By Francie Lora
Mo, a rather large star tortoise, appeared in my life when I was seven, mystically, just as I was leaving the comfort of my parents’ arms and going into boarding school in South India. As Kodaikanal was in the mountains, it was chilly at night. So Mo slept, every night, on a towel, snuggled up in my armpit so that I could breathe on him to keep him warm.
Seven years later, when we flew back to the states, I hid him in the bottom of my flat bottomed wicker carry on and sprinkled lettuce from our airplane salads on him to keep him fed and happy. He adjusted to life in the US, officially living in a box behind the dining room curtain, in front of a heat vent at night and in the winter. In the daytime, he romped around the house and in the garden. His favorite snack was pansies.
Mo lived with me for ten years, and would perhaps be here today if he had not caught pneumonia on a Lake Michigan car ferry crossing. He sleeps forever, surely burrowing deep, deep into the mother earth, under an apple tree in LaCrosse, Wisconsin.
A few days ago, I overheard a conversation in a Santa Monica coffee shop about a solar project in the desert that has required the relocation of thousands of desert tortoises, and their resulting demise. I had not known that tortoises are creatures of intense connection to routine and familiar surroundings. When these tortoises are relocated, their homing instinct fires up and they are driven to return home. They will wander endlessly, trying to circumvent barriers, exhausting and dehydrating themselves. In their determination, they are unaware of predators. In addition to this, they have their own language and communicate through head bobbing. They recognize each other and exhibit clear signs of happiness.
I felt a wash of sorrow and joy and knowing and reconnection to Mo. Ahhhhhh. We had become each others’ home for real: he wasn’t just there for me. I knew it, though I was laughed at, during my entire childhood, for sharing how we communicated through his nods, and how I knew he needed me.
And now my soul’s attention turns towards the thousands who are being uprooted and discarded in the name of progress. Be brave all, of you! Find your loves and create new homes! The world is topsy turvy right now and we all need to stay focused on what is important! Stay alive! And Love!
A special note:
To learn more about the situation threatening the Mojave’s desert tortoises, here’s a detailed story:
High Country News: Can we save Mojave desert tortoises by moving them out of harm’s way?
And another article about what may be a real solution:
High Country News: A Solar Plant a Tortoise Could Love
Here is a petition you can sign:
Save the Desert Tortoise and its Habitat