Monday, March 01, 2010

Alas, Eggs no more...

Back in 1991, I took in a tortoise - my first one, a chaco tortoise (Geochelone chilensis). She came to me from a family who had purchased her 10 years before from a local pet store. She was full grown at that time, a wild-caught import from Argentina.

Figuring out a tortoise's age is never full-proof if you don't have information on when they were hatched. Counting the rings on their scutes (the individual scales on their carapace, the part of the shell on their backs) is not accurate, as, like trees, in good years there may be more than a growth ring, and in bad years, no growth at all. Once the tortoise is full grown, there may be no perceptible growth 'rings' since the new scales are rarely larger than the previous year's scale. Age takes a toll, too, wearing down the sharp margins of the scutes, blurring the lines. That being said, when I got her, I counted: there were 60 rings. So, Chaca was probably 60-80 years old when she died this week.

She was healthy through the years, her only problem being the occasional beak overgrowth. Only once did I have to resort to filing it down with a Dremel; gnawing on corn on the cob and melon rinds, and grazing on the forage growing outside, kept her beak naturally trimmed.

Through most of the years I had her, I didn't take many photos of any of my critters. She was difficult to photograph, anyway, as she never lost her "Holy crap! A human is looking at/approaching/touching me! Dive! Dive! Dive!" reaction, quickly pulling her head in and tucking it behind her elbows. As leery as she was of humans, she was very tolerant of the other tortoises, and box turtles, and didn't seem to mind when Sluggo, my blue-tongue skink who died two winters ago, and the occasional iguana, used her back as a pillow to rest on when sunning themselves.

Chaca, as you've no doubt guessed, was the creator of the Eggs. We will miss her.


Karen said...

While Chaca was the originator of the eggs, Melissa was the creator of eggs-in-hats. I remember well the day she showed up on my doorstep, wriggling in anticipation of showing me her newest creation. She stuck her hand in front of my face and said "look!" I looked and saw a very small tortoise egg wearing an even smaller, hand knitted cap. She had two of these. The second one was wearing one of those face masks like terrorists wear to conceal their faces or skiers wear when it is cold. She had some type of official name for this mask but to me it always reminded me a little of a terrorist.

This was the beginning of a wild, crazy and joy filled time as Melissa, Polly and I took the eggs, in their hats, to various locations in the beautiful wine country of Sonoma County, California. They were tourists, you see, and needed to see all the must see sites!

We took them wine tasting, flying in a small airplane, on road trips, lunch by the lake, and numerous other spots I can't remember anymore. Their photos were taken on location for proof of their exploits and to serve as vacation photos for any possible egg relatives to see. They saw it all. Other fashionably dressed tortoise eggs never had it so good!

As all good things go, eventually the eggs took on a grey cast and started to smell a bit. Melissa took great pains to keep them going but ultimately, the eggs committed suicide and relieved us of our tourism duties.

A year later, Chaca blessed us with another egg, who of course got her own hat.

Chaca lost her freedom in Argentina when she was kidnapped for the pet trade. When she landed at Melissa's doorstep, her life became relaxed yet remained interesting. She leaves a legacy of good friends laughing til they cried over her eggs in their hats, tasting wine while overlooking beautiful vineyards at sunset. We could all hope to leave such a legacy.

Chaca, we will miss you!

Knatolee said...

Oh no, I'm so sorry Chaca is gone. but what a life she led!