Morning Walks with Harold

What I am about to tell you is going to sound ridiculous. So I won’t blame you if you speak ill of me. All I ask is that you do it behind my back.

For 17 maybe 18 years I have been going on daily walks. Always the same route. When I’m walking, people honk and wave at me because I am a fixture in these parts. A very odd, gangly, bearded, fixture. But still, people wave at me. Everyone always waves.

Over the years, I’ve seen the world undergo a lot of changes on my walks. I’ve seen car models change each season. I’ve watched fashions change among teenagers who ride bikes on this old road.

For example, at one time it was “cool” for boys to wear baggy pants so low on their hips that when viewed from behind you could see their Great Divides. This fashion changed.

Soon the fashion became the exact opposite. Boys were wearing pants so skinny that whenever they opened their mouths to speak they sounded like first tenors in the Gaither quartet.

Technology has changed, too. Eighteen years ago people weren’t using smartphones. But today you rarely see a kid riding a bike who isn’t staring at a cellphone. If you ask me, this is a dental disaster waiting to happen.

On my walks, I usually see young couples pushing strollers. I’ve watched the kids in the strollers turn into adults over time. Today I see those same young people driving SUVs. They wave at me when they cruise by at 93 miles per hour while texting on a cellphone, steering with their left knee, and blaring music that sounds like an industrial chainsaw fight.

But like I said, everyone waves at me, young and old. It’s an unwritten tradition. I’m hard to miss. I’m the guy on the shoulder of the road with the beard.

But I’m getting off subject here, which is: Every day for several years I have passed a small turtle on my walks. He is always in the same spot.

On my route sits a large Floridian swamp. It is the quintessential West Floridian bog, covered in trillions of lilly pads and petrified cypress trunks that date back to the Crimean War.

This turtle was my pal. I named him Harold. He was the only turtle I ever saw on my route.

You’d think there would be hundreds of tortoises living in a Panhandle swamp, and maybe there are. But all I ever saw was Harold.

I know it was him because I once marked Harold with fingernail polish just to see if it was the same turtle I kept seeing. Sure enough. It was him.

It took nine years for that fingernail polish to wear off.

Usually, Harold was crossing the road when I saw him. Sometimes I would help him cross. He never bit me, never hissed, never fussed. He was a pretty cool customer.

I liked to watch him slip into the dark water and swim around the lilies, his little head bobbing while he dog-paddled.

A few years ago, our town did renovations around the swamp to improve roads. I was certain they were going to scare old Harold away with all their heavy equipment, but they didn’t. When the city was done bulldozing, Harold was still around.

It’s always been a mystery to me how turtles survive. They don’t seem like very good hunters. I mean, what do they eat? A friend of mine used to have pet turtles, she said they eat pretty much anything. Bugs, caterpillars, decaying flesh, rotten caracasses, excrement, congealed salads, etc.

So today I was on my walk. It was sunny. I was going to stop by the wetlands to see Harold. But something was wrong. Up ahead I saw buzzards were picking at a lump on the road.

No.

I trotted toward the the accident. It was a smashed shell and tire marks. And my friend was gone. I tried to shoo the birds away, but they wouldn’t leave.

I won’t go into detail here, but a vehicle ran over Harold. The worst part was, Harold was only 12 inches from the edge of the vacant road. Meaning: If the driver would have turned the steering wheel an inch to the left, he would still be alive.

I just lost it. My eyes got blurry and I felt sick to my stomach.

I told you that you were going to think I’m silly.

I could hardly make it back home. Later, I returned with a shovel, gloves, and a shoebox, but I was too late. Harold’s remains had been run over by more cars. So I placed fragments of his shell into his favorite swamp. I watched his splintered tortoise pieces sink into the lilly-covered water. I said a few words over him, my hat in hand.

I’m sure old Harold couldn’t hear me, but you never know. I used a loud, public-speaking voice for an audience consisting of one heron and a nosy squirrel.

I told Harold the same thing I once said over my father’s grave once. I said that I hoped his old soul awoke in a wonderful place filled with lillies, pure water, live oaks, clear skies, and love. And I hope that one day I might go there too.

A few cars passed during my pathetic eulogy. They were probably wondering what the weird bearded man with the wet puffy eyes was doing. Even so, they waved at me. I waved back. Everyone always waves.

They say he watches over sparrows. But I think he watches Harolds, too.

