Thunder exploded from the back of his motorcycle trailer in full gallop into the fields. You see, Thunder is a farm dog, and he recognizes his place in the world. Wherever there is a farm, Thunder will have found a home, no matter how temporary. He was already tracking along a game trail when I pulled the camera out and snapped a few photos.
The light was so pure that anything within its glow seemed exonerated and shone with a vindicated light of its own. Each object, whether a street sign, a blade of grass, a house in the background, a particle of gravel alongside the road, seemed to emit a luminosity all its own. Beautiful though it was, the scene revealed a bitter truth. The crops grew flush but beyond the irrigation systems, the grass withered. The azure sky opened wide but there wasn’t a cloud in sight. The sun bore down hot and yellow through the atmosphere, evaporating what little water it still held. Little specks of pollen could be seen spinning and winking in the sunlight, easily stirred and long in settling. The rains still hadn’t come.
There was a small depression beneath the shade of a wilted willow tree. What might once have been a fishing hole was now reduced to a puddle. There was a fickle stream coming and going from it, but the motion in the water was hardly enough to stir the mud it trekked across. Thunder trotted into the creek bed and sipped some of its water. He began waltzing back up when suddenly he froze on point, his front paw folded up and his tail curled high. I watched as his ears perked forward, wrinkling his forehead in curiosity. He cocked his head to one side, perplexed. He motioned forward and nosed into something in the grass.
Great. I thought. Not another rattlesnake incident. I stood up and peered into the grass where Thunder was now sniffing. A little box turtle stood motionless, defiant. Stained with the colors of the landscape, the turtle almost disappeared from sight against the earthy floor. Its shell bore an intricate coding, a marbled mosaic of amber patterns cast against a murky olive backdrop. It was the pallet of his sacred lands, lands on which we were trespassing. He wore the hues of his homeland—the tones that had hidden and helped his ancestors, meticulously selected epoch after epoch, favored through generations of evolution—and he wore them proudly like the emblem of his species. His curved nose was capable of arrogance, and he was arrogant now, extending a leathery neck with noble poise in the face of Thunder’s intrusion.
Thunder crept in slowly to sniff. The turtle, unbothered, began to walk again, startling Thunder. Embarrassed by how quickly he had startled, Thunder grew emboldened. He crouched a little lower, ready for action, and stuck his nose into the weeds again.
The turtle froze. Impatient, it wrapped its head around to face Thunder, still proud and still defiant, as though to say, “you, my callow fellow, are but a blip on the timeline, a lucky coincidence of evolution. Your time is now, enjoy it. But mine is a time that predates even your human friends, and will likely long surpass it. My blood is tried and it is true. Now I would like to be on my way.” If a gaze could speak! Our noble turtle was eloquent and articulate, sanguine and assertive, decisive and self-assured as though the fame bestowed on him by Aesop had gone to his head.
But Thunder could be proud as well! He would not be patronized by this bald-headed curmudgeon, this grumpy goon who carried his house around on his back. Thunder crouched a little more, cocked his head back and feinted forward, yipping playfully, imploring his new furless friend for more conversation. “That’s all well and good, turtle,” said Thunder, “but where I come from, it’s customary to play with a new friend. You and yours might be as old as time, but I can bark and bounce and spin in circles! What do you have to say to that?”
Contemptuous of Thunder’s childish antics, the turtle pulled his head into his shell, slowly, deliberately, and with a touch of sarcasm. “You mammals are all alike,” it grumbled through the hollow of its shell. Finally, it clamped its tail to the side emphatically as one might slam a door on a rude neighbor.
Thunder’s pride was damaged. Thunder bounced around some more, yipping and sniffing, even dropping to the ground in protest and rolling around, hoping to coerce the timid terrapin from its shell, determined to have the final word.
But if there is one true virtue of the turtle, it is patience. What is a minute to a turtle but a few steps? What is a minute to a turtle but a few inches? A minute to a puppy, however, was 60 seconds of sequential novelty—60 long seconds, each with the promise of a new distraction. A sound, a sniff, another whiff. A butterfly, is that ham on rye? Everywhere an alibi. Thunder soon became bored and occupied himself with something else.
These are the days I hope to remember. These are happy times, careless moments that unfold from one to the next, unspoiled by cognition and the worry that comes with it. These are the moments that Thunder has gifted to me. It is impossible to quantify the positive impact Thunder has had on my life, but one thing is certain: I smile much more often than I otherwise would. And in those smiles are moments vindicated by innocence, reprieve from the constant struggle of distress and dysthymia. Those smiles are faint glimmers of light in a darkness that would otherwise be unpunctuated and unbearable. While each glimmer is individually faint, collectively they have made all the difference.