A solitary leaf floats down through the sky, falling from a large oak tree. Its reddy gold colour makes a sharp contrast on the pond, the only red in a wash of blue. If this were a movie the cameraman would follow the leaf until it landed and then zoom out to reveal the soft ripples on the pond, the sides of the water and eventually the rest of the clearing. Except this is not a movie and those things don’t happen, the leaf just falls onto the pond.
A small turtle sits by the edge of the pond, sunning himself on a grey rock. His eyes are half open, watching for other animals invading his little pond. If this were a children’s book the turtle would have a nice name like Martin. Martin would have many adventures with other woodland creatures and learn valuable lessons about sharing and generosity. But this is not a children’s book and the turtle is just a turtle who’s lying on a rock hoping he doesn’t get eaten by an eagle.
If this was a nature documentary an eagle would be soaring overhead, watching out for small turtles who may or may not be named Martin. The eagle would do a sort of eagle cry and then do an eagle dive, snatching the turtle in its talons while someone narrating told you how big the talons were. The narrator would point out the turtle’s natural defensive shell and how the eagle has learned to drop the turtle from great heights to break the shell and get at the turtle. Yet again, this is not a nature documentary and there is no eagle or narrator.
If you asked a philosopher about the turtle and what it meant to be a turtle he would take a while to respond. Nobody really knows what it is like to be a turtle. The philosopher might conduct extensive research on the subject – living like a turtle in a pond, eating small bugs and plants and sunning himself on rocks while watching out for eagles. He could ponder the social understanding of the turtle, delve into a study on why so many people expect turtles to be named Martin. Maybe the philosopher would get distracted and instead ponder a red leaf on a blue pond. But none of these things will ever happen, because nobody cares about turtles and nobody cares about red leaves on blue ponds.
There’s a turtle on a rock and a leaf on a pond. The story could have ended there and it wouldn’t have made a difference. One slightly descriptive sentence is all it needed. The leaf isn’t the start to a movie, the turtle isn’t named Martin and there is no eagle. There was never even a narrator.