My dad and I built a turtle box.
The turtle box came about when we got a phone call from our local pet store owner -a friend of mine being that I was a big pet owner. He knew someone with two large painted turtles, an aquarium, the whole set up looking for a new home for two turtles. I was so excited. Of course we would take them. They were inside in the winter time and then in the short mountain summer that we had, they could be outside.
My dad made them an outdoor box. Then, I created a pond and places for them to hide and thrive in the box. But, what we didn't think about was that turtles can dig, so one of them got out and was gone.
Some time later, I was reading my favorite section of our local newspaper, the Mountain Express, Pet Check and there it was. An ad “Found in Hailey in the river, a painted turtle. Call 788-3405” Without a doubt this was my turtle.
My turtle had made his way over to the river and traveled 18 miles all the way to Hailey, Idaho. He must have dug his way out of the box and followed the sound of the river. He must have jumped in and slowly floated down.
He must have past the campground where my dad and I would sometimes go for a swim, the mine at Basset Gulch where we used to park our car and ski in, the house where the Bionic woman had lived for a winter, the Bogner's cabins and their Burmese Mountain dogs, the section of aspens and dogwoods, the big corner, the bridge that my friend Dove and her Grandma had walked to one day when they tried to walk all the way to my house.
He must have made it past the shady area of the river that followed the road, past the houses on the Lower Board Ranch, past all my friends who lived there and played in the river and could have found him. He must have made it under another bridge where we had seen a herd of elk walking up the river on a cold winters night, past Penny Lake with all the fisherman fishing for hatchery fish, past all the beaver dams and coyote willow that blazed with color in the spring and fall, past the big house down in the trees, through the natural hot water, where the pool used to be that I always wanted to go, to warm my body.
He must have made it past the ski mountain, the bridge, the chair lifts, past my friend Lisa Fisher's house, and the Prospector pool, past the golf course and the Warm Springs Ranch Restaurant. He made it past jump rock, where my dad would stop to cool off on his way home in the summer, past my grade school, past my friends' houses who lived by the river in Ketchum.
He must have gone past Fred and Randy's beautiful garden and strawberries, and then down 11 more miles of river that I did not know.
Someone, probably a kid like me, would be playing in the river and see a turtle -a very unusual sight where I grew up- and catch him and bring him home. Then, the parents would tell their child, we need to put an ad in the paper and see if someone lost their turtle. They'd smile to themselves thinking no one would respond.
But, I did. It had to be mine. I called the number and made arrangements to pick up my turtle. That weekend, we finally got a chance to drive all the way to Hailey to be reunited with our turtle. And, yes, when we picked him up he looked just like mine.
We seemed to have a lot of cats as I was growing up.
It wasn’t uncommon for someone to be out in front of the grocery store with a box of free kittens and for me to absolutely need one. But, we also had a cat that was there my whole life. The cat was Lion. I got her from another famous Lion-like cat name George that had lived forever in Ketchum and now I had one that would live forever or over 20+ years. I had her starting in kindergarten and then as life would have it, she lived long enough to be held by my first son Nias, to sleep in his bed and to begin him on his journey of the love of animals.
Lion also had a few sets of kittens and this was an amazing experience for me to witness a birth. She had one set of them upstairs in my parents loft in a dark green laundry basket. They were tiny and had their eyes closed and Lion cleaned them off and fed them. My mom had given me this book, which I loved to look at and compare my kittens to as they grew.
When they were old enough to go to their own houses, I sat in front of Atkinson’s Market with a cardboard box with Free written on it. It did not take long for all of them to find good homes. I also found homes for all of the black puppies that my neighbor’s dog had too. They required a little bit bigger box, but once people saw them and handled them, they were taken home immediately.
One Kitten for Kim is a storybook that I still have about a boy who has to find homes for seven kittens that his cat had. He puts them in a box and puts the box in his wagon and wheels them down the road. At each stop of the seven stops he is able to give one away, but in return he is given another pet. When he returns home, instead of having an empty wagon, he returns with a wagon full of all kinds of pets. At one point, my life felt a lot like that.
Zoey was so tiny and black when they got her, curled up in the sun on top of a wool, patch work quilt and disappeared. We didn't find her until she woke up and came downstairs to eat. Zoey let me carry her around as a very young child and she received one of the names I almost got instead of Melissa.
One day we were driving back from Twin Falls and we were between Shoshone and Bellevue and I was looking out the window. We had just passed Johnny’s Country Store when, suddenly, I saw a white pigeon on the side of the road and I could tell it was alive and hurt. I told my mom. “Stop the car!”
She turned around and we drove back to where I had seen the pigeon and sure enough it was hurt. It had a very swollen eye. I dumped out the new shoes we had bought and scooped the pigeon up and put it in the box. I held it one my lap all the way home.
We found a cage for it and put it on our wood stove and gave it some good food and water. We might have put some thing on its eye like neosporin, but mostly we just let the pigeon heal instead of leaving it to die on the side of the highway. The pigeon’s eye got better and one day we were able to let it go outside. I put it out on our lawn and it flew up on to our rock chimney. It stayed there for several more weeks. I would go outside every morning and look up to see if it was still there.
Then, one day we were outside and we saw the pigeon flying up really high in the sky. It was headed over to my favorite spot on the side of the mountain, it circled back toward us and then suddenly it took a dive and looked like it was not going to make it, but the it became to fly again. We read that some pigeons do this. They are called tumbling pigeons. It came back and landed on our chimney. The next morning though, when I went outside to see if it was there, it was gone. The pigeon had tested it wings the day before and today it was on its way home. I had rescued it and allowed it to heal and now I had given it is freedom and a choice of whether it wanted to stay on our chimney forever or to go. It had decided to go. Later, I would get my very own homing pigeons from a blind man in Jerome. I would take them far away from my home and they would fly back to my house -where they called home.
Because I loved to go to pet stores, we went when we were on a visit to Oregon on summer and I ended up with two Guinea Pigs. We kept them at my Grandma Allen’s house which at the time seemed like no big deal, but looking back I bet she hated that. She was not very fond of animals and here I was holding them in her main family room.
There is something about having pets that people don't always get if they never grow up around animals. But when you do, you want them to be in your life forever in some form. Whether it be a fish that comes up to the water when you get close to it to see if you have food, a dog that wags his tail and smiles when you come in the door, a cat that wants to be fed and pet, a turtle that adds to the magic of your back yard and life.
thirty four and a half
One time when I didn't have a pet to bring home from a trip, I had a stuffed animal that was a skunk puppet. I put him on a leash and when we stopped at a rest stop, I very carefully drug him around on the leash. I got some very interesting looks from people. No one got very close.