The Tao of Turtles

under turtlesEveryone seems to like turtles. I don’t know what it is about them, but I often find myself smiling when I watch them, even if they’re not doing anything particularly interesting.

The turtle tank, which is on the first floor of the Museum,  is made from two “bubble” style skylight windows, attached together to make a large egg shape. And because they are windows, they are clear, which means you can watch the turtles from underneath as well as from above. There’s a mat under the tank, making turtle watching a pretty comfortable activity. It can also be a pretty magical place to be.

I love to lie under the turtle tank. I usually find myself doing so because someone isn’t sure if it’s really OK to do it, so I demonstrate.  Once they know it’s allowed, adults will shepherd their children under there with me. What usually happens is the child lies on his back as far away from me as possible. After a moment, when the child seems to have decided I’m harmless, I will make some comment:  “Look, you can see the turtles’ bellies.” Some kids respond, some don’t, but it has been my experience that after a few minutes, kids are not only chatting with me, they have sidled up beside me as well. And that’s when conversations get interesting.

Sometimes we start off talking about turtles, but this often leads to existential conversations about whether the turtles can think, and what sort of things they might think about, and what sorts of things we think about. Often, we’ll get talking about the child’s family and sometimes my family, and this may lead to conversations about other people and places in their lives. We make connections. Once, a boy of about 5 years old and I got talking about dinosaurs which, not surprisingly, he knew a lot about. It turned out he had a PBS or Discovery Channel video at home that was all about dinosaurs; he asked if I would like to come over and watch it with him sometime. I’ve been invited to birthday parties and playdates while lying under the turtle tank. And I have come away with a greater understanding of what goes on in kids’ heads.

Lying under the tank is just kind of Zen. Thoughts are voiced, and questions are considered. Ideas flow. The next time you are at BCM, I encourage you to take a break down there with your kids.  It’s quite comfortable, just watch your head when it’s time to get up. But there’s no rush…

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