Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Keeping Turtles

two painted turtles
I had a lot of wild animals as pets when I was a boy. Turtles came from the pet store though. They were Eastern Red Eared Sliders and were often about the size of a quarter. Their shells were about as flexible as a fingernail. They ate different things that were usually slimy: worms, meal worms, lettuce, and scraps of bologna.

I don't know how my parents put up with it. It was our responsibility to keep the aquariums clean but like most children, this was accomplished only with some duress. But the love of unconventional pets persisted up through college. My twin brother and I kept other types of turtles, a gopher tortoise who loved strawberries, two boa constrictors (and a colony of mice and rats to keep them happy). We also had gerbils and ground squirrels. I've raised injured birds and orphaned raccoons.

One winter, my stepmother returned from a Florida vacation with two small iguanas. Why? Simply because we had asked and she wanted us to be happy. Now there's a lesson in that act of giving that I carry with me to this day: childhood is a greedy little train and it has to be fed and stoked so it can get over the mountains to where the child will make eventually his place in the world as an adult. We are always growing and at some point one of those seeds planted in the heart of a child bears a unique, marvelous and wild fruit.

We weren't the best zookeepers but our hearts were in it and we were curious about all living things. This fascination transformed into an appreciation for the places where animals lived and, by natural extension, the whole of Creation --as far as we could imagine it. My pets today are more conventional (two cats) but I still never tire of imagining the emotional life of animals as I watch them. Animals and Nature are never very far away from me and my Art now.

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