Friday, November 18, 2011

The Power of Music and a Suspectedly Irish Tortoise

Growing up in rural Alabama, there was an abundance of wildlife. One could see foxes, raccoons, possums, deer, and all kinds of birds. I still remember the startling effect of walking along the road or through the woods and coming upon a covey of quail. All was quiet, with no visible indicators of the well-camouflaged fowl until you came right up on them. Then they would suddenly rise to the sky with a chorus of shouts.

We also had box turtles in the woodland area where I grew up. There was a subspecies of the common box turtle which was brown in color and quite docile in nature. They made good pets and would thrive on earthworms, crawfish, and berries that we would collect to feed our hard shelled guests. Then there was the eastern box turtle which were dark – almost black in color – with yellow speckles. It was perhaps more attractive or dramatic in appearance, but was also less amenable to captivity. Eastern box turtles might snap, and they were much more reluctant to come out of their shell in the presence of humans.

There was this one time when my little brother had come upon an eastern box turtle, or maybe it was our Dad who found the critter in the garden. At any rate, the creature was brought home to keep as a pet.  This turtle, true to his nature, did not like to be handled and would stay closed up in his shell for a span of time in which any dog or little boy would ordinarily lose interest and go on their way. Probably a great survival strategy.

One day my little brother came into the house and announced that he thought his turtle was from Ireland. Why did he think the turtle was from Ireland, you may ask, as did I. “Because,” my brother explained, “You know how he doesn’t like to come out of his shell? Well, I discovered that if you sing ‘My Wild Irish Rose’ he will come right on out of his shell and walk around.”

[I may need to throw in a side bar here to explain why my brother was out singing My Wild Irish Rose to a turtle. This was when Mitch Miller had a popular TV show, “Sing Along with Mitch.” Mitch had his orchestra and an all male chorus that would gleefully sing songs from the Great American Songbook, mostly songs that harked back to the romantic nostalgia of the Gay Nineties.  For younger readers, "Gay Nineties" refers to the 1890s – a period in American history which was noted for being a brief respite of prosperity and celebration that was then halted by World War I (much like the “roaring twenties” was stopped by the Great Depression). Our Dad had bought an LP of Sing-Along-with-Mitch on which ‘My Wild Irish Rose’ was one of the numbers.]

But I digress. I have to say that, being the older brother, I was skeptical of my brother's story about his turtle coming from Ireland. “Well come on out and I’ll show you!” my brother said. We went out, he took the turtle and placed him under a tree where the creature remained firmly ensconced in his shell. Then my brother began singing ‘My Wild Irish Rose,’ and sure enough, the turtle poked his head out and then began to walk around the yard.

I must say that I was impressed. My brother and I even began to speculate as to how that box turtle might have gotten here all the way from Ireland.  It is, of course, funny to look back on it, recalling the imagination, assumptions and speculations of children. The incident does beg the question, however, of the power of music.  What was it that we experienced? Was it the influence of melody, the result of certain tonic vibrations, or just plain coincidence? 

And Just in case you haven't heard Mitch Miller and the Gang, or 'My Wild Irish Rose,' her it is on You Tube:

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