46 comments

  1. Christina - May 24, 2020 6:55 am

    RIP Harold.
    Sean, I love that you have eyes to see the least of these 🐢

    Reply
  2. Celia Harbin - May 24, 2020 7:17 am

    so sorry for your loss. This is an incredibly endearing article. I used to pass an old orange Tabby on my walk and a wildly territorial dog who ran up and down his dog run inside a fence barking loud enough to wake the folks in the next county while slinging slobber and drool over his dog walk. One day the orange tabby was not there…and he was always there. I shed tears over that cat until I turned the corner and Big Bad Bruno began barking and growling and slinging slobber everywhere. In my grief I had forgotten to get ready for him. I leaped straight up in the air and shouted to the top of my lungs. Would you believe he stopped barking, stood still, and even hung his head?!?? That dog never barked at me again. He did trot sedately up and down his dog walk as I walked by.
    Keep an eye out for other regulars on your walk. You just might meet a different kind of friend.

    Reply
  3. Susan Parker - May 24, 2020 8:49 am

    I am as certain as I am sitting here that God cares for Harold and that in whatever way He has provided for animals, your Harold is at peace. No, I don’t think you are silly. Far from it. Your kindness is a part of your greatness.
    I am very sorry for your loss. Sending love to you!

    Reply
  4. Susan Parker - May 24, 2020 8:53 am

    I do not think you are silly at all. Far from that. Your kindness is a part of your greatness.
    I have no doubt that, as surely as I am sitting here, God cares about Harold and what happened to him. And I know that in whatever way He has provided for animals, Harold is at peace.
    I am very sorry for your loss. Sending love to you!

    Reply
  5. Cathi Russell - May 24, 2020 9:04 am

    Amen, Christina. Harold was lucky to have a friend like you, Sean. RIP Harold, we’re gonna miss you on this earth. Remember us fondly, please, except for the idjit who sent you to the Giant Swamp above. Karma’s coming for him/her!

    Reply
  6. Jean - May 24, 2020 11:57 am

    You are certainly not silly for being emotional over your old friend Harold. Sad ending for the old boy and one would think somebody could have missed him if they had tried. Rest in peace Harold…you will be missed.

    Reply
  7. Curtis Lee Zeitelhack - May 24, 2020 12:01 pm

    I am waving too. At you and at Harold.

    Reply
  8. Julie W Trejo - May 24, 2020 12:15 pm

    And thank Goodness, He watches over us, too. Thank you for sharing.

    Reply
  9. Naomi - May 24, 2020 12:17 pm

    Many years ago, my grown, married daughter collected turtles. She made a rock enclosure for them, but, alas, they would not stay in their enclosure. They may be slow, but they are determined to move elsewhere even if they were well cared for in their enclosure; they didn’t even have to find their own food or water.

    Reply
  10. Norbert Sprunger - May 24, 2020 12:36 pm

    Terrible!

    Reply
  11. Dianne - May 24, 2020 12:53 pm

    Thank you for caring about all of God’s creatures, big and small!

    Reply
  12. Jan - May 24, 2020 1:19 pm

    So sorry for your loss. God loves all His creatures, big and small, two legged and four legged. God gave you such a kind and caring heart, Sean. You are a blessing!

    Reply
  13. Terri - May 24, 2020 1:21 pm

    RIP Harold. You have such a good heart, Sean. Love you much.

    Reply
  14. Allison Gilmore - May 24, 2020 1:26 pm

    Sean, thanks for this story about Harold. I’m glad to know that you share my affinity for turtles.  I’ve always identified with the “slow and steady” idea from Aesop’s fable about the race between the tortoise and the hare.   As an introvert, I’ve always liked the idea of being able to quietly withdraw into my shell as needed for some time alone inside my head and heart.  And as someone who continues to struggle with getting my feelings hurt, I have aspired to the idea of developing a harder shell to help me resist being overly sensitive to hurtful words.   A couple of years ago, I was telling my grandson about something I was writing and he asked if I was going to write my life story.  I jokingly told him that I might try that sometime but that I was struggling with choosing between two titles:  “A High Tolerance for Ambiguity” or “An Affinity for Turtles.”   With no hesitation, he immediately said, “Use the turtle title. Nobody will know what that other title means and so they probably wouldn’t want to read it.”  I hope you find another turtle to make friends with soon. It won’t be the same as your friendship with Harold, but every turtle has a story to tell and lessons to teach us.

    Reply
  15. Harold Lenz - May 24, 2020 1:32 pm

    The story about Harold the turtle brought back an unusual memory about my mother-in-law. She didn’t like me at first because I was going to take her baby away so she called me “Harold the Turtle” meaning I was lower than a turtle. Oh yes, my name is Harold.

