Monday, August 14, 2006

Signs of the times

We are still in August, but the first signs of the changing season are here. This afternoon at lunch, the sycamore by the barn was filled with birds, calling and rattling wings, preparing to move south in a swirling black cloud. I have had to brake for a wider variety of creatures on our two lane road lately. This past week it has been raccoons. A few weeks ago it was box turtles. I do not know what inspires the great box turtle migration, but they are especially challenged by asphalt and passing cars. Retreating into one's shell just shy of the double yellow line is not the best way to insure survival of the species. Box turtles are singularly inoffensive and quite attractive in a modest way. I worry about them in a way that would never occur to me to worry about some of their larger cousins. Perhaps I identify with them as they plod along in a world grown too large and confusing, pulling one's head in from time to time when it all become a little too much to bear.

One of my favorite poets, Scott Cairns, has a new collection due out shortly, with excerpts now available on the Paraclete Press website. This one concerns our slow shelled friends, some of whom may actually walk on two legs, or in my own case, wait for me each morning in the shaving mirror.

On Slow Learning

If you have ever owned
a tortoise, you already know
how terribly difficult
paper training can be
for some pets.

Even if you get so far
as to instill in your tortoise
the value of achieving the paper,
there remains one obstacle—
your tortoise’s intrinsic sloth.

Even a well-intentioned tortoise
may find himself, in his journeys,
to be painfully far from the mark.

Failing, your tortoise may shy away
for weeks within his shell, utterly
ashamed, or looking up with tiny,
wet eyes might offer an honest shrug.
Forgive him.

Scott Cairns, from Compass of Affection - New and Selected Poems