In the year and a half that we’ve had him, our rescued native (Sonoran) desert tortoise has brought bottomless love and joy to our lives. I never would have imagined that I could bond with a tortoise, but here we are.
How it happened was simple: Geronimo joined us when a friend said he had a desert tortoise who needed a home.
We love animals. We have a large yard that’s geographically and botanically diverse in all the right ways for a native tortoise. How could we not take him in? Callaghan brought him home, and I completed an official adoption procedure through the Arizona Game and Fish Department’s Tortoise Rescue Adoption program. Geronimo has since taken complete ownership of our yard, which is now his yard and which he patrols on the regular.
We got Geronimo during hibernation season, and we didn’t know the first thing about tortoises, much less non-hibernating tortoises. Our crash course came courtesy of his doctor, the coordinator of the tortoise adoption program, and the internet. None of those resources could teach us about our particular kid and his personality, though. He taught us about himself over time. In tortoise time, that would be overnight.
We had to keep him warm in the house the first two+ months; it was like baby-sitting a toddler 24/7. We turned our entire dining room into a pen for his winter home, and so we learned that desert tortoises are climbers. It was all of the toddler clichés: he got into everything; I couldn’t turn my back on him for a second; he peed on me; he was a picky eater (until we learned what foods he loved); I was exhausted trying to watch him all the time; I’d sit down to work on my novel and then immediately have to spring up at the sound of something crashing to the floor. Every day was an adventure in keeping Geronimo safe and out of home-destroying trouble.
At sundown, we fluffed up the hay in his big wooden crate and tucked him into bed. We melted as we watched him gather up the hay and snuggle against the rolled-up towel we’d given him.
We learned that Geronimo is rambunctious, loving, gentle, and hilarious.
At 21 years old, he’s just a baby!
All we had to do in the yard was construct his burrow. Geronimo did the rest. We didn’t know that he would dig himself an underground burrow at the back of the burrow we made for him. So many moments of alarm and is this normal? Is he going to be okay?
Geronimo’s favorite things: Romaine lettuce and fresh hibiscus flowers. Our outdoor laundry room. Summer rainstorms during monsoon season. Us, and people in general.
Above all, Geronimo is ancient desert magic… he has an instantly calming effect on everyone who meets him. He is a true son of the Sonoran desert, and we feel privileged to be able to care for him for the state. Arizona celebrates you, kid!