buster0828I thought we’d lost her yesterday: Buster, our Russian tortoise. Lately on weekends I’ve been taking her out of the self-contained hutch we built in 2007 and letting her have what we call the “pumpkin patch,” a roughly 10′ x 4′ section of the backyard normally reserved during this time of year for any would-be jack o’ lanterns I attempt to grow.

With its perimeter built up with river rocks and bricks, the patch has proven to contain Buster pretty well, thanks to me paying close attention to the weakest exit points that she inevitably and incessantly will exploit and then strengthening them in some manner… maybe with a repositioned river rock or some stakes driven into the dirt that she can’t defeat.

At dusk last night, when it came time to move her back from the patch into her hutch, she was gone. I asked Susan if she’d returned her, and she said no. I wondered if perhaps one of our kitchen renovation workers, not knowing the exploratory nature of tortoises had seen Buster trying to escape and helped her over the barrier figuring “How far can a tortoise go?” That’s a typical rhetorical people ask themselves and the answer is “Far enough that you may never see them again.”

I’m serious. They can get themselves under some foliage, dig down into the soft earth and even though they’re theoretically under your nose, they’re just as completely GONE as if they’d managed to crawl all the way to Kern County.

My first thought was one of relief because I was pretty sure she was at least somewhere in the backyard as there weren’t any readily accessible escape routes out of it. But compounding matters and fears, said workers had left the backyard gate nearest the patch open during their time here, meaning that if Buster either escaped on her own or was assisted, she was only about 15 feet and one low step away from getting beyond the backyard into the north side yard, with its thick growth offering plenty of places to hunker down over night before setting out for Kern County in the morning.

So time was pretty much of the essence, and with the daylight failing Susan and I got busy. I stuck to the backyard and north side of the house while Susan went all the way down to the street and down the block.

You think that’s silly? Then check out my account below of an escape she made back in 2004. The use of “Miracle” in the headline is NOT an exaggeration.

Long story cut short: There was much rejoicing and relief when I found Buster still in the backyard, instead of going out the open gate she made a left and crawled under the potting table among a half-dozen or so brown widow spiders, wedging herself against the outside of the kitchen wall.

Maybe she was interested in the renovation’s progress.