The largest of the turtles has teal blue eyes and a shell that is teal and magenta. Like the other two in the fetching herd he is made of straw, the bright and whimsical work of young artisans in Santa Cruz, Bolivia.
The turtles are baskets, really, with shells that are tight-fitting lids. They were chosen by a friend during a recent sojourn to South America.
"For your garden room," she said, planting the turtles in my hand. And so the zoo grows, as small creatures from around the world traipse into my home.
I am charmed by birds and animals that have been transformed into baskets and weaving, carvings and ceramics. I am smitten by the spunk and originality of native crafts.
My menagerie includes dot-and-dash Guatemalan roosters that are woven into fringed napkins of bronze and olive, and a speckled gray pottery dove from Mexico. A beached soapstone seal from Alaska bears the primitive markings of a child carver who scratched the name Nowya on its belly.
On a shelf in my bedroom is a pensive bird of cherry wood--it could be a wren--which I found near the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina. Not far away are tiny woodblock puzzles; one is a whale from Nantucket, and another a Swiss cow with a smirk.
More costly animal treasures include a green jade duck of Chinese beginnings and an antique ivory elephant that belonged to my grandmother years before "endangered" was a household word. Each time I walk by their cabinet I remember that woman and her wondrous tales of travel.
I had a teddy bear as a child, but not one I loved any more than a small brown bear that was my birthday present in Rhode Island five years ago. He sports a red-and-white T-shirt that says "Greetings from Newport"; when I hug him I am enveloped in flashbacks of bonny days on a cruise between Manhattan and Montreal.
From Harrods in London I carried home their own classic bear, with a neck ribbon of telltale Harrods green, as a surprise for a 2-year-old pal in San Rafael.
Doves of Peace
At the Kosta crystal factory in the birch woods of southern Sweden I chose limpid glass doves as gifts for teen-age goddaughters. One of these birds of peace nests as a paperweight on a desk that's a battleground of notes. In my own office is a letter opener topped by a slim-carved giraffe from Kenya.
Tree-of-life wall hangings from Cairo and gaudier stitcheries from Greece have traveled, rolled and tied, in the bottom of my suitcase. They unfold, like origami cutouts from Japan, to become butterflies or egrets or mythological beasts.
I know people whose collections are narrow and deep; they specialize in snails or frogs or cats. My animals were picked up on impulse, often from street stands or flea markets. The population constantly shifts as I share souvenirs with friends.
Still, I have been warned that when my ship comes in, it had better be an ark.