Almost two years ago I sat on a deck overlooking the Sabinal River in the Texas Hill Country and watched platter-sized turtles swimming at the surface of the pea green water then diving out of sight. I was contemplative and introspective and for some strange reason I suddenly felt compelled to jump in and catch one.
I didn’t. That would’ve been ridiculous. I was fully dressed. I’d curled my hair. I was forty-two.
And what would I have done with a turtle had I caught it?
Instead, I tried to figure out why doing so seemed an act of faith. I came up with this short list:
Catching a turtle . . .
. . . made no sense in human terms.
. . . was something I was ill-equipped to do on my own.
. . . was like trying to grasp hold of an elusive dream. Or reaching a far-off goal. Or being faithful to a calling that no one else can discern.
Then I remembered that the church youth group would soon be going on a float trip near San Antonio. And they were planning to catch turtles.
So two weeks later I stood chest-high in the Guadalupe River, water dripping down my face, a turtle grasped in my upraised hands. The four men and teenage boys in my raft were almost as surprised as I was that I actually dove in, scrambled among tree roots at the bank of a snake-infested river, and came up with my very own turtle.
That day I learned that catching turtles . . .
. . . takes a willingness to learn from others who’ve gone before you. My buddy Brian gave me the low-down on the strategy he’d perfected. I listened to every word.
. . . requires team work. Someone has to paddle, someone has to stand up at the front of the raft to scout out the hard-to-spot opportunities, and someone has to dive.
. . . demands patience. Our group caught four turtles that day. We gave up on the spot where a later group caught twenty-three.
. . . tests your courage. Remember the part about snake-infested waters?
. . . calls for determination. Turtles do not want to be caught and are more agile under water than you are. They’re also slippery. The only thing you really have going for you is perseverance.
. . . is exhilarating, if for no other reason than because you’ve proven to yourself that somewhere deep inside you, you have what it takes.
. . . forces you to dive into uncertain territory. You have to feel your way along, risking what's safe and sure to gain what you believe is there.
. . . will probably seem silly to everyone else. Except to those who know what it’s like to catch a turtle.
. . . means that once you’ve caught one, you have to be willing to give it up. River turtles aren’t yours to keep. When the trip is over, you release them.
Those lessons have meant a lot to me since then. And I’m not just talking about turtles. However, if you’re ever interested in catching one, I can share the strategies passed on to me by those who've gone before.