Goodbye winter, hello sweet springtime

Published 2:00 am Saturday, March 21, 2015

For lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth and the time of the singing of birds is come and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land.

Just when I first heard those verses read or recited to me from the Song of Solomon, I don’t know. Like so many other things from my childhood, it seems as though I’ve known them always.

More than likely, it was from Amos, who lived on my granddaddy’s place, that I heard those verses. He was always reading or reciting the Bible, propped against the porch wall in a cane-bottom chair, with the Bible on his lap.

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I would be sitting on the porch steps eating a baked sweet tater or biscuit that had been held over in Eunice’s oven or building sand castles in the yard.  But somehow Amos’ words made their way into my head and my heart.

I had never heard the voice of the turtle that the Bible talked about. I didn’t even know that a turtle had a voice.

Turtles were ugly and mean and, if they latched on to your finger with their sharp teeth, they wouldn’t let go until it thundered. A turtle would sneak up on a stringer of fish in the water and eat every one of them if you didn’t beat it away with the fishing pole.

I was fishing with my granny one day and we’d caught a nice stringer of fish. I’d caught the biggest one – a big ol’ shellcracker– and I couldn’t wait to get home and show it off.

We were about down to our last wigglers when my granny started hollering and slapping the water with her pole. “Get! Get!”

She reached pulled up the string of fish and an ol’ turtle had eaten my shellcracker’s tail right off.

I fell down and pitched a fit right there on the muddy edge of the pond. The cows quit grazing to watch me kick my heels up in the air.

Mama would have torn me up if she’d been there but my granny let me wear myself out. And, when I got through, my big ol’ shellcracker still didn’t have a tail.

I couldn’t imagine what kind of voice that mean ol’ fishtail-eating turtle had.

Every spring morning was filled with the voices of God’s little critters – birds, squirrels and maybe even a turtle.

I thought a turtle’s voice would sound like a bullfrog’s — deep and croaky. I wondered if it could make sounds with its head tucked in its shell or if it had to stick its head out to make a sound. I tried my best to find out. I’d shake a turtle and beat on its back with a stick, but it still wouldn’t make a sound.

Each year, when the rain was over and the flowers began to appear on the earth and the birds began to sing, I would listen for the voice of the turtle.

Finally, came the knowledge that the voice of the turtle was actually the voice of a turtledove –not a hard-shelled, sharp-toothed ugly thing that ate fish off the stringer.

I was disappointed that the voice of the turtle had eluded me.

But, when Amos read to me from the Bible, he would say, “Listen with your heart, chil’ not with your ears.”

So, now, when the winter is past and the rain is over and gone and the flowers appear on the earth and the time of the singing of the birds is come, I listen with my heart and I hear the voice of the turtle and it is such an amazingly beautiful thing.