OF TIME AND TURTLES:
Mending the World, Shell by Shattered Shell
By Sy Montgomery, Matt Patterson (Illustrator)
HarperCollins (09/19/2023) 9780358458180
Few writers are better than Montgomery at capturing the wonder of animals without taming them. She writes that the eyes of an Indochinese box turtle evoke “the polished stones you find in a clear stream, and carry with them a hint of a stone’s ancient patience.” Many of Montgomery’s best similes are like this, equating one natural thing to another in a way that suggests a filiating network of correspondences and connections that might ordinarily go unnoticed. But she is equally good at capturing the often transformative experience of human contact with animals….
On more than one occasion I had to put the book down because I was sobbing, sometimes simply because turtles are just that special….
Like all of Montgomery’s work, then, “Of Time and Turtles” is a book that will make you want to be not a better human but a better animal. Hers is an oeuvre that encourages us to contemplate our continuity with other creatures, proving that our responsibility for their well-being is not some God-given, Adamic burden but a consequence of our culpability for damaging the world that they share with us, and we with them.
— Jacob Brogan, The Washington Post
“I’ll read anything by Montgomery — funny, sincere, and curious, she’ll convince you that there’s much to learn from turtles.”
— Al Woodworth, Senior Editor at Amazon specializing in Nonfiction and Culture
This book will open your eyes to the hidden beauty of our shelled friends.
In this moving outing, National Book Award finalist Montgomery (The Soul of an Octopus) reports on the efforts of the Turtle Rescue League, a Southbridge, Mass., wildlife group that provides a permanent home for disabled turtles as well as rehabilitative care for those “recovering from illness or injury” or “who hatched out late or too small.” Montgomery offers a fly-on-the-wall perspective of the group’s daily operations, accompanying staff to provide water to nests at risk of drying out during a heat wave and return beached sea turtles to the ocean after a storm. Along the way, she profiles staffers, including “flashy extrovert” Alexxia Bell and “soft-spoken introvert” Natasha Nowick, who created the organization after bonding over their love of turtles, but the reptiles are the real stars, including Pizza Man, the red-footed tortoise rescued from a drug dealer’s basement who roams the League’s office, and Fire Chief, a massive snapping turtle nursed back to health after getting hit by a car. Montgomery captures the joy in the team’s successes and the sorrow in their losses (a particularly grim scene depicts a mass burial for turtles who died of their various injuries), and Patterson’s sketches of spotted and painted turtles in their natural habitats delight. It’s an enjoyable if at times somber account of the everyday travails of dedicated conservationists.
— Publishers Weekly
Lauded nature writer Montgomery has enthralled readers with her avidly chronicled adventures with octopuses, hummingbirds, and hawks. This time turtles take over her life. She and wildlife artist Matt Patterson, whose drawings enhance the book, volunteered to work with the Turtle Rescue League, run by two extraordinary women. They plunge into turtle rescue work, caring mostly for turtles hit by vehicles (millions are killed on highways each year) and rushing to protect increasingly rare and vulnerable hatchlings. An entrancing storyteller who illuminates facts and feelings with sterling precision, Montgomery recounts dramatic and sweet interactions with these “unlikely, surprising animals,” describing a wondrous array of personalities, including that of the astoundingly resilient, attentive, and gigantic snapper called Fire Chief. An ancient species, turtles live long, remarkably adaptive lives, yet they are now “the most imperiled major group of animals on earth” due to habitat destruction, pollution, climate change, and the “murderous, monstrous illegal” wildlife trade. Montgomery considers the turtle’s essential role in diverse origin stories, including those that designate North America Turtle Island—and indeed, the continent does “boast the most turtle species in the world.” Deeply affected by these highly intelligent, sensitive earthlings, Montgomery contemplates how nature marks “turtle time, renewing the covenants that keep the world alive and offering us the stuff of eternity.”
— Booklist (STARRED review)
Turtles is very much of a piece with Montgomery’s beatific The Soul of an Octopus in its assertion that listening to another species — and using what you learn — is good not just for those creatures but for everyone.… Of Time and Turtles is a beautiful book — you’ll want to savor it (slowly).
— Star Tribune, Minneapolis
There is something indescribable about exceptional nature writing. It feeds a hunger that goes unnoticed until a delicious meal of pages and chapters are present. It reminds us that despite all our trappings and glamour, we are a part of something much grander and more complex than we collectively are yet to fully understand.
Sy Montgomery’s career spans decades and is dotted not only by the success of her books, but by the millions of readers she has shared her passion for the natural world with. Her “The Book of Turtles,” replete with drawings by Matt Patterson (drawings so fine they could easily, even under scrutiny, be mistaken for photographs) was published this past spring to much success and appreciation.
To accompany the great success of “The Book of Turtles,” Montgomery and Patterson have teamed up again, to bring us lucky readers an adult companion, “Of Time and Turtles: Mending the World Shell by Shattered Shell”. If you have read any of Montgomery’s work, you will know her voice is inimitable….
