Magic in the woodlands

This morning, the sun was shining and the air was warm. It felt like spring after yesterday’s snow/rain extravaganza. I was grateful for the bright, clear day and looking forward to a foraging trip along a marsh in Scarborough. It has been a while since I worked my plant identification muscles, and I couldn’t wait to practice in this new locale. When my foraging partner called to cancel, I was disappointed, but decided to make something of my time alone. I live near several small patches of woods to which I can easily walk in a few minutes. I walked toward the several ponds where I often see herons, small woodland birds, and sometimes a raptor.

Today, rather than taking my usual path, I decided to go down to the boggy spots in the woods to check out what kinds of plants were beginning to awaken. I saw new fiddleheads emerging, still covered in white papery wrappers. I saw various green shoots that I couldn’t positively identify. I moved on, poking my way around brambles, mud flats, and small understory plants. I was deciding which way to cut through a large patch of brambles, and sighted this area that was visually intriguing–there were tree roots criss-crossing what looked like a small stream. I weaved around toward the area, and as I approached, I noticed something sticking up from the mud that looked like a head. The closer I got, the clearer this mud creature became. I couldn’t tell if it was alive, it was so still–hardly a perceptible movement or breath–such incredible stillness. I slowed my own energy down and squatted on the ground. I found myself locked eye-to-eye with a huge tortoise. We both stared for a few minutes, and when I didn’t move on, this amazing, magical creature began to lift its left leg ever so slowly, then its right. I watched its large nails help it to maneuver backward–its shell shrinking back into the mud, then its legs, then, finally, its head withdrew under the surface of the mud. Then, the leaves of the forest floor started to move where it shoved its large disk through the muck to escape my gaze.

In those moments when the two of us were locked in a gaze, I felt the magic in that encounter. I dropped all of my other thoughts, my feelings settled into the mud. I melted into that moment with the turtle/tortoise and I disappeared for a moment. Then it started raining and my thoughts began to move across the experience I just had. I walked a bit more, but I felt complete. I didn’t need anything else, except that I wanted to know what to call the creature I had met. Was it a turtle, a tortoise? How many of these reptiles lived in the woods here? I looked for images online, but found nothing, except that it seemed like it might have been too large to be a turtle. It looked far more like a tortoise, but tortoises are land-bound, right? Now I am on a different kind of quest–the naming, the knowing, the being able to understand experience through the application of Latin names.

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