My memories do not smack me upside the head, dragging me down into a forced sort of reverie that cartoons and movies portray with their watery flashbacks and fuzzy recollection scenes. Instead, my memories trickle like a slowly leaking faucet, filling in bit by bit until my mind is awash with what used to be.
My slow spiral into a memory happened on Sunday.
Bits of sunlight streamed through the low-hanging trees, creating a kaleidoscope of light playing across the path ahead of me. As I walked along the wooded path with my husband, I felt a sense of familiarity overwhelm me. It was in the soft breeze. It was in the saturated greens of the surrounding foliage. It was threaded throughout the loud silence of the surrounding forest, teeming with bird calls.
And just like that, the last drop fell, and I remembered. There was no mistaking it. This was turtle hunting weather.
I remembered a coupon book, presented to me by my dad for my birthdays when I was younger. There was always one that simply read "Turtle Hunting With Dad," redeemable whenever the time was right for a traipse through the woods to search for the box turtles that were on the move during the Missouri springtime.
On hunting days, we'd step over the electric fence that kept our three cows from wandering down the road, my dad easily clearing the wire with his long legs. I was more cautious, having experienced the wrath of accidental contact (it felt exactly like a cow kicking you in the stomach, in case you were wondering). As we headed towards the tree line, we'd avoid the cow patties that were scattered about like obvious landmines.
Once we were in the forest, I'd kick the decaying leaves as I scanned the ground in front of me, hoping to see a tiny head poking up or hear the scrabble of a turtle's clawed feet against the disintegrating foliage. My dad would do the same, checking near fallen logs and next to trees.
Lucy, our black Labrador, followed along, nose to the ground, intent on sniffing out the stealthy shelled creatures. At times, she would disappear, and my dad would remark, "Looks like she's on to something." She'd show back up a few minutes later, a closed turtle shell held delicately in her mouth. We had to coerce her to give up her prize, but in the end, the lure of finding more turtles was greater than holding on to the one she presently had.
Each time we found a turtle, I held it in my hands. Depending on the turtle, I either stared at a firmly shut shell, or into the tentative but curious eyes of its occupant. Sometimes, a particularly brave turtle would stick his head out and begin to pedal his legs, asking to be released. After all, he was on a mission (turtles travel to mate), and I was a particularly annoying roadblock. We never kept the turtles. Who were we to stand in the way of true love?
Before we released each turtle we found, we marked them. My dad always brought a permanent marker with him, and I would write my initials (KNM) and the date across the shell before setting the turtle down gently and continuing the search.
"If we find the same turtle next year, we'll know," my dad always said.
We never found the same turtles. That's not what mattered.
My memories may begin slowly, but they always end abruptly, truncated by reality. Without preamble, I was back in the present, walking down a forested trail with my husband. No turtles in sight. The days of turtle hunting coupons were long gone. I sighed.
"It would make me so happy if I saw a turtle today." Scott squeezed my hand, wordlessly understanding.
We turned the corner. Up ahead, something was on the trail. Due to the distance, it looked like a brown blob--could be a pile of leaves, a clump of mud-- but I couldn't help it. My heart fluttered. I dropped my husband's hand and ran forward.
Two amber eyes peered from behind a swiftly shuttered shell. A smile spread across my face. I shouldn't have doubted. It was, after all, turtle hunting weather.