“Do you know anything about turtles?” the woman asked. She was a slim, big-eyed brunette in a sundress, carrying a large blue canvas bag. A silver-haired man carrying a plastic grocery bag stood nearby, poised to walk off, his shoulders turned away from her. She must have already asked him, and he obviously wanted to keep moving.
I was on my way to meet a friend for a sunset walk. The clouds promised great color effects. But when I discovered the woman was uncertain how to rescue a turtle that was trying to cross the street, I had to stop. We were five blocks from the river. A long hike for a turtle, and a dangerous one. Hot pavement, traffic, and predators. Yes, predators. And not just cats. There was a gray fox trotting down the alley across from us. Unlike turtles, foxes come downtown quite often. (Plenty of bunnies, no competition from coyotes.)
I found a small flower pot lying on the street. The woman offered to sacrifice her towel—she was on her way to La Paloma for a hot spring soak—to wrap the turtle, and I cupped its sharp-beaked little head in the pot. First we just lifted the critter over the adobe wall into the yard of the nearest house. I knew the owners, and they wouldn’t mind. But the turtle took off running for the sidewalk. I never realized they could move that fast. It would be in the street again any minute.
I called my friend and explained that I was taking a turtle to the river, and he said he would meet us there. My new acquaintance and I headed toward the Rio Grande, with her cradling the turtle in a fluffy pink towel. She told me was in T or C on a long visit from Austin and was thinking about moving here. Since she was too young to retire, I asked what she would do here. “Thrive,” she replied.
We met my friend and his dog on the way and then released the turtle into a muddy spot on the riverbank, not too steep or bumpy, so it could have a safe slide into the water. It stared at the river and then hurried into the weeds.
Satisfied, we humans lingered to watch the full moon rise from behind Turtleback Mountain, and my new friend and my old friend told stories, getting acquainted. Bats dived after insects, swooping in close to us, and we gradually fell silent in the sacred space.
Later, at home, I looked up turtles. I’d never answered the question that started the evening’s adventure: Do you know anything about turtles? If I had, the answer would have been no.
I learned they lay eggs around this time of year and may walk up to a mile from the water to do so. Our rescue interrupted a turtle on a mission. I told myself we meant well, and that she came out the wrong side of the river. The other side is wild, but she was heading downtown. Even if she somehow found a spot to bury her eggs, the hatchlings would never make it home. Still, I have to wonder about the unintended consequences of our good intentions. Maybe she knew what she was doing. I hope she found a good, safe place to lay eggs, but after her heroic trek, we brought her right back to where she started.