My Own Desert (Tortoise) Father

I didn’t spend enough time with Oscar this summer. For forty years I’ve believed time will never run out.

Visiting California, I took my annual walk through my childhood backyard of bougainvillea, crepe myrtle, and fruit. I picked some strawberries, paid homage to my name scratched in a concrete border in 1980, then wandered to the side yard to find Oscar.

I sat in the gravel as he gummed a piece of lettuce hanging in seaweedy strips. He’s always been a sloppy eater, clomping around the yard with leftover pollen or hibiscus petals sticking to his mouth. We exchanged eye contact briefly: aging gray meeting steady green sea-glass. I tapped his nose, just as I did as an annoying kid, and he snorted, yanking his head back in his shell.

My mother rescued the brooding desert tortoise when I was four. She found him lumbering across the street, a reptilian tank with no regard for traffic.  She grabbed the huffing beast and went door to door asking if he belonged to anyone. According to Mom lore, everyone laughed, exclaiming, “We don’t want that ugly tortoise!” and slammed the door. [Read more...]


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