    Reply
  16. Mark Pollish - May 24, 2020 1:46 pm

    I can’t believe I cried when reading this.

    Reply
  17. Harold Lenz - May 24, 2020 2:02 pm

    The story about Harold the Turtle brought back an unusual memory about my mother-in-law. She didn’t like me at first because I as going to take her baby away so she called me “Harold the Turtle”, meaning that I was lower than a turtle. Keep writing those great stories. Oh yes, my name is Harold.

    Reply
  18. Debi Kilpatrick - May 24, 2020 3:00 pm

    I do not think you silly, Sean. I understand. I understand completely, being one of those people who stop traffic to help Harolds across the road. 💔

    Reply
  19. Patricia Gibson - May 24, 2020 3:02 pm

    I am right there with you and will never understand why people are so careless or unfeeling.

    Reply
  20. Robert M Brenner - May 24, 2020 3:28 pm

    Thank you for a lovely and very touching story. In “Turtle Heaven” where turtles understand words I know Harold appreciates your faithfulness ❤️🐢

    Reply
  21. Deborah (Debbie) Gillespie - May 24, 2020 3:34 pm

    and this is just one more reason you are so loved, Sean Dietrich <3

    Reply
  22. Joy T Lane - May 24, 2020 3:48 pm

    That really skinks. I’m sorry. I don’t think that it’s silly at all. I hate to see our wild friends hurt and run off from their place. Especially when it’s another human doing the hurting. I have a gopher tortoise in my neighborhood. I hope he stays safe for many years to come. But, I worry about him. They are building more homes in my neighborhood. More people, less chance for the animals. I know that is the way the world works, it still makes me a little sad.

    Reply
  23. John - May 24, 2020 4:18 pm

    Boy do I understand this… i always form these types of bonds with the animals that inhabit my surroundings.
    I went through the same thing you did when my ‘pet’ groundgog, Arnold, was killed on the road in front of my house last year.
    He had lived under the porch of my workshop since I bought the place. I would observe him, talk to him, take pictures of his backyard antics to share with family and friends.
    Someone was speeding down the road at twice the speed limit, and Arnold wasn’t quite fast enough. He was just on the edge of the road.
    You could tell when he lowered his head and sprinted across the yard ahead of some perceived danger, that he steadfastly believed he was much faster than he actually was.
    But that was what made Arnold so beloved. Like when he stood behind a fence post that was half his width; he always believed he was completely hidden and it never ceased to make me smile.

    How do you not miss a friend like that?

    Reply
  24. Rebecca J Cotney - May 24, 2020 4:24 pm

    Bless you Sean, you are a kind caring person & they are getting few & far between these days. We love turtles in this family too so we certainly don’t find it silly. Keep on enjoying the beautiful creatures God gave us. Peace & love.

    Reply
  25. Sue - May 24, 2020 4:33 pm

    I love your sensitivity and compassion. I may have shed some tears over Harold.
    I hope to see all my dogs in Heaven someday and maybe you’ll see Harold too!

    Reply
  26. Diann - May 24, 2020 4:39 pm

    I love how every day occurrences are so important. Let us not forget to see the beauty in each day even if it is to say goodbye to a friend.

    Reply
  27. denise mills - May 24, 2020 5:00 pm

    You are not silly. I am crying reading this. And as I do when I arrive too late to save a crossing turtle. Even if it’s not one that I’ve known for years. Thank you! Definitely I believe that Harold heard your prayers.

    Reply
  28. Linda Moon - May 24, 2020 5:01 pm

    I’ve never spoken ill of you, silly man. But if I do, you’ll never know. The Gaither Quartet….I haven’t thought of them since my Fundamentalist years when I sometimes wondered how the tenors reached those high notes. A few days ago I invited you to sing “Beulah Land” at my funeral. Now I’m inviting you to say words over me, too. But not anytime soon. HE is watching Harolds and Johns….THERE. And waving to you….Here.

    Reply
  29. Donna - May 24, 2020 5:05 pm

    RIP noble Harold… with heartfelt misty eyed sincerity.

    Reply
  30. Nancy Laird - May 24, 2020 5:10 pm

    If people would just remember that all creatures belong to God, and He looks over them and tries to protect them. I cried when I read about Harold.

