Saturday, February 20, 2016

Old Dead Tortoise

“How long have you been draining the lake?” I asked watching two whirlpools (one larger than the other) on the west side sucking brown water forcefully into white PVC pipes that sat threaded under the road just for this purpose.

The Foreman replied “Since January 1st”. By my count that’s 47 days. Today we are at water’s edge studying the engineering of this plan and troubleshooting something stuck on one of the drains. It was (that is to say it no longer is) a large, armored tortoise now dead and capping the drain to get to the bottom of things, namely the lake, in order that long-needed repairs on the dam could begin.

The House Manager asked for the role of Tortoise Remover and she grabbed her hoe and headed down the bank. She expertly pulled on his massive shell, fighting his dead weight and the draw of the water around the scaly creature. It was clear he’d been in this lake a long time (the kind of time tortoises have) his shell a cross section of settlement and algae and crust.

This tortoise was dead, just passing along as he has for decades and pulled into an unexpected unintentional trap: the one that drains water and not turtles. She pulled on him several times until his carcass was more than half-way on the shore. I wanted to get closer, but close was close enough. Meeting this creature that is more dinosaur than amphibian in its death state from several yards away was close enough.

Thirty years. That’s how long it’s been since the lake was made. This process is the first time they’ve attempted to drain the lake. As a result, thirty years of time are exposed inch by inch. Dead fish are snatched up by hawks. Snakes retreat. Turtles drown. It is a sloughing.

After lunch we walked around on the north side of the lake where most of the water has receded. An old, nature-made creek from another time is clearly visible running through the bottom of this man-made lake-in-draining. Eerie. The water is clear and fresh, free from the layers of lake and time, bright in the sunshine this little creek hasn’t seen in 30 years. How odd that creeks have memory.

I spotted a little black head. Water Moccasin. I was sure of it. Where would the nests and families and packs of snakes go as the water pulled back crackled earth and old cypress roots? Well to the creek to be sure. I stepped off of the dock, new Saucony tennis shoes sinking in the layers of silt and pine needle. It was time to face this snake, this monster of my youth, and fearful no more. With closer views I recognized tiny feet and a round shell. Turtle. Baby Turtle. Playing and swimming and sliding along this old creek, oblivious of it’s past or a future. I relaxed a little bit and went back to sit with my friend. No snakes today. 60 degrees in February and I will choose to believe they are still sleeping through winter. At least for now.

I study the lake. Or the place where the lake was. An old oar sticks up in the drying silt. I see a bucket or two, several tires and tree stumps and logs, softened by years of seasons. This landscape: the one at the bottom of a lake is one I only know through the few times I’ve gone lake swimming: tentative toes squishing in mud and lake weed. Today is different. Exposure to sun and air created wide cracks and crevices. Drain the water and we have something new. A new place to study. It’s not ugly or scarred: it’s a fascinating exposure to an underbelly ecosystem we may not get to see again in this lifetime.

I am here on a retreat with my leadership coach and it occurred to me this afternoon that I, me, this human just days away from crossing the threshold to forty-four, am the lake. I am the lake composed of layers of silt and history, old buckets and dead turtles. I am the lake with little streams inside of me finding old patterns and memories I don’t even know I have.

Perhaps the most amazing thing about being a human being is the opportunity to compose a life and change a future. I can imagine this sloughing within me: an exfoliation of the old to expose the new.

If I am the lake then stress or “being stressed” is the Old Dead Turtle blocking the drain. Stress is just a thing that blocks us from the real work. Stress for me is imagined: an interpretation of the way I think things are. Blockages trigger stress reactions. I can feel blocked from speaking, being heard, getting “my” way, seeing someone else’s point of view, criticizing, wanting, feeling overwhelmed, feeling like it’s not fair: all are triggers to many ways of responding.  It is the moment after the trigger that matters the most. The moment after the trigger can happen three ways:

1.     No action: allow the issue to sit (in this example the turtle continues to block the drain): some water gets through but it is diseased, poisoned, and the lake doesn’t drain

2.     A reaction (imagine trying to push the dead turtle through): more negative energy is created, more hurt, less forgiveness

3.     A change (find the hoe, move the turtle, drain the lake) the change will feel unfamiliar and new but finding the new way of being in new practices takes time

In my forty-fourth year, I want to change a future: my future. I am listening and responding to the “who” that I am and thinking about how others hear me. I want to sculpt my language and saturate my being in compassion and forgiveness in a new lake with new water. 

I am more aware of the layers of life and memory: the memory creeks are there as a part of me, but the debris and detritus that were making me sick are gone. It will take a while to fill this lake and there is much work to do. Breakdowns will happen. Fish will die, but dead fish will sustain young birds. Baby turtles will glide down stream and some will fight the current. It’s all there in this life: hopes and disappointments, mistakes and growth, death and rebirth and they are all but a moment. 

I am the lake and I choose something new this year. I will listen, write, meditate, pray, read, learn and teach. I will spend more time with my family. I will spend more time taking care of this body that carries me through this life. I will look for focus and abandon distraction. I will find patterns to turn into practices and I will repeat them over and over and over again until they are part of this new lake.

No comments:

Post a Comment