I’ve never seen a race staged between a tortoise and a turtle, but predicting the winner would be a hairy guess. Turtles, sleek & streamlined, are graceful swimmers, but on land they’re fumbling as any fish, penguin, or walrus out of water. Stuck midway into an overland crossing, turtles might as well be tortoises – durable as a slow-paced distance runner, yes, but plodding all the same compared to the speed racers.
Snapping turtles are destination oriented, purpose oriented, and you can give them credit for their determination to reach a soft bank in which to deposit their eggs. Still, they’re oblivious to the dangers of traffic (and how could it be otherwise, since these turtles, mature at four to seven years, are only about twenty generations into the advent of motor vehicles). The haphazard squish, the accidental flattening, are detrimental to the population, but the survivors of each migration would count among themselves the nocturnal (less traffic), the quick (less time playing chicken across the road), and the merely fortunate. In another few thousand generations, long past our turn at plodding on this earth, snappers may become primarily nocturnal and/or more fleet on four feet. Or luckier. Luck seems a Lamarkian inheritance, specious at best, or the result of intentional nurturing rather than nature, that blood red palimpsest clawed through by every generation of every living thing as they seek their own survival and their progeny’s. Fortune favors the prepared and any added knack for survival passed along genetically favors the survivor’s offspring, potentially multiplying when two of the next generation find each other darling and, shall we say, combine their talents, laying on a soft bank or in sweet waters. Maybe luck is heritable. I hope so, because you’ll note I said ‘or luckier’ not ‘and luckier.’ It might be the supremely otherwise unfit – the diurnal dawdlers – which are the only turtles being rescued on roads, at least by our family.
In the photo above, Drake carefully transports a snapper, aware of the claws, but entirely wary of the beak and those finger-severing jaws. The one fast thing on a landbound snapper is their lunging neck faced with a sharp-edged maw. Snappers snap! Drake is especially kind to these creatures, refusing to hoist them safely by the tail. I use the tail as a handle, figuring that a) a sore tail, if it winds up sore, is a modest injury compared to being turned into a lumpy roadway Rorschach blot by a passing semi, and b) if I lose a finger to a turtle by using a less convenient handle, I’ll be less likely to venture out onto the road to save more. As I might mutter to a turtle swinging from my grasp, “Getting your ass saved might be a pain in the tail, but it’s the better option.”
The non-interventionist naturalists among you might argue: let it be, let it be. But these words of wisdom can lead to being broken hearted. Viz:
See, there are demons worse than even the merely oblivious, the unintentional tire rolled by unintentional drivers. There are speed racers who go-go, going for points, and slow turtles, if you slow them down entirely, are apparently worth points, precisely ten points. I’m not sure who is keeping score. As I was pulling a live one up off the road this week a young man zipped around me, hollering: Yeah, yeah – turtle – ten points! Do kids at school brag about smashing turtles? Did he think I was peeling up one I’d hit? Or did I earn my ten points for this small act of salvage?
Our local young demons on wheels could take a lesson from the old cartoon. When Speed Racer broke the laws, he did it for good purposes. Good purposes does not mean foolish purposes. For Pete’s sake, and the Pete I knew was a good but strange man who would have appreciated turtle rescue more than turtle maiming or munching, do not risk your life saving turtles. Do not stop your car on a sometimes busy road with a 45 MPH speed limit, flashers flashing. Do not get out of the paused car, then scramble around on the road, hunched over, to grab an angry turtle by the tail. You are just as likely to be squished as the turtle, and that’s a dumb way to die. Park safely. Use a vaudeville hook to yank the turtle off the road. All the world may be a stage, but if you play in the road, expect to die. Don’t. Be safe, stay safe.
Today we rescued another (lucky?) snapping turtle. In my photos it’s ‘Snapper Two’ even though it’s really snapper-the-umpteenth. It’s just the second snapper I bothered to shoot since I started shooting them this week. If we were hungrier, we might shoot them with a .22, but not now, not in their season of love. My love of snapper soup is strong, but around here, and around now (early May), the kids and I rescue the snappers because the snappers are only on the road needing rescue since they’re twitterpated or already loaded up with eggs and in search of a nesting site. These are the turtles we need to protect if we want turtles to remain plentiful, if we want baby snappers in our bog, our pond, our stream…in our county and in our state.
Here’s a baby from a previous year, caught right here in our yard.
And here’s Snapper Two, a potential momma to more.
Admittedly, this is not the smile of happy snapper. It’s trying to bite me. Can’t blame it…who am I to it but a larger predator. Not today though. This one landed in the bog behind our house.
Photo Credits: Drake leapt from my SUV onto the side of the road and took a series of several dozen photos of the Flat Snapper while I drove to the Post Office, turned around, and returned for him. He was under strict orders not to die on the side of the road while snapping a roadkill snapper. Drake lived.
Vinyl Note: I don’t know why, but it hadn’t occurred to me, until Djano was plucking at Daphne, to start sharing a record of my records. There’s almost no reason I grab this album or that…could be what showed up in today’s mail; could be the master class, i.e., the original recording, for whatever Drake is playing at on his Gibson; could be a band we’ve discussed over lunch; maybe I wake up with a tune in my head, an earworm burrowing out toward the surface of consciousness like a seventeen-year cicada larva striving for the sun; could be the first thin jacket my fingers landed on in the stacks – call that audiomancy – listening for clues. Today it’s a string of three red vinyl albums, Django Reinhardt’s Gypsy Jazz. Reminds me a tad of the soundtrack to The English Patient and that reminds me I’ve been forgetting to buy an album with the Wang-Wang Blues. I overhead Django spilling out of Drake’s earbuds when he walked into the kitchen for lunch a few days ago; I asked, who?; Drake raved about this old guy with a mangled hand (and he showed me a picture of Django’s hand, two fingers functional, and scarred by fire) who could play the jazz guitar like it was nobody’s business except his own. And he sported a pencil thin mustache!
5/25/19 – Update
This afternoon S was out for a run and, coming back up the hill toward our house, she glanced down to see a teeny turtle crossing the white line, motoring out into the road. She scooped the little turtle up and cupped it in her hands until she was safely home.
“Russ, look what I found!”…excited as little kid, she opened her hands to reveal a baby painted turtle still on the march, scrambling forward as she kept cycling one hand in front of the other so it had somewhere to tread besides off into the abyss of my office.
And after everyone around the house had done their oohing and aahing, we released him (or, just as likely, her) into our little frog pond after a few snaps on a mossy stone near the bank.