Our swiftly spinning planet is tilting North America’s summer perch away from the sun. A celestial thief is purloining daylight hours to the delight of the miserly night sky. It is during these longer, cooler nights that a spectacular display transforms the night sky into a celestial light show. This weekend soaking rains are predicted to yield the sky to the brilliant Perseid meteor shower as our hemisphere passes through remnants of the Comet Swift Turtle. Actually, it’s Swift-Tuttle, but this is my version of an old story, and it’s my miscue, so Swift Turtle it shall remain.
There are many legends about turtles. One tells the tale of a Spirit who accidently hurt a sea turtle lounging in the sun on an ocean beach. This was long before turtles look like they do now. Back then, according to folklore, turtles were almost always female, shell-less, with soft supple skin, and strong bones. They were able to travel swiftly on land and in the sea.
According to my memory of lore, the clumsy Spirit was mortified that he had injured a delicate creature. To make amends he presented the swift turtle with the gift of protection. It consisted of two large shells picked from the shore. They matched size-wise and fit nicely together. The Spirit gently slid one shell beneath her stomach and lightly placed the second upon her back. The Spirit proclaimed that she would never fear injury for whenever threatened she could pull her arms, legs, and head safely into the secure shells that would protect her from harm.
Time moved as swiftly as turtles during that mystical era. Eventually the shells hardened into mountains and hills. Swift Turtle’s carriage became an interlocking system of platelets all fitting together. Her limbs became the four compass points. Her head was filled with wisdom and led the way. Her tail was happy to follow. She moved with grace and peace. Swift Turtle became ancient and wise – a totem – the symbol of eternal earth. She carries the weight of the world on her back and reminds us that the universe is our home.
Astronomers predict that one day the remaining embers of Comet Swift-Tuttle will crash into either the moon or Earth. I imagine that such a collision would have catastrophic repercussions and bring much sadness. Then again, Swift Turtle was granted the gift of protection. We know the children of the Comet Swift Turtle as the Perseid Meteor Shower, but medieval clerics referred to the blazing annual nocturnal visitors as the “Tears of St. Lawrence.”
Next: Swift Turtle Honors a Tearful Saint