Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Learning by Example


The author’s curious dog, Mocha, with Spot, a very tolerant tortoise. Photo by Laurie Kasperbauer

The author’s curious dog, Mocha, with Spot, a very tolerant tortoise. Photo by Laurie Kasperbauer

“To acquire knowledge, one must study; but to acquire wisdom, one must observe.” ~ Marilyn vos Savant

I recently acquired a new pet. I already have a dog. Mocha, a cock-a-poo, has been my best four-legged friend for nearly 13 years. She’s mellow and wise and excitable and gracious. According to the online “dog vs. human age calculator” her 13 years as a dog translates to 68 human years. Mocha has walked hundreds of miles with me. She’s traveled on an airplane more than most humans, hiked mountains in Colorado and walked the beach out on Kice Island. She has stellar intuition when it comes to what I’m thinking. She knows I’m going to take her for a walk before the leash comes out. She understands when I’m leaving the house and she doesn’t get to go, even before the door closes behind me. I’m pretty sure, if she could talk, that she’d finish my sentences, but in the quietness that exists between Mocha and me there is a treasuretrove of communication.



My new pet is different. Or maybe I should say, my new pet is indifferent. But then she’s a tortoise and her brain is probably the size of a pea. She’s not privy to emotion or memory or the intuitive ability to anticipate my next move. But she still fascinates me. My tortoise’ name is Spot because she has dark, black markings on the crest of her shell that resemble melted chocolate chips. Recently Spot was out wandering in the sunshine in our backyard and I was watching her, oblivious to everything around me. My husband stepped outside and said, “Is this reminiscent of when you were a little girl?” Hmmm… sometimes my husband has better intuition than the dog.

I was in the third grade when I got my first turtle. My grandpa had caught the colorful reptile while fishing and I was super excited to take him home as a pet. Chop-Chop lived for several years under my care, and my love for turtles and their cousin, the tortoise, was born. I’ve had painted turtles and red-eared climbers; box turtles and softshelled mud turtles. I held a baby snapping turtle, no bigger than an Oreo, in the palm of my hand and realized they are aggressive biters and don’t make good pets. I’ve righted a few gopher tortoises here on the island that were stuck on their back; saved a soft-shelled pond-dweller from being road-kill on Bald Eagle, and rescued a beautiful eastern box turtle from certain death as he strolled across Collier Boulevard. I have a soft spot for slow, scaly critters that carry their home on their back.

So recently I’d been considering getting a turtle again when I realized that a tortoise might be quite comfortable living on my lanai. Along came Spot. I’ve found that I can sit and observe this odd little creature for longer than I care to admit. Yes, it is reminiscent of my childhood and the many years I spent holding and feeding and corralling and observing the cumbersome flux of a turtle. But the movements, and the pace of my new companion are a good example of how we humans might want to consider approaching life. For instance: 1. Explore where you are. Spot, the tortoise, transitioned from an aquarium in a pet store to an outdoor garden on my lanai. The first thing she did was wander over to a meandering mint vine and nibble off a sprig. She walked the perimeter of the enclosure, then crisscrossed the space ducking under the Roma tomato plants and plowing over snapdragons. She found the sunny spots in the garden and the shaded places where she would be well-camouflaged. No corner has been ignored in her explorations. All greenery has been tasted. 2. Bask in the sunshine. Tortoises, like all reptiles, rely on the warm energy of the sun to fuel their movement and their appetite. Every day, by midmorning, the sun heats up and Spot emerges. Her legs unfold from the protection of her shell like an umbrella and she extends her head as far as her neck will allow to sniff the warm air and blink in the bright light. I think, I too am “solar-powered,” a phrase I learned from my mother who loves the warmth of sun on skin. For me, the natural effect of solar heat can pacify a cranky temperament and relax a chaotic conscious. 3. Be persistent and you’ll get where you need to go. One day I released Spot from her garden enclosure and gave her the freedom of the full lanai. I watched her while she wandered carefully not more than two feet in five full minutes of time. She poked her nose at the brick pavers and took in a 360-degree view of her surroundings. I decided she wasn’t going far so I went in the house for something. I returned less than 15 minutes later and Spot was nowhere to be found. I looked all around a five-foot radius of where I’d last seen her. Under the chaise cushions and behind the storage bin. She didn’t wander under the grill or fall in the pool. I had to widen my search. It took a few minutes but eventually she was discovered poking her head out from beneath a chair in a spot as far from where she started as she could possibly go. She had somehow circumvented a swimming pool, avoided stumbling into the house, and lit- erally crawled beneath my mother’s feet, unnoticed, to get to her destination. So, on those days when I feel burdened by the weight of anxiety or stress, I know I can move forward. I’ll think of Spot and her persistence to move at her own pace, despite the heaviness of her shell. She figured out where she wanted to go, and found a way to get there. 4. Withdraw when you need to and find comfort inside. Turtles have an advantage here. In one quick, reflexive move, they’re able to come completely into their carapace and withdraw from their senses entirely. Their head, legs and tail retract deep into the shell away from the sensations of the sun, the breeze or the sandy soil. Spot burrows into the earth, under a canopy of greenery every night, or whenever she’s not feeling social.

In our yoga practice, we often work toward Pratyahara, or “withdrawing from outside influences.” The peace and stillness that eludes us as we navigate the complexities of life are always available within. The trick is to master the ability to retract ourselves from the outside influences and “come inside.”

Practicing yoga and meditation has provided me with a new perspective on life, and greater appreciation for my abilities to move and to breathe and to unravel the snags in the web of life. Each day I practice. Every day there is something new to learn. But I can’t deny the wisdom that can be gained by observing the indolent flow of a tortoise.

Laurie Kasperbauer, RYT 200, enjoys the spiritual and physical benefits of yoga practice and instructs both group and private classes. Laurie is also an active Florida realtor specializing in properties in Naples and Marco Island. She can be reached at Harborview Realty, 291 S. Collier Blvd., Marco Island, or by calling 712-210-3853.

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