Sunday, July 31, 2011

Hunt in the Secret Garden

A human idea of a natural-roofed shelter. Workshop site at
Graham Oaks Nature Park, Wilsonville, Oregon. Kathleen
Holt, editor, Oregon Humanities; Debra Gwartney; Barry
Lopez; participating writer
 I just attended a wonderful weekend workshop on writing about place with Debra Gwartney and Barry Lopez, sponsored by Portland Metro's parks and Oregon Humanities.
In our brief writing time I chose to write about place on the small scale, specifically, refuges chosen by the Chelonian Connection turtles in their warm afternoons outside, a piece selected to present to the public part of the event. Someone in the audience
suggested I put it on the blog, so here it is.

The Secret Garden in the afternoon.

Hunt in the Secret Garden      
As dusk came on I was down on my knees yet again and wishing I had bought more of the foam garden pads for the Secret Garden. As I’d pointed out at design time, building the top at the four-foot height of the hardware cloth was going make the six by twenty feet of turtle-seeking harder as my time moved on. Where was she? the last to come in for the night. As the turtles were used to the reptile-warm lab room, it would be too cool here in western Oregon to sleep out.
            I knew many of this summer’s hiding places. Small bodies had eased between clumps of the dense bunchgrass I’d planted for tortoise browse and burrowed under the patches of slumped-over lawn grasses, the bottom layers yellowing and decomposing under the unmown weight of slender stems and seeds ripe to fall.
            I slid my probing fingers into a damp under-grass cave I knew, where other box turtles had found shelter, making a warren of muddy depressions. The tips touched something smooth, and the familiar arch fit under the spread of my hand. I smiled: Diode. I wouldn’t need the miner’s light.
            For the second time this summer she had settled here, her shell hidden, head and limbs tucked in under the larger arch of the grasses. Though the bold pattern of her carapace, gold on black, rivaled a zebra’s design for contrast, deep under the parallel stripes and displaced stems of her natural-roof coverlet, she slept in a secure and invisible place.


In July I was invited to lecture for two hours to the animal cognition class and Animal Behavior Group at the University of California-Davis. That made for a quick trip down and back on the scenic Coast Starlight train (arriving and leaving on the same day), an intense but wide-ranging lecture about the cognitive work with the turtles (with lots of photos, plus videos on Diode drawing and mirror self-recognition tests), and a good time with my host and other friends. So two days after I left I was back with the turtles to relieve my sitter
On August 6 at the Willamette Writers Conference, I received the Kay Snow First Prize for nonfiction, a big thrill, plus some cash, which will help with this year's improvements to the lab. The story for which the prize is being awarded adapts key scenes drawn from Part I of my book. Barry Lopez and Debra Gwartney were there, too, for Barry received the Willamette Writers lifetime achievement award. 
The "amazing" Chelonian Connection pancake tortoises will again be showing off at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry's annual Amphibian and Reptile Show. Our lecture-demos (with lots of pictures on screen, too, of habitat and adaptations) are Saturday morning of Labor Day Weekend from nine to one. You can meet the tortoises with a nose bump (if they think you're an animal person) and watch them play bang-the-balloon and draw. 
READING OF PRIZE STORY                                               
I'll be reading the Kay Snow Award story at the Blackbird Wine Shop series in NE Portland on Wednesday, February 1, 2012. Check later for details.