Many years ago I sat on a dock at the edge of Lake Seminole and enjoyed lunch in the warm spring sun. Work had been stopped after half a day, so I had the rest of the day for lunch, and in my lunchbox were two very large ham sandwiches, some potato chips, and a dill pickle I had stashed in a zip lock bag. There have been greater meals in my life, better meals in my life, but this was lunch on a dock, on a warm day, when work had been stopped, which meant I could sit and enjoy my lunch instead of wolfing it down and worrying about what was happening next. The tiny state park was deserted except for me, and I felt serene and peaceful. No one knew where I was, no one was looking for me, cell phone hadn’t been invented yet, and the Universe contained two very large ham sandwiches, some potato chips, and a dill pickle.
The ham was from a smoked ham, and I had sliced off slabs of it to go on the sandwiches. My water jug was still mostly full. There was an every so slight breeze blowing off the water and that gave the air a very slight sense of coolness. Lake Seminole can be crowded and sometimes there are just too many people there, but this day, in this little state park, there was no one but me, and minnows below the dock, and I fed them bread crumbs and watched them swim around and grab pieces to evade sharing with their brethren. The sky was still cloudy enough so I could see into the water, under the water, and there was no glare to fight. Algae covered the rocks below, an old log or two sat still in the water, and water grass of some sort grew to one side of the dock. The minnows and I ate a sandwich, and I tossed them a piece of gristle. It sunk and the minnow chased it, but they didn’t seem very interested in the ham. I had better luck with the breadcrumbs, and they liked it that I had a second sandwich.
The turtle wasn’t interested in having lunch with me. It had slid petulantly off one of the logs and into the water, and hid when I first arrived. It was a smallish thing, a snapping turtle because all turtles in the water are snapping turtles to people in South Georgia, and honestly, I don’t know one from another mostly. This wasn’t one of those turtles with the yellow markings on their faces, Map Turtles I think they are called, it wasn’t an Alligator Snapping Turtle, which are very fascinating creatures, armored, ill tempered, and from the age of dinosaurs by their looks, but that about tells the tale of my knowledge of turtles in South Georgia, even though I know there are several more common species. This was also not a Jewish Snapping Turtle, because the smell of ham in the water was what was drawing him near.
Where he had been hiding in the grass, and where the ham had sunk, was a good twenty feet away, but he rowed his way to it, gracefully, nearly frantically, and I was amazed at how well he navigated around a long in his way. No bird has ever glided more unerringly to a branch of a tree than the turtle did to where the ham was. Snap! Gulp! Snap Gulp! And the ham was lunch. The minnows were dismayed because the turtle also decided I was safe enough to accept bread crumb from and chased the fish away, stretching his neck out and chomping at them. I tossed pieces of ham out into the water, some quite a distance away, and the turtle chased them like a Black Lab chasing a tennis ball, flung out into a pond. A piece f ham dropped directly in front of the turtle caused it to bite at it, but it missed, and then chased it down to the bottom, rowing away with all four feet, zooming down, twisting and turning for speed, before swooping down on its prey. The sun warmed me, and the wind cooled me, and the turtle and I had lunch together, and life might not have ever been more perfect than that moment in time.
The machinery that had broken down had been forgotten, the newness of my job was alleviated and the unease I felt around my fellow employees was suddenly gone. No one was dying, no one was breaking up with anyone else, and no dogs were growing old. Wars all over the world had ceased, there was no more meanness or evil, and the militaries of the world stood at ease for just that one point in time. My mind drifted away as I took a bite, torn a piece of ham off, and ate lunch with the turtle. I scattered out bread for the minnows, and they returned, and nothing else existed. I kicked my feet off the edge of the dock like I was a kid again, and I wondered if I should take my boots off, and my shirt, and take a nap right there on the wooden surface. I finished eating, toss a sizable chunk of ham off as a tip for my reptilian entertainment, and tossed a crust of bread into the water, torn into tiny bits between my palms. I lay back and closed my eyes and breathed deeply of the water and the world, and I couldn’t hear any sound but the wind over the water, and the creaking of the dock against slight waves.
This was a decade or so before Bert was born, long before I bought my first house, many years before the internet, and I had just begin to write. I thought about writing this then, but it was not there, and it did not come to me. Someone at work today had a ham sandwich, and in it, I saw one day, long ago, in peace.