One afternoon last week, my neighbor Thomas appeared on the grass on the upper level of my back yard between a cluster of trees. I was curious as to why he was looking underneath the bushes. When he saw me, he came towards me. We greeted each other and chit chatted a bit. Suddenly, he focused his attention on the area beneath the bushes and trees again, moving them back as if he were looking for something he had lost. I was curious about what he could have lost in my yard. He has two beautiful dogs. Although one is a puppy, both are big enough for him to see, so I knew he wasn’t looking for either of them. I didn’t say a word, but I started staring at him for obvious reasons. When he saw that I had focused my attention solely on him, he knew that the look on my face deserved an explanation. He looked over at me and said, “I’m, I’m looking for my neighbor’s schildkroete.
ME: I didn’t say a word, but the look on my face expressed a silent but resounding, “WHAAT?”
He told me that his neighbors’ schildkroete, a German word with which I was not familiar, was in their backyard pond two houses away from mine and that it had escaped that day.
ME: Sholdsnachrate? I repeated awkwardly, clearly a complete destruction of his language. A child-like curiosity contorted my face. Kindly, Thomas used his hands to try to describe this schildkroete thing to me as best he could. He made motions in front of him and drew this thing from what I could surmise as an oval-shaped creature about as big as a football or maybe bigger. He stopped for a few seconds and looked off into the distance, struggling to come up with the English word for the schildkroete. Sometimes I will do that too: stare into space trying to think of a word that escapes me. And like me, Thomas hoped that the word would magically pop out of the sky into his brain, but it didn’t. Clearly frustrated, Thomas added more information, hoping that his impromptu charade description of the schildkroete would help me to understand what this thing was.
ME: Amused, I thought to myself that this was just too funny for words. A ‘thing,’ which I could hardly pronounce, escaped from the neighbors’ pond. It’s neither a dog nor cat, but it lives in water and is on the run? So far, this developing drama might subject me to a heart attack!
Thomas pronounced the word again so that I could become more familiar with how it sounds. “Schildkroete. Schildkroete.” Unfortunately, the repetition of it didn’t help me, at least not yet. My poor brain couldn’t handle the pressure of trying to figure out what the hell this “Schildkroete was just yet. I tried to say the word several more times, embarrassed because I was destroying Thomas’ native language. Thankfully, he is a patient soul. He nodded his head, weakly approving of my pronunciation of this new foreign word describing a creature I have yet to see. But he could see that I was still in a thick fog as to what this thing was. So he attempted to describe it to me again, using his hands to show its shape. He said that the schildkroete swims in water and can walk on land. Holy Scheize! I freaked out as my mind imagined this schildkroete as some ugly alien amphibian able to survive in water and on land. Maybe it was a mutant German water creature that I had never heard of, had never seen, or never wanted to see. With the information Thomas had given me so far, a picture slowly formed in my head.
ME: I shouted, “TURTLE! TURTLE! Is that it? Is it a TURTLE?”
Thomas yelled, “Yes, that’s it! It’s a turtle.
ME: Damn it! My brain felt over worked like it had just squeaked by an advanced level of a German language test.
Thomas smiled and told me that he and his neighbor had been looking for the turtle all day. I found that so funny and unbelievable. If two grown men have looked for this damn turtle all day, I wondered just how fast was this turtle was moving! I know turtles don’t and can’t maneuver too swiftly over land and that they don’t really make any noise, and that they move slowly and very quietly. But the thought of one roaming around the neighborhood or worse, getting into my house through my patio door, which I keep open to allow a cool breeze to flow through, was beyond frightening. What if this schildkroete slipped into my living room while I was by myself sitting at my table writing and deep in thought….well, all hell would break loose! I’d probably turn my table upside down, smash my television, rearrange my sectional sofa, and knock my glass-topped table over among other damage I would inflict on my living room. Those of you who are reading this will know how I died!
Two days later after the turtle’s brazen escape, I saw Thomas parking his car. After he got out, we exchanged greetings and talked a bit as we usually do. Naturally, I asked about the missing turtle. Thomas said his neighbor had found it. Apparently, the neighbor across the street from me noticed it right outside the front of my house while I was away. Thank God for that little miracle!
ME TO THOMAS: In front of my house??? Thomas laughed at that.
I began to wonder to myself if I had some strange connection with animals since the neighborhood stray cat has visited me periodically since I moved here in 2008! I’m a dog person, so I always gently shoo the cat away, but it always comes back. For what, I don’t know. Idiot! Now this turtle or shildkroete. I wondered how did it get from the neighbor’s backyard pond, which is uphill and two houses over from mine, down and over to the front of my house. What were its intentions? Why couldn’t it roll down the hill to someone else’s house? What attracted it to come in front of my house? Guess I’ll never know because shildkroeten can’t talk. What if I had seen it at night, some black thing moving slowly towards me? I can see the headlines: Reporter, “How did she die?” The Coroner, “It was damn a turtle!”