Originally published in the March 6 and 7 entries of my 2004 blog

Well, if you’re still reading this and waiting for the miracle I promised you, here it is — and Susan can vouch for its authenticity.

Home from Old Navy with a stop at Tacos Mexico on Beverly for some excellent burritos to go, I turned left off of Santa Monica onto Myra then beared left to continue up Hoover to Del Mar Avenue where I made a right to go to my apartment building.

Let me just say, a couple things that would have destroyed this miracle right here:

If I’d continued up Myra to Del Mar and made a left onto Del Mar to get to my building.

If I’d been even a few seconds earlier or later in arriving at that exact moment after completing the right turn onto Del Mar.

Here’s why. Because in completing that right turn, I slowed to allow a teenaged boy to cross Del Mar with his dog, which allowed me look at his buddy who was in my apartment building’s driveway and ready to cross the street as well. And then I saw something moving in his hands.

And that something was a tortoise.

And that tortoise looked remarkably like my Russian tortoise Buster.

That’s because it was my tortoise Buster!

Now my first thought was “that kid stole my tortoise!” but rather than accuse him of anything, I jerked to a complete stop and asked him where he got it, and he approached my truck.

“I found it right here crawling on the driveway.”

“You did?”

“Yeah!”

“That’s my tortoise,” I said, reaching for it and the boy handed it to me. “Thank you so much!”

“OK, here,” he replied, and I asked Susan to hold her (I named her Buster before I found out he was a she) as I pulled into the driveway already in shock at comprehending all the things that had to go right to reunite tortoise to guardian.

But you see what I mean about a delay of a few seconds, or if I hadn’t taken the route I did to get to my building?

If there was a hall of fame for perfect timing, this would get voted in unanimous on its first eligible ballot.

A quick backstory point: I’ve grown accustomed to allowing Buster free range of the apartment, but up until today (and always from now on) I had always made it a habit to put her in her tank when I was heading out for any length of time. My logic was that even though the cats exhibited no aggression toward Buster while I was in the vicinity, I couldn’t be certain they would be on their best behavior while I was away.

Cats will be cats after all.

But when Susan and I left for the Convention Center earlier in the afternoon, Buster was kicking back out on the balcony, there was some food for her just inside the door if she wanted i… soooo why not leave her be?

And so I bit the bullet and did just that.

A word about Buster and heights. I’ve had Buster more than two years now and she’s always shown the utmost respect for any kind of drop off. Be it the edge of a bed or a coffee table or a brick wall, Buster has always steered clear of getting too close. I’ve been in this apartment almost a year and on the many number of times Buster’s been out on the balcony I’d watch her move close to the end, but once she got to a certain point where she could see there was no more surface to walk on, she never proceeded further. She always left an inch or two between her and the great beyond.

So it will forever be a mystery as to what put Buster over the balcony. Whether it was a sudden interest in what lay out there? Or a sudden push from one of the cats? I will never know.

But how did Buster survive the fall is as big a miracle as the timing of my turn onto Del Mar. Bigger even.

I would guess that from my balcony all the way down to the ground is a good 15 feet. Had Buster dropped all that way to the concrete landing, I don’t care how tough a tortoise you are, there’d be some damage at least — a chipped or cracked shell at the luckiest, but with nothing to cushion a 15 foot freefall, a crushed or broken limb or death would be far more likely.

There wasn’t so much as a scratch on her.

So what happened? One absolute mini-miracle after another (indicated as m1, m2). As best as I can figure, once past the point of no return, Buster did not fall at all out (m1) so much as straight down (m2). And about three or four feet below my balcony floor are these wrought iron rails spaced about six-inches apart that are curved outward at the top and extend about a foot(m3). My theory is that Buster landed on these extensions while falling somewhat parallel to the ground (m4; falling perpendicular to the ground she would have moved right between them) and slid down them without slipping through (m5), coming to rest between them and the other upright metal rails that enclose the garage area (m6). I then offer that at some point either immediately or after struggling to manuever she did fall three feet onto the floor of the garage rather than 8 more feet or so to the concrete walkway outside (m7).

If that whole “falling into the garage” theory seems too hard to swallow I offer this alternative If she had fallen all the way to the concrete, and had unbelievably sustained no injuries whatsoever, there’s no easy way for a tortoise to get to the driveway in front of the building where she’d been found by the boy. Further, why would she want to go crawl along cold cement all the way around a building when there’s a lush bed of inviting ivy only a few feet away that she could climb into and dig in the dirt and probably never be seen by me again? Just trying to cover all the bases.

So now she’s in the garage. For how long? Long enough to right herself if she had to, pull herself together and get on with her life. My guess is she oriented herself to her newfound surroundings and then instinctively headed toward where the light was coming from, in this case through the second-level garage entrance. So now she’s venturing across a dangerous and cold landscape of poured concrete and oil stains where huge four-footed metal beasts move about with no regard for tortoises or other creatures they might trample beneath them, unharmed (m8) and unseen (m9) by anyone in the building who might have brought it up to their apartment to keep or taken it to an animal shelter or to sell to a pet shop.

Finally, it was a matter of crawling through the garage door gate and out into the sunlight (m10) where a teenager happened upon it, picked it up and were preparing to take it with him when instead he’s handing it over to some guy in a white pick-up truck with his girfriend who had just made a right turn in front of him (m11) and asked him “Where’d you get that tortoise?”

And now the aftermath. Buster’s safely in her tank and crashed out hard — she’s had a really rough day. I looked her over thoroughly and barring any internal injuries, found all appendages are in perfect working order and there’s not so much as a scrape on her beautiful shell.

It’s like it never happened. Like this was all a dream. But it did happen, and as I deathlessly explained above, all sorts of events conspired to make this evening one filled with relief and calm rather than one filled with the inconsolable grief that I would be roiling in right now had my inexcusable carelessness led to her disappearance.

And man am I thankful, but it’s funny. I’ve lost so much in my life that when I’m given something back I almost wonder what went wrong. I’ve grown so accustomed to things going bad that when they go good I feel strangely unworthy. And when they go so laser beam good as this it’s more than a little frightening — it’s as if I’m just waiting for the cosmic rug to shift under my feet and I’ll wake up and instead of bearing left onto Hoover, I’ll head up Myra to make a left onto Del Mar and never see the two kids walking away from my building, one with my Buster.

— • —

From the March 7 entry of my 2004 blog

Further to the Buster miracle of yesterday. I must amend my adamance against the theory that Buster didn’t fall from the balcony all the way to the ground. My argument was based on the assertion that if she had, there was no way to exit the north side of the property. Upon further examination, I believe there’s enough clearance under the perimeter door for her to slip through and then make her way over to the driveway.

But beyond that I still contend that a fall to the concrete walkway from a height that great (looks to be more like 15 feet) would be devastating to a tortoise.

balcony.jpgSo here’s what I surmise might be a more viable theory as to the fall causing no injury: Buster’s drop was still interupted by the bar extensions (visible in the picture at right) the tips of which are situated about two feet below the balcony floor. But instead of the bars funneling her back into the building, I think Buster might have been far enough out at the beginning of her drop to have doinked on them just well enough to extend her trajectory away from the building and and into the ivy bed, which would then easily cushion the impact of the landing.

Then it was just a matter of righting herself if she landed upside down and climbing out to the walkway, then making her way west to the corner of the building and then south to the gate and out onto the street.

No less a miracle.