Spring Turtles

Earlier this week, on the sunny blue sky first full day of spring, I was working my way through the neighborhood from the church to the interstate in order to drive downtown to visit a church member in the hospital. You know how the roads between here and the Schuylkill curve around a number of creeks. There are a couple of places where Mill Creek is dammed up so little ponds appear, and as I was driving alongside the creek, I noticed a young woman standing near the road taking a picture with her phone. I had to slow down on the narrow curve so as to pass her safely, and that gave me time to cast my own eyes toward the creek. There on a fallen tree protruding from the water was a bale of turtles. Yes, I had to look the word up. A large gathering of turtles is a bale!

Now, my husband and sons accuse me of exaggerating things of natural beauty, and I suppose I do when I become enraptured by some outside source of wonder. I inherited this trait from my parents who grew orchids in a backyard greenhouse and considered botanical gardens a must-see stop on many a summer adventure, driving long stretches across the United States and Canada. But I’d say quite truthfully that Monday afternoon there were 20 to 30 turtles, large and small and in between, sunning themselves on that old tree trunk, all facing the same direction with their little heads poking up in the sunshine.

On the rest of my drive downtown and back I thought about those turtles as almost representative of what life feels like these days. The coming up out of the pandemic has been so slow and, when we thought we were emerging, a couple of variants knocked us back again. It’s been a long emergence, but now it’s beginning to seem like we’ve come up out of the deep into the sun again: from isolation to restored community; from a dark, cold and snowy winter into spring; from being hidden away to being out and about again.

The word Lent comes from an old English word that means to lengthen. The 40-day season of Lent means a lengthening of days as we journey toward Easter. Those turtles made me think about how this year feels like we’re surfacing from a longer, slower season of Lent, two full years of somber reflection and grief. And yet, at a turtle’s pace perhaps, just now we come up from the cold and dark, shell to shell, shoulder to shoulder into the bright light of day together, looking ahead, looking up – a veritable sign and symbol of creaturely flourishing in community again.

Psalm 46 puts a stream of flowing water right in the middle of the city of God as a sign of life and hope in the midst of human devastation:

4There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,

the holy habitation of the Most High.

5God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved;

God will help it when the morning dawns.

6The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter;

God utters his voice, the earth melts.

7The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. 


Profoundly aware of our need for God’s refuge and strength amid illness, tumult, war, desolation and grief, I am grateful for that bale of turtles sunning on a log in Mill Creek – a hallowed lesson from nature, a nearby sign of life and hope and, I dare say, resurrection.