I didn’t feel much like walking yesterday but pulled my shorts on anyway without letting myself think too much about it, then was gone for over three hours. The great thing about these mornings is the aimless wandering involved. There is no time limit; I am never too far from home at any point, and keeping most of my weekends open frees me from the tyranny of social obligation. I was free to stand as long as I wanted to at the root-ridden bank of the little pond just inside Skylands’ “back door.” The bellow of a bullfrog had attracted me to the spot.
You just never know what is going to happen on these little sojourns. The earth turned, the sunlight slipped behind a shrub and illuminated the dark water. I gazed at the flat surface and felt a breeze caress my face when suddenly, a small black head popped to the surface in the middle of the pond. It seemed to be looking at me. I stood still. The head remained motionless for a minute, and then, to my astonishment, it started moving toward me. Every few inches, it would stop and submerge, leaving a series of concentric circles rippling in its wake. The head popped up again a few seconds later, looked at me again and resumed its swim toward me once more.
This was unbelievable. I make a point of being quiet in the woods. I slip silently past herons dozing on rocks, not wanting them to waste energy flying away. Squirrels, deer, chipmunks all scamper away at a human presence, but whatever was attached to this little head was doing the opposite.
In a few moments, I could see it for what I had already guessed it to be; a painted turtle, an animal indigenous to New Jersey and increasingly rare. It stopped swimming and looked up at me, dangling its legs in the cool water before slipping under again. As it glided to the left, I noticed half a dozen other little black heads popping up, only to submerge, creating a kaleidoscope of circles rippling out over the surface of the pond. If someone had been feeding them, they would have climbed out of the water, or collected at the bank, but they just circled nearby, then slowly disappeared. Were they as curious about me as I was about them? Did we meet somehow, in some amazing and unexpected way, on some blank page of innocence?
I remained motionless. The frogs, which had gone silent at my approach, started to call again, a chorus of croaks and bellows and trills that I could not only hear, but feel in my core. I felt I was one of them, the wet, spinning circles of the turtles, the vibrating grunts of frog song. It was a gift freely given and freely received, no questions asked. It was my daily miracle.