gouging the locals. After the storm was over, word spread fast of what they had done. A total boycott and picketers followed. The station owner went bankrupt and closed the place, and quietly got the hell out of town. Damn right. If the entire country would get together and do this with the petrochemical industry over their shameless profiteering (during wartime, no less), and held the politicians accountable for not doing a damn thing about it, it would be a great day indeed.
Got a boo-boo kissed.
Yeah, I'm 45 years old, but it's never too late to have your mom kiss a boo-boo for you. Thanks, mom! Love you!
June 22, 2007
Looking for my Igor.
I've often thought, and maybe said, that creating a story, especially the characters in that story, was like having children. I have no children of my own, so I guess that making imaginary ones is as close as I'll get. But it isn't like having real children. It's more like creating people out of nothing. Kind of like this guy:
Writers create these people and sometimes they're monsters and sometimes they're saints. I guess that's half the fun of it; plucking that little piece of one's own soul and using it to grow a new soul.
Like a rose. All roses are merely offshoots of other roses; they don't reproduce. All roses are clippings from other roses. They only grow in their own way at the behest of the people who handle them. Characters are like this, too. They're all just offshoots and mutations of the writer's mind. From deep in the Id.
I like what Yeats had to say about this:
Sent to walk the earth...I like that. It's the absolute truth. Lawrence Durrell refined this axiom a bit more, and it really fits what I'm doing right now:
The first two are easy.
May 19, 2007
One of those people...
...who change lives. I know he changed mine in many ways. His name was Paul Wesson Carlisle. Funny, I didn't know his middle name until I just read his obituary. I remember him as "Mr. Carlisle." That's it; just "Mister."
Paul Carlisle was my elementary school principal. He was also my father's closest friend. He died this Saturday after a long illness. I didn't know much about him, really. Just stories my dad told me. He was a kindly soul, a person who could read you like a book, and a person who could ease any pain you may be having. He was a man who cared about kids. He spent a lifetime caring about them. When he said, "This is going to hurt me more than it will you," right before he spanked a kid, he really meant it.
I knew he was a World War II veteran. A war hero, actually; two Bronze Stars and other medals from combat in Europe. I remember walking up to him one day and asking him if he had driven a half-track. I don't remember what he said, but I still remember to this day the "I-don't-want-to-talk-about-that-time" look on his face. Didn't understand then, but I do now. That look went away when I asked my follow-up question: "What was it like back then, you know, when everything was in black and white? And when did the world turn into color, anyhow?"
I'm sure he called my dad and told him I was watching too many old movies on TV.
One of my proudest days was when he came strolling down the hall one day before school. My friend Stuart Richmond and I were loitering about in my third-grade hallway; our parents worked and we got to school early. He asked us if we would be the flag boys for the school. Stuart and I never dreamed of being a flag boy; we had always assumed this was a role given to third-grade boys who had passed some secret test or something, like earning a hundred Boy Scout merit badges. We certainly couldn't be flag boys; we weren't even Boy Scouts. Certainly you can, he told us. Flag boy was an honorable title, one we needed to take seriously. We did; every day we got out of class fifteen minutes early to take down the flags, carefully folding them in proper fashion (we asked a Boy Scout how to do it). And every morning, we got to school a half hour early to raise them.
One day, we dipped the American flag on the ground. We took the flag to Mr. Carlisle and announced in a dire and melodramatic way, our sin. We told him we would burn it, as the law decreed, and he could relieve us of duty if he wanted. We hung our heads in shame. Mr. Carlisle, as he probably concealed a smile, told us that we had done our duty, and the law allows for little mistakes like that. There was no need to burn the flag.
Now kids burn them for fun.
He taught us a lot of things like that. But the irony of it all is that he taught my father the very same things when he was my dad's high school basketball coach. As my dad says, if it wasn't for Mr. Carlisle, there's no telling how he would have turned out.
For you see, Mr. Carlisle was an encourager. A mentor. He told you that you could do it, and he had the highest expectations that you would do it, no matter what the odds. Twenty years after he elevated my father, it was his turn to elevated my father's son. He also was the same shining light to my older sister and brother, who attended the same school. I wouldn't be writing this, or writing anything of substance, if it wasn't for this man.
He staffed his school with the best of the best teachers and insisted on old-fashioned basics: grammar, writing, spelling, and reading. No one got to slide, no one got a free ride. By the time I left 5th grade, I could write at the level of a senior in high school; I read at the level of a college sophomore. This is no reflection on me; we could all do this - perform beyond our years. Because of him and the teachers and programs he put into place.
So on this day when they buried this great man, I wish to thank him again for his life. I am fortunate that I got to thank him before, just a few years ago, for what he did for me and my family, and the countless thousands of lives he touched.
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