Montgomery writes of the lives of animals the way memoirists write of their first loves; though hers is a first again and again and again, and never the duller for it. It is a love affair of the first-order — Montgomery and the world. In reading her forthcoming book, Montgomery’s prose sparked and crackled off the page with blistering passion. Though her 35th book, Montgomery’s masterful pen is overshadowed by another – her character, both as an author and an interlocutor within her own book.
Time and again, the book and the author pose questions, both to the reader and the other characters throughout the book, which are not leading nor rhetorical, but are genuine and inquisitive. The charm and true insight from “Of Time and Turtles” lies in the unabashed curiosity and humility of its author.
In spite of her decades of noteworthy success, her seemingly inexhaustible understanding of the natural world, Montgomery approaches every situation with another member of the book with openness and questioning. She writes tenderly, at every instance noting the humanity and respect every turtle is treated with at the Turtle Rescue League, vulnerably admitting that the acts of kindness administered by the turtle rehabilitators affect her and Patterson. What this does for the reader is very special; it gives them permission to approach that same subject matter with emotion as well.
Montgomery’s choice of prose lends itself to an understanding that you too can learn. Whatever your age, your background or your knowledge of the subject, Montgomery gives you permission to continue learning by admitting that she herself still learns every day. Her choice of subject matter is exciting enough that she could get away with being overtly didactic; she could preach to us of the merits of her work and we would at the very least find ourselves converts. But her writing does more. It is empowering and thoughtful. It does not boast of the triumphs yet to come in championing the cause of the ecologist or naturalist.
Montgomery’s writing, if anything, is an ode to questioners and seekers of the world beyond themselves and their modern human lives. Montgomery notes the manner in which we enumerate the passing of days, in minutes, months, years, or during the COVID-19 pandemic, in the loss of life. Whatever her course of study or the manner in which it is studied, it is great comfort to know in hard times and in easy, we can expect time to pass year after year, season after season, and count those passing moments as one less than before in anticipation of the coming of a new book by Sy Montgomery.
— Emerson Sistare, owner of the Toadstool Bookshops in Peterborough & Keene, NH, writing in The Monadnock Ledger-Transcript.
A celebration of a magnificent animal.
Melding science and memoir, naturalist Montgomery, author of The Soul of an Octopus, The Hummingbirds’ Gift, and other celebrated nature books, shares her experiences as a volunteer at the Turtle Rescue League, in Massachusetts, where, along with wildlife artist Patterson, she worked laboriously to care for “the most imperiled major group of animals on earth.” Turtles fall victim to myriad threats: They are often run over by vehicles, “dogs and cats chew them, lawn mowers and farm equipment shred them, curious children harass and kidnap them, and asphalt and concrete displace their nesting areas.” Some are caught in the illegal wildlife trade: “A single Yunnan box turtle could command $200,000 on the black market. A Chinese three-striped box turtle, whose powdered plastron is rumored (incorrectly) to cure cancer, can fetch as much as $25,000.” Turtle eggs are vulnerable to predators such as raccoons and skunks and even trees, whose roots will penetrate the eggs to suck moisture in times of drought.
Besides conveying the turtle’s amazing longevity and capacity for healing—they are able to regenerate nerve tissue—Montgomery offers vivid portraits of the distinct personalities of patients under the care of the heroic TRL staff: Among the many box turtles, spotted turtles, sea turtles, tortoises, and painted turtles were the feisty Fire Chief, a huge great snapper; the beloved painted turtle Sugarloaf; and gregarious red-footed tortoise Pizza Man. Each had a special relationship to caregivers— and to one another. Montgomery was surprised to learn that turtles communicate verbally. “Some species of Australian and South American river turtle nestlings,” she reveals, “communicate vocally with each other, and with their mothers, while still inside the egg.”
Montgomery is justifiably admiring of the devoted TRL staff, who work to heal, restore, and rehabilitate their injured patients so they can be released back into the wild. The book includes Patterson’s delicate drawings.
An engaging, informative, and colorful journey into the world of turtles.
— Kirkus Reviews
The movie portrayals of turtles as ultra-chill surfers or pizza-ordering elite fighters have little in common with the richly understated lifestyle Sy Montgomery chronicles during the year she spends volunteering at a local turtle sanctuary. There’s abundant drama in the high-stakes field trips: rescuing the victims of hit-and-runs, unearthing freshly laid eggs, releasing rehabilitated “herps” into the wild. But it’s Montgomery’s heart-tugging conversations with teammates and her commitment to helping an octogenarian named Fire Chief that reveal turtles to be perfect conduits for meditations on aging, disability and chosen family.
— Scientific American
These are Good people with a capital G. Reading about their work makes one want to stand up and cheer….
This writer’s ultimate takeaway from Of Time and Turtles is a strangely contrarian-seeming, yet profoundly inspiring one: The world is full of heroes. Brave, selfless, decent people. People who dedicate their free time, spend their resources, and even risk their lives to save innocent creatures, or even for a chance at saving innocent creatures. You don’t see them in the news that often. But you do see them in the pages of Sy Montgomery’s books. Read Of Time and Turtles, and it will restore some measure of your faith in humanity.
— Weekly Anthropocene