The Turtle – My Totem

My editor, Linda Hasselstrom, recently returned my manuscript with many richly helpful comments, and an intriguing one that took me on a little research journey.

In the chapter I named Ocean Waves, I included a quilt square sample to give a sense of the pattern I’ll use to make that square. As I’d searched the internet through the huge variety of Ocean Wave patterns, I found one with a turtle that caught my fancy. I copied and pasted it into the manuscript.

Linda noted, “I especially love the turtle, my totem.”

IMG_20160102_132527212 (2)

I’d heard of totems, had a vague idea what they were; now I wanted to know more.

Among a dearth of information, I found that a totem is a spirit being, sacred object, or symbol of a tribe, clan, family or individual. Native American bird and animal symbols are considered representations of the physical form of a spirit helper and guide. Further, a long list of animals and accompanying questions could help determine what my totem might be. For examples:

Are there animals that you feel drawn to in your life?
Does a particular animal often turn up in your life?
Is there a certain animal you often see in nature?

My thoughts began to flow: my many pleasant memories of hunting for turtles when I was a child, the countless times in my life I’ve stopped on a road to move a turtle across to safety, the joy I feel when I discover one in my yard, the turtles who have appeared in my writing, and the several allusions to turtles in my memoir.

Today I reflected further about how I move through my days and activities more at a turtle’s pace than of those nine deer that just leaped across my yard down by the stream. I love the slower pace since, in retirement particularly, I have the time to look more deeply at what I am seeing, to then ponder other layers of story or meaning that might be there.

This additional thought brought me to a clear conclusion: the turtle feels exactly right as my totem, that slow and steady creature with the ability to withdraw into its shell for protection when needed.
Now I wonder: do you, my reader, have a totem? If you would like to share it, I would love to hear from you.

Note: the quilt pattern above can be found at:


About Mary Jo Doig

Mary Jo Doig was the first in her family to attend college and graduated from the State University at Oneonta in New York’s Catskill Mountains with a degree in Secondary English Education/Educational Psychology. There she fell in love with rural life, remained, and eventually transitioned from city girl to country woman when she married a dairy farmer and raised their three children on their small family farm. A life-long lover of reading and writing, Mary Jo has for nearly twenty years been a member of the Story Circle Network. There she has been an editor, a women’s writing circle facilitator, a book reviewer, and life-writing enthusiast, working extensively with women writing their life-stories while writing her own memoir. Presently, she is a three-time Program Chair for SCNs national Stories from the Heart conference and a board member. She also facilitates Older Women’s Legacy workshops and a women’s life-writing circle in her area communities. Her stories have appeared in Kitchen Table Stories anthology, Story Circle Annual Anthologies, and most recently her story “I Can’t Breathe” was published in the Anthology, Inside and Out: Women’s Truths, Women’s Stories. Her work also appears in varied blogs and periodicals, on her blog Musings from a Patchwork Quilt Life (, Facebook, and Twitter. Her son and two daughters grown, Mary Jo presently treasures her country life in Virginia’s Central Shenandoah Valley. She loves cooking (and eating!) healthy food, reading, writing, quilting, hiking, and spending quality time with her rescue cats, Button and Xena, and beagle, Addie, who each dream of being only children. Her first book, Patchwork: A Memoir of Love and Loss, will be published in October, 2018 by She Writes Press.
This entry was posted in Animal friends, Childhood, Gifts, Mother Nature, Mystery, Quilts, The Writing Life. Bookmark the permalink.

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