Pay no attention to the man behind the weblog

I don’t know what I don’t want, my friend L. said yesterday. Indeed, who does? If life is nothing but a process of elimination, God help us all, as the man with hemorrhoids said with a note of despair.

I don’t know what I don’t want, and I don’t know what I’d do with it if I did. Almost makes we wish I knew how to play guitar!

But hear the voice of reason: Take what you need and leave the rest says the dung beetle. Walk backwards if that’s what works. A very pragmatic chap. No wonder the ancient Egyptians put him in charge, the solar system’s chief engineer.

Rollin’, rollin’, rollin’ . . .

But suppose it’s really a treasure hunt we’re on? Shouldn’t I be working on a Master’s Degree, then? asks my friend, in what is clearly meant not to be a non sequitor. If we keep talking about the quarry by name, I answer, don’t we kind of run the risk that it’ll hear us coming? It’s like, if you think about possible omens in advance, doesn’t that pretty much rule them out?


When I went to get ready on Saturday morning, I decided to brew a thermos full of tea. I went out to pick some mint and almost stepped on a box turtle in front of the springhouse. She was sitting in the sun with her eyes closed. Was she O.K.? I tapped once on her shell with my index finger. The turtle’s eyes snapped open. She let out a cry like the sound of a rusty hinge on an old barn door, and in went all five appendages, snap! I felt like a Jehovah’s Witness.

I remembered the King James translation of the Song of Solomon: The flowers appear on the earth, the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land.*

Then, walking down the hollow, I heard the wind in the treetops like the wheels of a car on wet pavement passing overhead. I thought, unfinished business. I don’t know exactly what I meant by this, but evidently it was something significant, because I wrote it down in my little pocket notebook. (I make provisions, you see, for those times when I can’t get to my blog right away.)

Ephemeral thoughts are the best kind, I think. Even as I jotted down the foregoing, I must’ve realized I wouldn’t be able to recapture the intimation of something-or-other that found momentary expression in two, cryptic words. Because I followed up with the outline of a brief lecture on the pitfalls of expression: To write these thoughts is to commit – Until words are uttered, they are free – but powerless – (No power without entanglement) – which, while concise, seems clear enough.

Later on that afternoon, speeding back from an outing in the state forest, hoping to get tickets to Fahrenheit 911 before they all sold out, we almost hit a small snapping turtle. I got out and tried to herd it off the highway. Snappers don’t really herd. So I picked it up, firmly yet gingerly, by the back of its shell.

This turtle didn’t cry – it hissed. The whole time I held it, carrying it back down to a little pond off the road, it had its ugly jaws opened as wide as they would go, straining back around on its ugly neck, desperate for a piece of me. Just as I was ready to set it down, the fucker lunged. Okay, so its landing was a little rougher than I would’ve hoped. Talk about piss and vinegar!

One turtle is a lucky happenstance, I thought. Two is a pattern. In retrospect, possibly even a portent.

As for the movie, I hope never to be subjected to so much footage of George W. Bush in one sitting ever again. Let others hiss and crane their necks; I will make a strategic retreat.

God’s hand is cupped
over the crickety heart
of the turtle.

I don’t know exactly who wrote that poem. But I found it in Braided Creek, by Jim Harrison and Ted Kooser, so that narrows it down considerably.

On Sunday, we went out again on our treasure hunt. We had begun referring to the quarry as mouthwash so it wouldn’t hear us coming. The Latin name is Listera cordata; the English is heart-leaved twayblade. When we finally located it at one of the few known spots, it turned out to be three times as large as we had expected – and already in blossom, a good two weeks early! Sprouting through a bed of sphagnum, yes, but not in the shade. Had our search image been faulty all along? Could we have passed up other examples because we had been looking for something much tinier and still only in leaf?

Frankly, I doubt it. I mean, it was hard to miss. This had been, I thought, a weekend of obvious sights where perhaps a little more subtlety might have been in order.

The blossoms were a rich brown. The appeal of orchids must have something to do, I thought, with the way they appear to be sticking their little tongues out. In the case of Listera, the tongue is distinctly forked.

We celebrated our find with several sections of a large and expensive bar of imported chocolate.

*In the early 17th century, “turtle” also meant “turtle dove,” which is what the Song of Songs is referring to, of course.

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