Walking around Lake Merritt today Michael and I encountered a man peering intently at the ground and we stopped to see what he was looking at. There was a large turtle sitting motionless on the muddy bank. "This turtle is dying," the man said. Lake Merritt is a saltwater lagoon; deadly to freshwater turtles. Whoever dumped this turtle either didn't know that or didn't care. We looked at the turtle. Its head was tucked into its shell and its eyes were shut. "Let's find some fresh water to put it in," I said. The man picked up the turtle and handed it to me. "Merry Christmas," he said, and walked away. Which is how Michael and I ended up carrying a turtle two miles back to our car.
We drove to a pond in Montclair where I'd seen other turtles basking in the sun and plopping off logs into the water. It was a turtle paradise. We immersed the turtle gently in the water and then propped him up on some vegetation and hoped for a Christmas miracle--a reptilian resurrection. When he didn't move his flippers or open his eyes, I realized we were probably too late. We stood watch for a few more minutes and then we left, leaving the turtle sitting on a raft of water hyacinth, a floating funeral pyre fit for a turtle king.