Thursday, June 28, 2007

The Turtles Are Still Singing

The grackles, like Presbyterians, are fly-fishing. Well, that’s not true. They’re eating the flies, not tying them. My cottage is on a rocky shore, and this morning there is a hatch of damselflies. They appear on the surface like sudden memories. If they can keep still, they have a chance. If they flutter too much, the fish are watching, and suddenly it’s over. Some of them get off the water and make it to shore. But the grackles have more experience than damselflies. One has just landed in the grass. A grackle watched it, and leisurely goes over to get it.

On my cottage windows are the proof that some of them survive. I am not up on what they will do now — how they mate, how long they live. They sit on my windows like sages. They take it all in, this exposure to the air and sun, and they try to make sense of the world. They have faint intimations of prior incarnations as larvae under the rocks. They think how beautiful is life, and how short. They wonder at the meaning of it all. One day is a thousand to a damselfly.

Meanwhile the turtles have taken their stations just offshore. For hours they tread water and gaze up at my property. I suppose it has do with the eggs they’ve laid in the road behind my kitchen. Are they calling to their children, telepathically? Singing an ancient song of where the water is? I heard the turtles singing each to each. Is it a song of comfort and grief? At night the raccoons come and dig up the eggs. The raccoons are nothing if not thorough. I am amazed we still have turtles. Yet saints their watch are keeping, their cry goes up, "How long?"

What would turtles tell the damselflies? The lives of turtles are as long as damselflies’ are short. Flight in any form they do not understand. But for all their armor and protection their reproduction is tragically vulnerable. Turtles are conservative, they have been doing it this way since the Triassic, before there were raccoons, and mammalian innovations will not make them change. How stubborn they are. Or maybe how little they expect from life, and how content.

The fortunes of damselflies and turtles are opposite. The damselflies’ lives are mostly spent as nymphs, in relative safety under the rocks beneath the lake, while their adult lives are nasty, cold, brutish, and short. The turtles live long as adults, sort of carrying their rocks on their backs, and their vulnerability is in their youth. Maybe that’s why they are so conservative. They are convinced that youth is dangerous.

The damselflies on my windows never learn to sing but they can understand the turtles’ songs, if not the words, then at least the tunes. We are born to trouble, as bugs fly upward. Life is fragile, no matter how hard you are or how long you live. We have our different strategies for managing risk, but we cannot escape danger, we can only shift it around. We bear up. The turtles’ favorite book in the Bible is Ecclesiastes. All the damselflies know is the Jesus Prayer.

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