It was the last stop on the way out of Dallas for good. I'd flown into town that morning to help my buddy load all of his stuff out of his third-story apartment and into his pickup truck. We had a four hour drive ahead of us in a battle-scarred truck with no A/C on a temperate September night, but there was one last drop-off to make.
He's raised this turtle since it was no bigger than the palm of his hand, and it was a pretty good-sized amphibian three years later. It had long outgrown its original fishbowl and lived now in a full-sized fish tank, the type you might see in your dentist's front lobby. Today, the turtle was moving up from aquarium to pond. Not able to transport the creature and its home all the way to Oklahoma, my buddy was saying goodbye, leaving his small, hard-shelled buddy to fend for itself in the great, mysterious Wild.
We pulled off the highway just outside the Big D metro area and drove about twenty minutes of dirt road before we came the pond he'd had in mind. It was in the middle of a public park, though I had to wonder how many of the "public" even knew this place existed. There were a few other cars present belonging mostly to amateur fishermen who likely appreciated the peace and quiet so close to the big city. My buddy parked his truck and we stepped out onto the wet grass near the edge of the pond.
"All right, little guy," he said, taking the bewildered animal out of its tank and setting it on the ground at our feet. "You're free."
I had expected the beast to stand around, maybe wander aimlessly for a few moments, until we would ultimately have to pick it up and place it in the water ten feet away. I was amazed, therefore, when the turtle took off immediately toward the pond! Its head was stretched as far forward as its leathery neck would carry it. Its feet surged forward in the largest strides they could manage. This little home-grown turtle was all-out sprinting for the water! A breeze kicked up, and the sun was setting over the prairie miles away. Standing there, you couldn't help but feel the theme from Born Free would start playing from hidden speakers at any moment. We followed closely behind as the turtle's first front foot splashed into the water, followed by the second, and then the first back foot, and then it was in the water...
And then it disappeared. As in, completely. Not a trace but a few bubbles trickling to the water's surface where the shell had just melted away into a murky black. A few bubbles, and then stillness.
"Um....turtle?" my friend called, a bit doubtfully. "I sure hope you didn't drown..." I knelt and reached my hand down to the spot where the turtle had crawled into the pond. There was a steep drop-off! You'd expect the gradual slope of the hill to continue into the water, but there was no trace of anything within an arm's length. No dirt, no plants. No shell. I strained my eyes to see some faint imprint of my amigo's pet swimming off into the vastness of his brave new world. Not so much as a ripple.
I stood. "I think I saw him swim away," I said. "Okay, good," my friend replied, and we went back to the truck.