Just around noon a tortoise and a writer met along a creek bordering a meadow. The tortoise had felt the writer’s presence from the vibrations of heavy foot steps. The tortoise, hidden as well as possible near rocks and bushes, quickly pulled his tail and legs into his shell and his head, too; except that he left just enough of a gap to spy on the intruder. He noticed when the writer caught sight of him, slowed his pace and quickly acted as though he hadn’t seen the tortoise. Then the human sat on a rock, pretending to ignore the tortoise. He began unwrapping a sandwich and opened his water bottle. Tortoise watched, waited and determined the vibrations to be friendly. Slowly his head, limbs and tail emerged.
“What are you eating?” said the tortoise.
“Good, one of my forebears had a bad experience with flying geese, you know.”
“So I’ve heard,” said the writer. ” The geese dropped him mid-air. Splat.”
“Not very sensitive on your part, but yes, he died. But you got the story wrong.”
“No, I know the story. The tortoise should have kept his mouth shut even though the humans jeered and mocked him. It wasn’t the geese’s fault. The tortoise couldn’t take the ridicule. Everyone knows that.”
“He was angry, just trying to save some pride. We have as much right to pride as any human. ”
“Why bother? There’s nothing wrong with a little humility. It just is. Humbling passes and besides, humility can be the start of new experience if you apply a little effort. You have to do something with humility. Humility comes before meaning.”
“That sandwich smells good.”
“You’re an herbivore.”
“You’re misinformed. Who are you anyway?”
“I’m a writer, an absurdist.”
“What does that mean?”
” An absurdist doesn’t believe life has any inherent meaning.”
“I mean that life has no essential meaning.”
“I don’t understand you. I can’t ask such a question, let alone answer it,” responded the tortoise. I just eat, poop, pee and procreate. I bask in sun and rain alike. Oh, I hold on to life for dear life, but I know there’s an end. I’ve seen tortoises die — sad vibes when life is over, like one day the light never comes. In the meantime I enjoy a warm flat rock in the sun. I fight for as much of these things as I can.”
“What do you do for meaning, Tortoise?”
“I can’t do for meaning, don’t you see. I do for doing. I’ve tried to tell you that. I like pleasant scenes, especially in the meadow, but that’s a risky trip to the meadow. I go anyway. I’m cautious in the meadow — and watchful. Good vibes give me pleasure. Simple stuff satisfies me, but you’d have trouble sharing my vibes. Vibes are tough to communicate to a human. We could rub each other’s neck, I suppose.”
“I have good vibes right now — about you I mean. Put your finger just below my head.”
“Well, okay.” The writer put his fingers on Tortoise’s neck. ”Hmmm, hmmmmmmmmmm! Feels good. I can’t get any meaning from it.”
“Isn’t feeling good enough,” said Tortoise. What’s this “meaning?” You got pleasure, didn’t you? I like to be stroked by a human. That’s the best I can do for you, but I don’t want to go home with you and be your pet. I like being a wild tortoise. You’d know if I sensed you were bad, believe me. I don’t get bad vibes from you.”
“Get off it. Bad vibes make me uncomfortable, wary, defensive. Worse case, bad vibes would tell me if you were more interested in turning me into soup than enjoying my company. I can be a companion, not like a dog, but I can be your friend.”
“Just pulling into your shell wouldn’t stop me from killing you.”
“Sure, you’re the dominant dude in these parts. . . Yikes! There’s more humans headed this way from up the path. I’m not getting good vibes at all. Excuse me, my friend, while I sljp this mobile home into the brush here. Keep those folks busy, okay?” Whereupon the tortoise crawled back into the brush. The writer rose and walked toward the strangers.
He noticed that the men carried fish nets, clubs, fishing poles and tackle boxes. Their eyes scanned the water and creek bank. One of them waved at him. Quickly the writer emerged from the brush and faked fiddling with his fly and said,”Hi, men, caught me in the act of nature. What are ya fishin’ for.”
“Catfish here in the stream and snappin’ turtles if we can find ‘em.”
“Not a fisherman myself.” He glanced carefully back at the bushes while he closed his zipper and noticed the dark, brownish rump of the tortoise mostly concealed in the bush and was amazed at how much like a rock he looked. He walked closer to the fishers knowing they’d love to club a large tortoise. Without being obvious he tried to obstruct their view of the tortoise posing as a rock behind him. After more pleasantries the fishers moved on. The writer walked the opposite direction up the path, long enough for the men to disappear; and then he returned to the tortoise. He was still tucked inside his shell. He spoke to the tortoise, but heard no reply, nor did he come out of his shell.
For some time, perhaps an hour, the writer waited, speaking occasionally to the inert lump before him. He sat on the tortoise and felt the same vibrations as when he’d stroked his neck, only more intensely. He thought long and deep about this accidental event in his life.
The writer struggled in his head for the meaning of what had happened. The vibrations from Tortoise, like a purring cat told him he was quite content. In the end the writer decided that the only meaning he could bring to this happening was the pleasure of fooling men with nets and clubs. Acting to help a threatened, humble creature can be a good adventure.
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