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Looking out my Backdoor: Turtle introspections


February 13, 2020

One day Bonnie said to me, “Sondra, you are a turtle. When in a group, you tuck your head inside your shell, listen and watch.” Ever since then, I cannot look in the mirror without seeing my turtle.

In a moment of turtle introspection, I realized a turning point has changed the direction of my life. I generally don’t see my turning points until I can look backward. Some positive, others not so much.

In my freshman English 101 class at what was then the College of Great Falls, I was an adult student with an eight-month baby girl. I felt dumb as a post hole, having graduated high school in Harlem, now surrounded by brilliant sophisticated youth from the two Great Falls high schools, students with definite advantages.

Many adult students attended CGF, mostly men from the Air Base. But my inspiration was a woman, 88 years old, attending my same freshman English class. I clearly see that my higher education was a stepping stone, not a turning point. But I’ll bet it was a turning point for this admirable woman.

I didn’t know enough, was too young, to ask her the questions I would ask today. I sat at the same round wooden table with her in the Student Union Building between classes, sipping tea and pretending to study. One day a man in his 30s asked her why she was starting college this late in her life.

“Why not?” she answered. Undaunted, he continued. “But do you realize how old you will be when you graduate?”

And for the first time I heard the classic answer, “How old will I be if I don’t?”

Turtles live a long life.

Turning points seem like the seasons. Sometimes a season changes imperceptibly. Or like today, I woke up from winter yesterday into spring today.

My lime trees are full of white blossoms, the mango and avocado heavy with seed shoots, the pomegranate loaded with blossoms and baby fruit. A green bird with yellow belly and distinctive black and white helmet head perches on my clothesline pole. Lavender and jade and the purple flowered bush perfume the air. Emerald hummingbirds flash like blinking Christmas lights in the bottlebrush.

Surely, we may have more cold days, but spring is undeniably here. And with the arrival of spring, I have arrived at a turning point in my life.

I am not sure that means there will be a perceptible difference, looking at me from the outside inward. I’ll probably still wonder if I combed my hair this morning. But from within, outward, I know with everything in all my knowingness, I’ve turned a corner.

Most of my turning points have been subtle. Not marriage or deaths or births or geographic moves. If my life goes on the same as before, with same actions, that is not a turning point but merely a leaving one room and entering another, sometimes hoping geography will make a difference.

One turning point long ago, at CGF, was when my English teacher, after reading a story I wrote, asked me, “Have you thought about writing poetry?” I turned the story into a poem and never looked back.

Or when a friend said, “You need to spend at least a month alone and get your head together.” Terrified me. It was years before I acted upon his advice, but those words created a turning point, regardless, never forgotten. Slow, like a turtle, but I got there!

For me, change has seldom been precipitated by a large event, I’m talking inner change, a life-attitude change. More likely the cause has been a whisper, a fleeting image, a subtle nudge.

So why do I feel so confident this is a turning point? I suppose I sound crazy. But I stand differently on my two feet, taller, more confident. I breathe more deeply. The green is greener to my eyes. I’m no longer in black and white Kansas, but my personal tornado has plunked me in the middle of Technicolor Oz.

Those are outward signs. Inside, I feel like I’ve been scrubbed clean, ready for a new chapter. Right — I do sound crazy.

For a while, I have been letting life happen to me, a passive bystander. Now I feel dissatisfied. Rumblings. Anger. Ready to move forward. This turtle has her head up, feet plodding along, ready to do some serious introspecting.


Sondra Ashton grew up in Harlem but spent most of her adult life out of state. She returned to see the Hi-Line with a perspective of delight. After several years back in Harlem, Ashton is seeking new experiences in Etzatlan, Mexico. Once a Montanan, always. Read Ashton’s essays and other work at http://montanatumbleweed.blogspot.com/. Email [email protected]


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