I hadn’t seen Delilah, our tortoise, in a few days. It’s not unusual for her to disappear in the winter for a day or two, but not in the summer. She’s usually out and about, eating all our weeds and terrorizing the dogs. I’ve been noticing lately she’s not making her appearance until close to 2 pm. Again, pretty unusual on warm days. She’s generally out of her burrow by 10, no later than noon. So I was concerned that maybe she’s sick and not coming out was a sign of something bad.
I decided I needed to look for her. The thing is her burrow. Sulcutta tortoises are known for their digging skills. They can dig under fences and come up in someone else’s yard. Delilah’s burrow took a hit this spring when she knocked one of the sprinkler heads off and flooded her own burrow. It’s under a bush and the water eroded a hole so the roots are exposed and sun goes into the place where her little den was. This started her digging again. And she’s been digging ever since. Renovations are a pain and she’s definitely been upgrading.
I grabbed a flashlight. Penny followed me, and I lay on my belly at the entrance under the bush. She’s a fifty to sixty pound tortoise, so I figured I would fit. I advanced myself on my tummy in the soft sandy soil, scraping my back on the bush branches above. I shimmied down the tunnel just wide enough for me until my five foot eight inch body was no longer visible outside of the bush. My arm outstretched with a flashlight, the burrow extended at least another full body length and continued sloping down. I couldn’t see Delilah or the end of the burrow.
I decided I wasn’t going to find her that way, so it was time to back out. Therein lay the problem. Although wide enough for me to get in, there was no room for me to leverage myself with my elbows or knees. I couldn’t pull them up under my body at all. The burrow was at a 45 degree angle down, so shimmying back up wasn’t working either. Blood was pooling in my head.
I considered dropping the flashlight, but I didn’t think I would be able to get that arm under me and then I’d be in the dark. I started to laugh as I considered my predicament. You see, Sean was in Montana for the week fishing. I was home alone with three girls six and under and I was stuck in a tortoise burrow.
Option 1: Have Penny get Sammy to bring my cell phone and instruct her on how to call my sister-in-law who lives about two miles away. Thing is, I didn’t know if she was home and I knew it would take her a minimum of twenty minutes to get here, after she stopped laughing. And then probably another twenty to stop laughing when she saw me wedged in the hole. Not a good option.
Option 2: The neighbors. We have neighbors I could have the girls go get to try to help. Our next door neighbors tend to be worriers, so I think they would have a difficult time staying calm. Not good with three little girls. We have two other neighbors we could try, but I thought if Sammy went, the other two would follow, and who knows if they would run into the street or go in different directions when they got out of the yard. Not a good option.
Option 3: Have Sammy call 9-1-1 (or Ella, she’s a pro). And then what? Have the firemen come drag me out by my ankles? They’d probably be too professional to laugh in front of me, but I bet it’d be a great joke at the station. Plus, I’d probably wind up on the news, Baby Jessica, all grown up and stuck in another hole. Not a good option.
I decided I had to get out of there on my own. So I pushed and shimmied and scraped my back and got that horrible sandy soil that won’t grow anything in every possible place imaginable. Finally, I emerged. Dirt streamed off of me. Penny pointed the flash light at places I missed. I took my hair out of the twist it was in and more dirt poured down me.
I was filthy. I needed a shower. And still had no idea where Delilah was or if she was okay. But at least I didn’t wind up on the news.
**Update: Delilah returned the next day, as though nothing had happened. Also, she is definitely a he.