She was calm, appraising me with ancient eyes. In the midst of a field day I decided to treat myself to a little tortoise time. Every so often I turn off the mammalian mania that powers me through my work in the Mojave. I get off the treadmill of doings and hang out with someone who is not in a hurry. It was mid-morning and the sun-drenched rocks warmed my belly as I lay down a couple of feet from her. Still the eyes calm, no hint of fear. I scooched closer and came to rest a foot from her. At eye level with a tortoise you can watch how they watch the world. I saw her eyes flick to and fro and she noticed this or that detail of her world. Mostly she looked at the looming visage of the monkey that had parked himself prominently in her view shed.
I clicked a few photos and realized what a pleasant demeanor this tortoise had. I put away the camera and just… settled. There I lay with an animal not much changed from ancestors that witnessed the emergence of the dinosaurs. I marveled, as I often do in the company of these animals, at the beauty of the lines of her shell, sculpted by a couple of hundred million years on Planet Earth. And marveled at the ease with which this wild animal accepted my presence. Secure in the knowledge that in a flash she could tuck head and legs firmly within a box of bone she continued to look me over.
I lost my newsworthiness and her attention strayed elsewhere. Her head pivoted on a flexible neck as she looked around. There being no great happenings in this stretch of the Mojave she settled in to some serious being: no particular reason to go anywhere else and nothing of note beyond a mammalian visitor whose novelty had warn off. Her eyes stopped shifting. I got out my camera and took some portraits of an animal at ease. I decided to take some video of her sitting, doing not much. I treasure that video for what happened about 2 minutes in: apropos of nothing beyond a general feeling of sleepy well-being the tortoise opened wide her mouth and yawned in my face. Pink tongue flashed as she gaped and then snapped shut her beak. Not much cuter than a yawning tortoise.
And then the words slipped away and I stopped doing, too. I dropped into a reptilian state of mind- aware of the slight breeze, the warmth of the Earth and the light of the sun, a feeling of silent contentment. And once again the awareness of just how close a relative this shelled and scaly creature before me was. We’re just slight variations on the theme of life on the blue jewel. In a cosmos nearly empty of stuff, on a planet overwhelmingly inanimate, how different can any two living creatures be? The distance between life and non-life is so great that the gap between any two of us respiring, reproducing, consuming, excreting, behaving entities shrinks to near zero. I was sharing a time in the sun with a vertebrate cousin. The same drives propelled us through our lives, the same basic needs motivated us. After 35 years of watching these creatures face the challenges and reap the rewards of lives well lived I just don’t feel that different.
It is this feeling I want to share with my species- that of the kinship of life. Only with this attitude firmly in our hearts and minds will we be sane Earthlings and make wise choices about how to manage this place. Seems to me that a good place to start is with play. We are perhaps the most playful species (though by no means the only one) and it is in play that we might learn our way out of the ecological pickle we have created.
In this blog I will tell the story of how an idea came to me and how I and my partners are pursuing that idea. You’ll learn a bit about me and them and quite a bit about desert tortoises and other desert critters. You’ll read a bit about my life in the desert but mostly you will read about new ways of experiencing the world, new games to play that I believe will draw us closer to the community of life, a family from which we have alienated ourselves, a family on which we ultimately depend. I can think of no grander or more necessary journey than to return to the fold and to enjoy the trip. I hope you’ll come along.