It is 6:30 a.m. and there is knocking at the door. It is too early for a visitor to the Gone Native Arboretum– what is going on? When the door is opened, Yellowhead is peering up. “Where is breakfast- how come the door is not open?” He comes in, turns the corner to the cat food bowl, lowers his head, and CRUNCH. The cat gallops in, as well, but quickly applies the brakes, to loom above Yellowhead like a vulture – “Dadgum turtle…jeez.”
Yellowhead nibbles away for ten minutes, and then strolls through the house. Once, and only once, has he marked the house as his territory with one neat, tidy dropping. “No beetles have snuck in, boss.” Back he goes, out the door, his shell thumping as he clambers down the stoop. “Dessert-time… I’m glad my humans brought the pile of prickly pear fruit to the porch.” He rolls over a couple of the tunas, finally selecting one with the proper softness.
Yellowhead raises his head as One-spot ambles by on the way to the cat food. One-spot is a little shy – if one of the humans moves too much at the breakfast table, she bolts for the door. She does not explore the house and if a cat wants to eat, she deferentially makes way. “Ooh, pardon me.”
Two new turtles have followed these long-time residents to the cat food bowl this year, though they have only visited once. For them, it must be a little too strange entering a human’s house to compete with four-legged monster kitties. The smaller of the two, Little Pee-body, came in boldly, neck arched, peering every which way. She did not pull her head in when approached, but when picked up and examined, named herself. White-neck panicked and ran for cover when the humans unexpectedly returned from their early morning walk, disappearing under the bed. The shock of being carried out the door imprinted a permanent wariness, but she does appreciate the prickly pear tunas.
Fancy-legs and Big-girl prefer the herb garden. Big-girl lives in the compost pile next to the Scent Room. When she comes out to explore, the smell of scented geraniums and patchouli wafts about the adjacent area, announcing her presence. “We know you are awake, Big-girl… come out, come out, wherever you are,” She is not the friendly sort. She is big and old, set in her ways, downright business-like in her morning food patrol. Fancy-legs is a roly-poly hunter par excellence. She moves slowly, digging in the mulch. Despite her valiant efforts the roly-polies decimated the Sweet-woodruff, but she helped keep the Woad alive in its early days.
Old Man moved from the shadehouse to the tall-grass this year. Last year, he and Big-girl claimed the shade house together, and no other turtle stayed long in their neighborhood. But Big-girl must not have “come into season” this year, and with the drought, Old Man probably preferred the deep mulch of old tall grass stalks. He has only come out the few times more than half an inch of rain fell. Perhaps he was looking for earthworms in the early morning, before the clouds melted away.
Out in the pasture, a turtle with very narrow yellow lines roams. Her territory is much larger than that of the turtles who inhabit the cultivated gardens near at the house. She has not yet received a name. Sometimes she is called Dit-dot-dit, for the pattern on her back, and sometimes Lonely-girl, because she seems to dislike the company of other turtles.
Tattered-and-torn died last winter. She was a consistent cat food gourmand for most of last summer, but in early winter she was found dead by the pond, upside down and fleshless. Normally, turtles are able to right themselves if accidentally rolled onto their backs. What turned Tattered-and-torn over is unknown. It may have been a stray dog, or a hungry coyote. Maybe a raccoon came by, and got bored waiting for her to stick her neck and legs out to turn over, and left her to die. Tattered-and-torn’s shell is on a place of honor on top of the “folly” by the pond.