Mo, our pet turtle, ambles along the edge of my bedroom while I write this. His shell, which is actually a part of his body, not separate from him, hits the sideboards, the potted plant, almost knocks over a glass of water, until I hear him underneath my chair. When I peak over the edge of my notebook he stretches his purpley-blue neck far out of his shell and looks up at me with a sideways facing eyeball. He blinks once. I reach for him and place him into the blanket on my lap. He closes his eyes and perches on my legs while I meditate.
Everyone who meets Mo is fascinated by him. His slow still presence and curiosity about the world around him, draw us in. When friends arrive at our house, from children to adults, the first question they ask is “Where’s Mo?” In fact, we’ve dubbed, “Where’s Mo?” the most often asked question in our house. We each take turns letting him wander the rooms, forgetting to watch him closely and then discovering him snuggling with the cat, sleeping quietly underneath a chair, or under a pile of pillows.
Mo is cold-blooded or ectothermic, he doesn’t generate his own heat, rather his blood adapts to the surrounding temperature. When Mo first arrived at our house this fall I marveled over and over at the fact that in a cold room, even when covered by blankets Mo will not get warmer.
Cold blooded is hard for this mammal to understand. I’m still surprised how cold he feels when I first nestle him into the crook of my arm, or how warm he feels after he’s been cuddling under the covers next to my husband Jeff.
Mo is a little dinosaur, a living reminder of millions of years gone by and of extinctions we all carry somewhere in our collective consciousness. In graduate school I learned that every breath we take has at one time been a part of another living organism. “We are breathing dinosaurs!” I wrote excitedly in my journal at the time. That the whole of life is intricately interconnected is such a given for me now that I forget that I once saw life and people in separated boxes.
Mo’s delicate skin, protected by a shell, his small scaled legs, and scratchy claws, his slow blinking eyes, and tiny hiss of exhalation if he feels threatened, his simple meandering and his ease of being speak to the this interconnectivity.
We are fascinated by him, not because he is alien to us, but because we see ourselves in his existence.