Essay: Turtles in the Sun

May 24, 2019

Before the snow melts from the woods, before the buds swell on the branches, my husband and I drag our canoe into the river. Bundled in layers, we paddle hard to warm up, lifting our faces to the sun.


We aren’t the only ones. On logs along the river’s edge, turtles lift their faces to the sun, too—soaking up the pale yellow light. I nod at these fellow creatures but they dive into the water at our approach, except for one who holds his ground to watch us float by.

“Welcome back,” I say quietly. “Good to see you.”

The last time I glimpsed turtles was late fall—on the same logs, soaking up the slanting rays of golden light, storing it up for the long cold months ahead. Turtles are in tune with the seasons in a way I will never be because their lives depend on it. 

My life depends on other things—family, friends, work, play. I am insulated from the seasons by a snug house, a grocery store, a car. Nature as scenery, not habitat. 

The turtles, however, are at home out here—rain or shine or under ice. Survival is serious business but it’s not all business. There’s pleasure, too. And I wonder which they enjoy more:  the last warmth of fall or the first warmth of spring? 

I can’t decide either.