I Honestly Have No Idea What to Do with a Turtle

By Karen Van Fossan

If you live in Bismarck, North Dakota, or if you’ve ever been here, you’ve probably noticed the difference between East Rosser Avenue and the Missouri River. They are thoroughfares, both of them, but after that, the comparison gets pretty thin – especially if you happen to be a turtle.

Which is why our dear friends from Fargo appeared at our door.

When I saw Ella’s face through the screen, with her arms in the air to announce a special delivery – I couldn’t have been happier. In her hands, she had, well, I figured it was something she had canned, jam maybe? But as I approached the front door, I couldn’t help but notice that the jam was kind of…squirmy.

I squeezed through the screen door, leaving my equally squirmy dogs in the living room behind me. “What happened?” I proclaimed, as I looked in the face of a wild, North Dakota turtle.

They’d found the turtle crossing Rosser Avenue, in and among the traffic, at the pace a turtle does. But they’d realized, even though they’re from Fargo and not Bismarck, that neither side of Rosser is the river.

Which is why our dear friends from Fargo appeared at our door.

They figured we’d know a good spot for a turtle. And they were running late to Ella’s aunt’s house. So there I stood on the front stoop, holding a swimming turtle, who wasn’t swimming anywhere. My partner was in the shower, of all places.

Have I mentioned that there are somewhere between 9 and 9 million curious children within spitting distance of our house? And just a little bit ago, didn’t I refer to my 3 or so million squirmy dogs?

So, with every bit of nonchalance that I could muster, I moseyed – with a very non-nonchalant turtle – toward the bathroom window, which is often cracked open, even during shower time, thanks to this summer’s preponderance of moisture.

“Kris!!!” I said nonchalantly. “I need you to come outside!!!”

A soapy face emerged between the curtains. She was so lathered, in fact, that we could have shot a commercial for our favorite shampoo. But we didn’t have time. It could have been hours, even days, since this turtle had touched the water.

“OMG!” Kris said, or maybe something a little less last-year. “I’ll be right out.”

In the space between that moment and the actual “right out,” I wandered, nonchalantly, toward the side of the house that doesn’t border children. I thought about all the things that I could do wrong at that moment. Put the turtle in a box and watch her exhaust herself trying to climb away. Put a lid on the box and cut off all her oxygen. Run a little water from the hose and shock her system.

So instead of doing the things I was pretty sure were the wrong things (though they might have been just fine), I continued to do the most amazing thing that I could do.

I held her.

I noticed that she had toes, of sorts, with five precise claws on each black and yellow foot. I counted the large trapezoids making up her shell. Thirteen shapes, like people say, one for every moon of the year. I looked in her face, saw the sheath of skin that wraps around her neck, for giving her head protection when she draws in. I listened to her deep and abiding quiet.

“Ready?” said Kris, less lathered now, dashing toward the car, with keys in hand.

“Ready,” I said, with a bit of the turtle’s quiet.

As Kris sped to the river, with the turtle and me riding shotgun, we got snagged by a couple of stop lights though thankfully no police. At one particular stoplight, just in front of the hospital, I heard a voice from the neighboring car: “They have a turtle.” Then the high-pitched voice went even higher: “They have a TURTLE!”

Soon, we chose our spot along the river. Requirements for the spot: Lots of mud (for a smooth transition). Low-lying water (for easy entry). Few people (since some people don’t know the difference between the river and Rosser Avenue).

Kris stayed by the roadway, acting nonchalant, to deflect and confuse said people. I went slopping through the mud, turtle in my hands, a fair bit of stink up my nose. I set the turtle down, with her face toward the river, one turtle-length from the edge. Without hesitation, she crawled toward the water. Swimming.

She was swimming!

And then she stopped. After a moment of swimming, she stopped, right there in he water.

I waited. Was she alive? Was she alive?? I don’t know why, but her body started turning in my direction. Maybe it was the flow of the water, but the turtle turned to face me. I looked in the turtle’s face. She lifted her head just a little – very alive. I smiled with every muscle in body. The turtle continued to face me, as I made my path away.

I couldn’t wait to tell this story to Kris, to my best friend down the block, to Ella, to Carlie, to you.

This was why our dear friends from Fargo appeared at our door.

One response to “I Honestly Have No Idea What to Do with a Turtle

  1. She/he was a beautiful turtle! Wonder where Turtle is now? Probably soaking up some rays with the others…