    Bless the beasts and the children
    For in this world they have no voice
    They have no choice

    Reply
  31. Diane H. Toney - May 24, 2020 5:15 pm

    Reminds me of my sweet son-in-law who , for years, had a black lab named Janna. He told me one time that people who said that dogs did not have souls had never looked in Janna’s eyes.

    Reply
  32. Wadena Colbert - May 24, 2020 5:18 pm

    I love this. It is not often anymore that people think of and see the small things in life. This world needs more people like you!

    Reply
  33. brennie143 - May 24, 2020 5:38 pm

    I never know if I will laugh or cry when I read your post. Today, I’m crying.

    Reply
  34. Melanie - May 24, 2020 5:46 pm

    😭😭😭😭Rest in Peace sweet Harold. 😭😭😭Many years ago on a trip back home to Dothan once pulled over on I10 to help a snapping turtle make it to the side of the road. My mom was with me and was dumbfounded and amused at her middle aged child doing such a peculiar thing. I think you are wonderful Sean. ❤️

    Reply
  35. Marlo Kirkpatrick - May 24, 2020 6:29 pm

    This hurt my heart. I am an animal lover – doesn’t matter the species. I understand why the loss of Harold touched you so deeply. I’m glad you came back to give him the proper send off he deserved. I am sure he considered you a friend.

    Reply
  36. MAM - May 24, 2020 6:48 pm

    I am so sorry for your loss. Harold was your long-time friend and you’ll miss him. Maybe his son or daughter will start watching for you on the side of the road. Our 11-year-old dog is nearing the end of her life, and I’ve mourned every dog I’ve ever lost, from the very first one we had had for at least 12 years. I was in high school when Skippy got hit and killed by one of our teenage neighbors, who did stop and apologize. I had a test the next morning and when I arrived in class with my red puffy eyes, and told my teacher I hadn’t slept much and hadn’t had time to study, she actually let me take the test a few days later. She was a dog lover, too.

    Reply
  37. Anne - May 24, 2020 7:42 pm

    Breaks my heart! Thankful you gave him a proper burial…you’re a good man.

    Reply
  38. Linda Jo - May 24, 2020 10:32 pm

    Your kindness and caring (for all) has no end.

    Reply
  39. Martha Barnett - May 25, 2020 1:20 pm

    😢🥰Thank you.

    Reply
  40. Chasity Davis Ritter - May 25, 2020 10:14 pm

    I cried for you and for Harold while reading this. I hope he went fast. I hope it didn’t hurt too long. I hate that it happened at all. I’m glad you said words to over him. I believe in the place called the Rainbow bridge where animals go when they die. I can’t wait to visit when I get up there. Maybe Ellie May will find Harold and keep him company until the day you get to visit your friends and loved ones again too. I’m still sorry for your loss, Sean. It’s hard to lose a friend…. how ever many legs they have. Rest Easy Harold.

    Reply
  41. Dru Brown - May 25, 2020 11:32 pm

    I have an eastern box turtle in the backyard. Her name is Tillie. Last summer she trained me to call her name, then offer her clean water, cherry tomatoes, strawberries, corn, and little bits of fish. I hope she survives me and lives out her possible 100 years. I am very sorry Harold has gone on, but he must have kept his guardian angels really busy. They probably decided to just take him to the safest place. You know where that is. Take care.

    Reply
  42. cronkitesue - May 26, 2020 12:28 am

    I’m sure He’s watching over Harold. He also saw whoever squashed Harold.

    Reply
  43. Allen Berry (PhDude) - May 26, 2020 3:36 am

    I’m sorry, bud. Old friends are irreplaceable. There is no rhyme or reason that I can determine as regards those the world takes far too soon. The best we can do is honor the ones we can and know that every life matters.

    You honored one of God’s most humble creatures, and gave him a dignity and honor in death that most critters don’t get. He was seen. He was loved. He had a friend… and you made his life known. Made it matter to all of us. Then you returned him to his home. That is an honor few receive.

    Rest In Peace, Harold. God bless you, Sean.

    Reply
  44. Keloth Anne - May 26, 2020 12:23 pm

    I love your tender heart and compassion 🥰🥰. Blessings ♥️♥️

    Reply
  45. Jenny the Pirate - May 26, 2020 3:41 pm

    Today you’ve made me both laugh and cry. And it’s not even noon. Thanks for that.

    Reply
  46. Dawn A Bratcher - July 5, 2020 3:56 am

    I just don’t understand people who can’t keep their eyes on the road, or who deliberately hit God’s creatures! My heart grieves for all of those that I see dead in the road. Thank you for taking care of Harold.

    Reply

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