Following a Turtle

I was thinking that it's been a long time since I visited the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.  Last time I was there was a year ago April. I stood in line at the ticket booth behind a middle-aged woman who was debating whether to enter.

She asked, "Are there enough flowers yet?"

The clerk said, "Not everything's in bloom, but there's plenty to see."

I waited, shifting my weight from foot to foot, soaking in the morning.  I removed my long-sleeved shirt and stowed it in my backpack. It was going to be a T-shirt day.

"Is it worth the nine dollar fee?'

"Ma'am, it's always worth the fee."

The woman fidgeted, gathered her wallet, and walked away.

sketch of a turtle by David Borden
"A deceptively fast turtle" (c) 2013 by  David Borden
I flashed my member card and he gave me an entry sticker. I explored the whole place, the gardens, the tower, the trails. At one point I followed a deceptively fast turtle through the scant woods. She did not waiver from her course, but plodded deliberately toward some compelling destination. I followed this beautiful creature for as long as I could, trying desperately to learn her form before she escaped, leaving me exhilarated, yet alone.

With the cool morning fading, I settled on a bench just outside the main gate.  A frumpy, old lady wearing a volunteer sticker sat next to me.  She asked if I'd seen the owl and her brood that nests above the entry. Yes, I had. Have you seen this thing and that thing, she wanted to know. Yes, I had. Had I taken any pictures? No, and I showed her my sketchbook.

"Oh," she said, "Have you seen the art exhibit... Asian flowers cut out of paper. I didn't think I'd like it, but I did."

"I'll view it this afternoon, when it gets too hot to walk around."

"It's starting to thin out now," she said. She waved her arm at the flow of people trudging into the heat of the parking lot.

"Yes, just the way I like it," I said.

The woman kept staring at my sketchbook with her watery eyes. I said, "Would you like to see what I sketched?"

"I thought you'd never ask."

I handed her the book and turned the pages for her.

"Wow, these are beautiful.  Do you sell them?"

"No. I'm strictly amateur."

"I guess you have retirement to look forward to."

"I guess so." I looked at the owl above the gate.  I stowed my sketchbook. "I'm going to move on, now. Have a nice day."

"You, too, dear," she said with a smile.

I rambled alone, through the experimental test plots until the heat drove me into the art exhibit (which really was extraordinary). The day spent, I sat at the cafe with a tall glass of iced-tea. Small birds fussed at each other among the plants. I thought about what the old lady had said. "I guess you have retirement to look forward to." Is that supposed to be my goal in life: retirement?

There have been a spate of death notices at work. People shake their heads over these emails and say, "But he/she was so close to retirement." I imagine these dead, haunting their cubicles, dreaming about all the wonderful things they'll do in the future, when they have time, when they retire, instead of savoring the memories of a life fully lived. I wonder if, in the moment before death rattled their bones, any of them thought, "What was I waiting for? Why did I work so long?"

A butterfly, slaked with nectar hovers near my table. I drained my glass and thought about the turtle.

#Austin #turtle #sketch #retirement #wildflower #regret


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