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Turtle Zen and the Art of Crossing a Blacktop Road
There I stood. Observing the Zen Master.

Turtles have to be creatures of extreme faith, or they do not understand the reality of crossing a road. Try to imagine what a road must look like if you see it from a vantage point of three inches above the ground.

In either direction, the black asphalt runs off into the end of the world, over the horizon. The edge, where you are standing, is often uneven and jagged where various attempts to patch or dump new paving down over the years have built up a serious step on to the road.

Then, there are the creatures who inhabit this little world. Snakes, road kill, buzzards, mice, and the birds of prey, hawks, eagles, who often dine on all the above. Plus, the misfortune of stepping into a harsh colony of red ants, who will attack all parts of your body, looking for that soft spot to inflict the most pain.

Still, when Mother Nature flips that primeval switch for laying eggs, a journey must be made toward the most perfect nesting area. This often involves a pond, lake, marsh area or wet watershed. Getting there in one piece is the goal. If the turtle stays well within the boundaries of nature, woods, tall grass, wet areas, so much better the chances for survival.

However, in the cosmos of universal chance, luck seems to disappear at key moments.

Today was such a day.

A giant 20” snapping turtle stopped along side Highway 339, just outside Sedalia, Kentucky. She looked right. She looked left. Nothing to see. Nothing to hear. No noise of any kind. The air framed just glorious sunlight, baking the black asphalt.

Slowly, the turtle climbed aboard the edge of the road. Seconds and minutes later it had move almost three feet toward the yellow lines.

WHAM!!! Without warning, a giant roll of hard rubber mashed down the asphalt just behind the turtle, flipping it and spinning it toward the yellow line. Within a blink of an eye, the rubber monster beast was down the road and out of sight. The stillness of the rural road once again enveloped all there was to see. Except, now the world was upside down.

But in turtle worlds, this sort of thing often happens. With a sigh and deep patience it is best to wait until a new force or event will turn you over.

Thus, this is how the most excellent, almost Buddhist monk creature of a turtle intersected with my life.

Often, when you drive along Kentucky’s back roads of black asphalt centered with two bright yellow lines, you come under the spell of drafting out of reality. Back home, in Hickman County, we call it the curse of too much roadness.

On a good day, without the distraction of rain, snow, hail, sleet, heat, wind storms, or floods, driving out among the fields is a good thing for one’s soul. However, on a long stretch of straight road, there is a danger of losing awareness of the fields or trees, as your eyes only come to fix upon the center of the road with its yellow strips.

At these moments, light plays a trick of allowing your sense to concentrate upon the patterns of skid marks, where rubber tires became hot under extreme braking of cars as they went off the road.

Or you become lost in thought as to the richness of the yellow center strips. No two feet of this yellow paint are the same. Weather, animal road kill, acid rain, hail damage, and man’s weaving in and out of the yellow lines, all worked to wear down these bright markers.

Each of these elements clawed at the mapping of the yellow lines to where if you looked closely, new geometric patterns of curves, fading, and discoloration blend to create new images embedded within the road. Some folks see faces. Others see art. Some just look deeper and deeper into the yellow rich color to find new meaning to life, right before they lose control of their cars. They often wake up just before they leave the asphalt and head into the unknown universe of open ditches, fence posts, or large trees.

And, so it happened to me. Just outside Sedalia, Kentucky, along Highway 339, around high noon, I became one with the road and encountered a turtle on its back.

I stopped the car, after moving off the road. I was afraid of some yahoo high on weed, might ram the car from behind.

So, there I stood, foot on the yellow line, observing the Zen Master. The turtle looked as if it were out for a sunbathing experience without the beach, just good old fashioned sunlight stroking its belly.

The creature seemed perfectly at ease, upside down. My only thought at this time, was how many minutes before she would be mashed underneath a giant piece of farm equipment or a distracted SUV driver who didn’t see the danger and flip her car after hitting the turtle and over-correcting the SUV after the impact.

At that moment, I stopped two cars from hitting the turtle. I motioned them to move aside and not to run over the little one.

Then, with my boot, I gently scooted it to the other side of the road. At this point, I rolled her over. With renewed purpose and new sense of direction, she made a step toward wherever she was heading to lay her eggs. Safe, now from the machines of man, the turtle didn’t look back. Somehow, I had the feeling that this was all some mystical time thing where, in turtle time, all the above was but a second of eternity.

If there is a moral point to this story, other the helping nature keep its balance, in the face of man’s actions, I think it would be a simple one. If you are on your back and life has kept you down, be ready to take the hand reaching out to help you.

After all Turtle Zen is good for all of us. And, like the turtle, don’t be afraid to challenge the unknown. Turtle Zen is all about the faith and fabric of life.


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