“The Chief,” Star Of Time and Turtles

Turtles live slowly. They heal slowly too.
Writer’s Digest meets “The Chief.” Sy tells them about the star of her turtle book:
A year ago, a friend about my age (I’m 65) moved in up the street. We see each other every few days. Sometimes we walk together. Some days I don’t see him at all, but that’s OK. He doesn’t always feel like coming out of his pond, because he is a 42-pound wild snapping turtle.

Fire Chief, as we call him, used to live in a pond by a fire house in a different state. All the firefighters knew him…. Read the rest here. The Chief would like that.

Of Time and Turtles is making the year-end lists:
— Amazon’s Best Books of the Year 2023
— The Washington Post: 50 Notable Works of Nonfiction. “The Year’s Best.”
— Chicago Public Library: Must-Read Books of 2023
— Smithsonian Magazine’s 10 Best Science Books of 2023

“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

Matt Patterson, Turtle artist extraordinaire talks to “Inquiry” on WICN.org Listen here.

Matt Patterson and Sy joined their friends at Massachusetts School Library Association for a talk on how we learn from turtles. Listen to the podcast here.

Matt, Sy and Fire Chief
Matt, Sy and Fire Chief
“There is no limit to compassion.” At the Creation Care Summit, Sy was interviewed on stage for the podcast Language of God. The summit is a day-long event with speakers discussing “how to better care for the world we have been given.”

Here’s a brief sample of Sy’s talk with host Jim Stump:Q: For all your life, you’ve been doing this, but what is it about connecting with another species that’s so meaningful and special that’s different than connecting with another human?

Sy: Well, I think it widens your circle, your capacity for compassion. It broadens your world in a really important way. These are animals who are perceiving the real world, God’s world in a real way, but sometimes their perceptions are outside of our own perceptions. So even though I may not be able to hear infrasound, for example, or I may not be able to taste with my skin as some animals can do or sing with my knees for that matter, knowing someone who does brings you that much closer to that sensuous saver of this beautiful life and brings us closer to our Creator, and brings us into that realm of awe and wonder.

I’ve always been able to do this and I don’t think there’s anything special about me. I think kids can do this and we take them away from that path. We tell them, “No, no, you should only pay attention to one species.” And I think that’s such a tragedy. It’s like saying you can only eat one kind of food or you can only listen to one kind of music or even one piece of music. So it’s such a joy to be able to commune with the rest of creation in this way. And I think it’s really open to all of us if we just don’t shut it off.

Q: I want to ask a question now and ask it carefully because it might sound a little heartless… Why should we care so much about the turtles? Why spend all that time and energy and money on saving turtles? There’s no shortage of human problems we could address, individual human lives that we could make better. Shouldn’t we focus our limited resources on them instead of turtles? How do we answer that?

Sy: There is no limit to compassion. There is no limit to love. And turtles actually are the foundations for many ecosystems on which we all depend. People do not realize this, but maybe we do because there’s a lot of cultures around the world that have this idea of the world turtle, the turtle that is carrying the world on its back. In China, there is a goddess called Ao. She’s a giant tortoise and her legs are holding up the heavens itself. They feed so many creatures with their eggs. Their babies are eaten by a lot of creatures.

But beyond all this, turtles are a wonder near at hand. Everyone can recognize a turtle. Everyone gets to see a turtle. It’s not like an octopus that you have to go to an aquarium to see one. We’ve all seen them and we can do so much, easily, to help turtles. When we observe them, having them in our world, what they’re filling us with is the thing that we need for our souls more than just about anything else. Everybody from life hack folks to philosophers will tell you what gives us joy in our lives is awe. We need more awe in our lives and I am in awe of these amazing creatures and it is very easy to help them.

Sy always enjoys talking with her wonderful friend, evolutionary biologist Marc Bekoff. He shares their conversation in his Psychology Today column. A few highlights:

“I exist in a state of awe, living among all the stunningly beautiful and talented species around me in this gorgeous, diverse, abundant, and broken world. To call attention to their glories, I write about rare and endangered species; about misunderstood and overlooked species; about animals we already know and love. Turtles fall into all these categories at once. Everyone loves turtles, and everyone has seen a turtle. But few of us recognize their astonishing powers—some climb, some hunt, some can run faster than a child doing the 100-yard dash. Or that, despite that some species are common, turtles as a group are the most critically endangered vertebrates on the planet. I write about the individual turtles I met during the pandemic to let them educate us all, especially about how we can help them.

“My major goal is to generate hope during an era of despair; to explore the nature of time during a moment in history when time seemed to stop; and to ponder with kindness and generosity gender and disability issues—two of our human heroes are transgender, one is blind; and many of our turtles are living their best lives despite disabilities most people would consider terrible.

“We think we know turtles, but we do not…. These animals are gifted with extraordinary powers with senses beyond our own, vocal communication, excellent memories, and powerful emotions, to name just a few.”

Read the rest of the interview here.

La Roo, a tree kangaroo
Nice work if you can get it. While in Providence, Sy and Matt got a backstage tour of the Roger Williams Park Zoo. Sy fed La Roo, a tree kangaroo, La Roo’s favorite treat: Cheerios. She also fed rose petals to this baby two-toed sloth.
Baby two-toed sloth

The Kindred podcast welcomes Sy to talk about turtles and octopuses. “For us,” say hosts Kate and Jenn, “Sy Montgomery embodies Kindred and is an inspiration and lamplighter in a time when this planet needs as many enlightened leaders as possible.” Listen here.

Sy and Matt at LA AirportScenes from the Road. Sy and Matt are on the West Coast preaching the Hardshell Gospel. To the right is a certain turtle book at the Los Angeles airport (LAX as it is better known). And below, the children of the Nesbit School, near San Francisco, welcome their turtle-loving elders.

Nesbit School, near San FranciscoNesbit School, near San Francisco

Portland’s famous Powell’s Books
Bright Lights, Big City. Sy and Matt got to see their name in lights when they read at Portland’s famous Powell’s Books.

"Male Painted Turtle Basking" by Matt Keevil is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0
“Male Painted Turtle Basking” by Matt Keevil is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0
“Best. Turtle. Book. Ever.” The Evanston, Illinois, Public Library has announced it’s annual 101 Great Books for Kids List. And guess what? They love The Book of Turtles: “Think you know turtles? Think again! An up-close-and-personal deep dive into the species with all its weird and wonderful qualities. Best. Turtle. Book. Ever.”

Sy meets a Galapagos tortoise at a turtle sanctuary
Nice work if you can get it – Part II. On their way to their Florida readings, Sy and Matt met these Galapagos tortoises at a turtle sanctuary.Matt meets a Galapagos tortoise at a turtle sanctuary.

Listen to Sy and Matt on WAMC’s Roundtable show. “Hopeful and optimistic, Of Time and Turtles is an antidote to the instability of our frenzied world. Elegantly blending science, memoir, and philosophy, and drawing on cultures from across the globe, this compassionate portrait of injured turtles and their determined rescuers invites us all to slow down and slip into turtle time.”

What turtles can teach us about time. Sy talks with host Caroline Feraday at KCLU in Thousand Oaks, California. Listen here.