There was an empty little concrete pond in my backyard when we moved to Santa Cruz. It was shaped like a peanut and had some rocks at one end where there was a fountain that once trickled water in. It was a blast reviving it, filling it up, building up the fountain, and planting reeds and lilypads and other pond flora. We also added some goldfish and a turtle. The goldfish, we were told, would grow some.The small red eared turtle would co-habitate nicely with the goldfish. I worked hard on setting up the entire scene; it was really sweet. Until the raccoons came.
The first time it happened a single large raccoon arrived in the night and destroyed the entire set up — thrashing all the plants and killing at least one of the goldfish. Sad, but mostly angry, I cleaned up the mess the next day, and got some new plants and another goldfish. I could still see the turtle, who we called “Ret” (he was a Red-Eared Turtle, after all) hunkered down on the murky bottom, concealed by a rock, but the goldfish still looked freaked out. Soon the water cleared and everything returned to normal. But not for long.
A few weeks later the raccoon returned with her family, waking me up in the middle of the night with them splashing and marauding the pond. I scared them away but in the morning I could see they had wiped out the plant life again and all the animals were gone. We mourned for awhile, and in the end I decided I’d fix it one more time, but wasn’t going to replace the animals, thinking this was the factor that attracted the raccoons.
But by the end of summer even an animal-free pond got ravaged by the raccoons and it was the last straw. I drained the pond, cleared it out, and eventually filled it with sand and just made it into a garden. And that was the end of my pond.
And then, maybe three years later, there was a knock on the door.
A strange woman was standing there.
“Excuse me,” she said. “But did you lose a turtle?”
I thought for a moment. “No.”
She held up a turtle and said she found this animal on the sidewalk outside our fence, but it looked like he might have crawled under the fence and she wondered if it was ours.
“No, we don’t have a turtle,” I said, and she gave me her number in case one of our neighbors was missing a pet,” but even as she walked away I had a nagging feeling.
I walked inside and told my wife what had happened and we stood there in silence for a moment, wondering…
We went into the back yard and looked at the fence, and the rest of the area, and the filled-in pond, and realized that Ret had survived the raccoon assault. He had somehow escaped the melee and subsequent pond reclamation and had been living unbothered and undiscovered in the back yard for years!
We immediately called the number for the woman and left a message that we had, in fact, lost our turtle and would love to have him back in the yard.
The next morning I got a call. The woman had horrible news. In bringing the turtle home she had left him in the car while running errands and the car was hot and when she returned later the turtle was dead! We cried all afternoon.
Ret survived years in our backyard only to die like this. We mourned for him twice. It’s still one of the saddest pet moments in my recollection. Deep down I have always hoped the woman lied to us and kept Ret. Took him to a beautiful turtle farm with a big pond and no raccoons. Turtles all the way down.