Escape to FREEDOM

14 10 2014

On Saturday my girls and I decided that we needed a bit more life in our home. A dog was not an option, nor a cat or a rabbit. But we went to the pet store anyway in search of just about any other creature with whom to share—expand—our love. The first thing we saw upon entering the pet store was a wall filled with singing yellow canaries, finches and parakeets. I thought of the recent philosophy dinner I organised on the topic of FREEDOM and the tables I had decorated with open birdcages that my girls had painted, each sprinkled in gold glitter. My girls must have been reflecting on the same ambivalent emotion. All of a sudden Philomena says:

– Mummy if we were to get birds, could we let them out of their cages during the day? Let them fly around the garden? Would they come back if we let them go?

– No, I explain, These birds have their wings clipped.

What do you mean?!

Well they clip birds so that they can’t fly away. It doesn’t hurt them though.

– OF COURSE IT HURTS THEM! Luna shouts up at me. If a bird can’t fly it hurts!

Relax Luna. Listen, I don’t want to buy a bird either, I say.

Thankfully, a moment later, we came across a small pool filled with tiny fresh water turtles. It was love at first sight. We agreed we would take 3 of them home with us. Once at the check out counter, however, I looked over at Philomena, she seemed upset.

– What’s wrong, I asked.

– Mummy, do you think these turtles will be sad to leave the other ones? They were hugging and climbing all over each other and then we just pulled them away from the rest of their family.

In my makeshift Greek I asked the man at the store: are the turtles all from one family? what does one family even look like anyway? how long has the family been living together?

– All one family, yes, all family, ne, ne. At least that was all I was able to understand.

Philomena looked up at me again with her big, round, weepy eyes.

Stop, we have to stop! I really want the turtles but I can’t separate them. I’m sorry but I’d rather not get any.


And well, that was an idea. Five minutes later and we were all in the car, driving home with 10 little water turtles in a small tank adorned with a plastic palm tree.

Good mother, good mother, the man at the store said to me as he placed a plastic palm tree in my hand, patting my shoulder with his other hand and smiling from ear to ear. Nerocheló̱na love tree.

The girls took our turtles into the house and immediately began giving them names.

We should name them after rock-stars, they say.

By the following day, however, Philomena was not pleased with the living quarters of this big family.

– This tank is too small. We need to build something with rocks and mud, make them feel like they are in a real pond. I think they are sad in there.

Fortunately, it’s still summer here in Greece so we filled up a paddling pool and turned it into our pond. For hours the turtles frolicked in their new pond, climbed rocks and basked in the glorious sunshine. The girls meanwhile transformed into scientists, recording how long some of the turtles were able to hold their breath under water. They then got out sketchpads to draw beautiful turtle shell patterns. After a while, I went inside the house to make lunch.

A short moment later, Luna came running into the house screaming.

One is missing, Mummy, one is missing!!!! It escaped and we can’t find it!!!!

I ran outside and began counting the turtles to see if a mistake had been made. It seemed impossible to me that they would be able to climb out of the pool. But then the girls confessed, tears streaming down their faces, that they had taken all of the turtles out at the same time to let them walk on the grass.

So we began the search. We combed through the long grass for hours. – We’re so sorry mummy, we’re so sorry.

Body slumped over in the grass, Philomena asks,

– Can we go to church and light a candle? I want to go to church Mummy and say a prayer to God for the turtle. Of course, I say.

I was at a loss as to how to make them feel better so off we went to light a candle in the little shrine outside of our local Greek Orthodox Church, St Constantinos.

– Mummy, which God should I pray to? Is there a God for turtles—for animals? Pacha-mama, right? Before I could answer, Philomena answered for herself,

I will pray to Jesus and Pacha-mama to keep him safe and also to St. Phanourios so that she might find her way back.

Phanourios is known here as “the saint of lost and found”—there was a celebration in his honour when we first arrived in Greece. The girls also mysteriously found some lost items just after the celebration, so they are strong believers now.

photo (1)


Later that night before tucking the girls into bed, we walked the grass once more with flashlights.

– Maybe she’s lost and when she sees the light of the flashlight, she’ll come running back to us? suggests Luna.

But no luck. The turtle was nowhere to be seen.

Or maybe, I suggested—as I wiped their tears once more—maybe we can be happy for the turtle. After all, the turtle is free now. We were only meant to look after the turtle for a while but the turtle really belongs to the earth, not to us. Now she is free to go where she pleases and to live among nature as turtles are meant to do. And who knows, maybe the turtle will find another turtle and keep expanding her family. Think of her as an explorer, a pioneer. The turtle that broke free.

– We don’t live anywhere near a pond, Mummy, says Luna confidently. There are no other turtles around to MATE!

And anyway, adds Philomena, why would she want to break free? She was happy with her family. She had this family. We made her her own pond and it was bigger than the one at the store. She didn’t even have to find spiders on her own, we fed her.

– Well Philomena, maybe she started wandering, not realising how far away she had gone, and then she couldn’t find her way back? Or maybe she realised how lovely it was to walk through the tall grass on her own. Maybe she needed to keep wandering.

I stayed in the room with my girls until they fell asleep.

But later that night, while I was reading outside, hoping that turtle no.10 might miraculously appear before me, the garden sprinklers turned on; they do this automatically at 2am every night. That’s it, I thought to myself. The turtle escaped, yes. She has left the little pool but she didn’t leave her family. She is still quite close by. She is hiding in the grass somewhere safe but in an environment where she feels truly free. And she will survive because the garden sprinklers will create puddles for her to swim in every night under the moonlight. She will find rocks to climb and continue to soak up the sun every day. She will find a perfect space to burrow herself in a small mound of mud, never too far away from the rest of her brood.