“Dark Reef” by Michael Cross
And we must begin now: by cunning, by consultation with the stars and conversations with the wind; by withdrawal if necessary—to a rock pile, or a woodland of stumps and ferns; to another place, one surrounded by bone and tissue, next door to a steady heart.” [“Roots”, John Haines, Quarry West 1 (Winter 1971-72.)]
It was obvious Sunday morning that something needed to be done about the turtles. My son Alberte, six, insisted that his turtles, one-year-olds, needed swimming room, next to the fish in his tank. My attempt to reason with him was to no avail; it was fine that they didn’t have brachia as long as they could swim as well as they did. “But, son, they need a resting place, a safe place to watch the day go by. They’re not fish.” He thought about it for a second, I saw it in his eyes, but knew better than to say it. (“No shit, dad. They’re turtles!”) But never mind, I knew, they either swam or sank.
I needed stones, say, palm-size, to put in the tank so the turtles could climb and rest. Why punish them swimming forever. Our beach, because it’s right there behind the house so the children insist that it is their place, an idea which I wasn’t about to counter, was filled with kelp, green and brown, from yesterday’s gale. Yesterday was winter. Today the season had changed, like the flip of coin, making us leave our jackets home. “We’re going rock-picking for the turtles,” my daughter Carme, seven, said to the neighbor, who didn’t know much what to say: “Seems like a good day for that.”
Watching the children on the beach, climbing rocks, dangerous ones for them—“bigger than Everest”—I sensed their feeling of place. The smell of salt and kelp; the kids’ tiny steps on the sand. The baby crabs. (Wordsworth’s “pleasure feeling of blind love, / The pleasure which there is in life itself.”) We picked small stones like Japanese gardeners considering curves and flat surfaces: tipping equilibrium from a turtle’s point of view. The children picked fine specimens, some like quartz, jagged and crystalline, others simply dark and round; little boulders tossed by many a storm.
We didn’t agree on the final count. “We don’t need so many. The turtles need room to swim in the tank.” Sure, dad.
I climbed the hill back to the house, a heavy load of stones tipping against my stomach and chest. The neighbor continued with his garden pruning. “Stones…for the turtles,” I said. “Sure, turtle stones,” he said, “nice day for that I suppose.”