As I walk the long beach under a patchy morning fog my senses are open, alert, receptive– to the rhythmic plunging of the waves, the wind’s feather touch on my face, the scent of the salty sea. And yes! There are the Franklin Gulls recently arrived from their journey from the Northern Hemisphere in their black and white summer plumage. They surge up to then dart into the shallows plucking morsels to their liking. They likely worked up a hearty appetite on their migration south. Sharing the shoreline with the gulls are several brown curlews that take off and cry in alarm when I get too close. A pair of black and white, orange-beaked oyster catchers mingles with the shoreline avian gathering.
This beach has few shells or pebbles for the beachcomber. Clumps of tangled brown seaweed are strewn about, like abandoned tresses of sea sirens. What I notice are the interweaving prints in the sand: the deep tread marks of an outlaw jeep, imprints from shoe soles, dog paw prints and the faint, dainty three-toed patterns of the shorebirds.
While residing in northern climes, Franklin Gulls construct their floating aquatic nests from vegetal materials on hand, while their diet helps reduce the population of pesky insects, garbage and mice. These handsome, agile fellows molt twice a year. Two outfits a year. How lightly they tread on this earth.
Back in the capital, my attention switches from seagulls to a tortoise, our pet, Speedy Gonzalez. Out of hibernation for more than a month, he’s not his usual tortoise self: eating very little and squeezing into small places between flower pots to sleep. I take him in a box to see a vet specialist in exotic animals. He paces around the box looking for escape.
Dr. Harrison informs me that Speedy is a chilensis something-or-another and weighs a kilo and a half. How old is he, asks the doc. Well, we bought him about thirty years ago, a present for my son’s sixth birthday, I say. The vet examines Speedy’s shell and checks inside his mouth. He suspects a respiratory problem but needs an x-ray to make a definite diagnosis. A turtle x-ray? The only vet hospital with the required x-ray machine is in a nether world south of downtown, somewhere I’ve never been. Great. Meanwhile, we must start him on antibiotics. The doc demonstrates how to administer the drops to Speedy, holding onto his neck and prying open his mouth. OK. I can do that.
It is clearly a two person job, so I ask our cleaning lady to help. “I’ll grab his neck and pry open his mouth and you drop in the medicine.” Every time I attempt to grab his head/neck, he whisks back into his shell. Finally, after a tug-of-war between Speedy and me, I manage to pry open his tiny jaw and the drops are delivered. I call the doc. “This is a real struggle.”
“Try relaxing him, petting him.” A gentler touch is needed.
The next day I lift Speedy onto my lap, talk to him and tickle his back legs. My lap is not where he wants to be and in his efforts to escape, out comes his head and neck. Quick as a flash, I grasp his soft squiggly neck skin. He resists. I insist, sticking the finger nail of my other hand into his jaw.
From what I can understand from the x-ray report, Speedy has a cold. Now, after several days, he and I have gotten the knack of this medical ordeal. Though he has the strength of an ox, he is a gentle creature and has earned my respect. Like the Franklin Gull, he treads this earth lightly.
Today I saw him eating grass. Good boy, Speedy!