Wednesday, May 5, 2010

A Tale of One Turtle

So, my column is now being published in the local paper, The Observer. They are not yet on-line so I'll be publishing my column here.

Good things happened on Earth Day this year. We wore green, made promises, and planted trees. It's all lovely, but I worry that something's missing.

On Earth Day, I tend to think about turtles. I don't know a lot about turtles. But one spring day, about a decade ago, I learned a few important things.

I was teaching in Mount Forest, Ontario. On this particular day, I headed home along the country roads towards Kincardine. I came up over a hill only to be greeted by a horrific sight. A dozen turtle carcasses littered the road ahead. A metaphor for nature's struggle against humans, their instinct had urged them to cross. In what I assume was an effort to lay eggs for the next generation, they had been killed by truck drivers, farmers, and commuters like me.

Cringing from the gore, I almost missed her, but out of the corner of my eye, I saw movement. One was still alive. I pulled onto the shoulder to watch.

The turtle put one foot in front of the other, answering her primal call to keep moving. I heard the rumble of a transport truck in the distance and braced myself as it advanced. The truck passed and I opened my eyes to see that the turtle--having retreated into her shell--had survived. Her vulnerability nauseated me.

Like I said, I didn't know a lot about turtles. So it didn't seem that outlandish to proceed to the middle of the highway, pick the turtle up, and carry her to her desired egg-laying destination. In those days, I'd been watching a lot of Crocodile Hunter...

I dashed out to the centre of the road. The turtle was about the diameter of a hub cap. I hadn't realized how slimey a swamp-dwelling creature would be until I was up close. Green algae clung to her shell.

Dodging greasy turtle guts, I ran back to the car for something to lay over the turtle so I could pick her up. All I could find was my new coat. I'll wash it, I thought as I nobly grabbed my latest purchase. Anything to save such a dignified creature.

By the time I returned, the turtle had emerged from her shell to proceed at her slow, but determined, pace. I laid the coat over her back, causing her to pause.
Before I reached down to lift her, I heard Steve Irwin's voice in my mind. "Crickey...she's a beauty." If he could pick up a venomous cobra, I could surely carry a friendly little turtle...

It's important to note here that given my lack of turtle knowledge, I certainly didn't know what species I'd approached. More importantly, I didn't know how to identify the snapping variety.

I placed my hands on either side of her shell and lifted the creature a few inches off the ground. When her long neck shot toward me and jaws clamped shut so close to my hand, I felt a rush of air, I jumped half-way into the other lane. I was lucky no other cars were coming or I would have joined the road kill.

I ran back to my car and fell into the driver's seat. After confirming the presence of all of my digits, I rested my forehead on the steering wheel to catch my breath.

Fine little Miss Turtle, I thought. Get squished by a transport. See if I try to help you again.

I looked back to the centre of the road. The turtle continued her journey. There was only one problem. My coat still lay on her back.

Grabbing a stick from the ditch, I crept up behind the turtle. I retrieved my coat and returned to the car once again.

Despite her rude response to my Good Samaritan attempt, I couldn't leave her there alone. I decided bear witness to her plight. Whether her story ended in triumph or tragedy, I would remain.

Minutes passed. Vehicles passed. But nothing hit her.

She made it. She made it to the other side.

And on Earth Day, I think about the importance of spending time in nature. We must realize how small we are in comparison to her wonders. Like my encounter with the snapping turtle, we must witness nature's struggle to understand our role in her destruction. Before we can change, we have to care.


  1. I did not see your post in the observer! what gives??did I miss it? I was dissapointed. I love your column!

  2. They missed publishing this week. That's why I put it on this site. I was disappointed because it was for Mother's Day but I edited it for this week. It should be in!

    You could always let the editor of The Observer know you like my column ;-)