Rabbit Trail #17 – Baby Turtles

one-year old painted turtle
The unique pattern on the underside of this painted turtle

It has been a while since I felt the need to set off on a rabbit trail. An encounter with a baby turtle, while on a field adventure with my class, is what triggered this particular delightful diversion from my float through the bible.

The class is called Making Waves – Water for a Changing World. Which as I write this is actually a good description of what Jesus did after His baptism by John. He made waves and He most certainly changed the world. So it is fitting that our class experience makes its way into this rabbit trail.

Tree swallow with and nesting box

We were exploring a series of ponds adjacent to our campus which were constructed to capture storm water runoff. The water they retain has created new habitats for many critters, including the main subject of today’s rabbit trail, the baby turtle.

Our main reason for the adventure was to observe tree swallows. A very knowledgeable colleague has been maintaining nesting boxes and researching the swallows at the site for over a decade. They show up to the nesting boxes sometime in early April after making the trek from their winter homes in Louisiana and other points south. It was amazing to watch them fly and explore their new home. Many of these birds were probably returning to this location for the first time. I learned many interesting things about swallows that day including that the males “stake out” their nesting sites then try to attract a female with which to have young. As interesting and beautiful as the tree swallows were they are not the main subject of this post so let us return to the baby turtle.

Students learning about tree swallow along the road where we encountered the baby turtle

Our group of intrepid students, socially distanced and wearing masks, made their way along the gravel road which wound its way between the ponds. We were at the end of our adventure and students were chatting and soaking in the surroundings. I was walking in front of the group and also soaking in the sights and sounds of the birds and the frogs. I glanced down at my feet and there on the ground was what I first thought was a coin or some other round disc-shaped object on the gravel road. When I inspected further I realized that the “disc” was in fact a baby turtle, probably a bit cold and sluggish on this brisk morning. Had I not been paying attention our group might have tromped right through and ended the life of this little one.

As I have been reading the book of Acts, and ruminating on its sometimes incredible stories of faith and following, it seems like it is really about listening and being tuned into the Holy Spirit which God has poured into the followers. This was exemplified in the story of the Philip and the Ethiopian. Philip listened to the Holy Spirit and placed himself where God needed him to be then continued to keep a sharp eye out for what God needed him to do. In the case of the Ethiopian God needed Philip to share the Gospel with him and baptize him with water.

God, and the Holy Spirit, have been speaking to me through this surreptitious shelled critter that I encountered several weeks ago. The baby turtle reminded me of a few things: 1) God loves to share cool things with us and we need only stop and wonder and appreciate what He has done; 2) God loves it when we can stop and appreciate His creation, when we can say in essence “good job on the baby turtle God”; and 3) God is at work in large and small ways all the time. We can tromp on down the road oblivious to what He is doing; or we can be looking, listening, and seeking so that when we encounter the equivalent of a baby turtle in our path we stop and take notice.

The gift of crossing paths with the baby turtle was one I will remember, hopefully forever. It was such a beautiful reminder of how much God cares for all of us, despite the fact that from God’s perspective we are all “baby turtles”.