Saturday, September 16, 2006

Two Little, Too Late

Are you an animal killer? No matter how green you may consider yourself, even if you’re a card-carrying member of PETA, if you drive a car, you kill wildlife. Get used to it.

I was cycling down Moose Hill Parkway from another wonderful Saturday morning in the woods (A post about that part of my day resides, at this point, only in my notebook and mind.) when, on a lower stretch of the road near the swamp where I searched for my thrush this spring (Dreams and Reality, June 2, 2006), I happened to spot a black spot on the road. Just as it registered in my mind what it was, I saw another. Now sure, I slowed and turned back, saddened by what I saw. On the road, squished to varying degrees of unrecognizability were baby snapping turtles.

Clearly, a female had climbed out of the swamp this spring, made it across the road and laid her eggs in the sandy slope above the street. Now, the eggs were hatching. As I counted the remains of five or six tiny terrors with their serrated tails, little shells and big heads, some leaving little spots of blood, I saw one, and then another live turtle! I quickly picked them up. Before I moved them off the road and down the slope to the edge of the swamp, I remembered I had one of these new-fangled portable telephones with a camera built right into it! I held the two little survivors in my hand and snapped a picture, wondering if one of them might try to cross this same road 50 years from now, when my own babies are old.

It’s no surprise that so many had died. They are so small; not much bigger than a quarter. Their gray shells are exactly the color of the pavement. Even on my bike, I barely saw them. Even careful, considerate drivers would smash them under their wheels without the slightest hint of the carnage below. I drove over this exact spot just yesterday. Did I kill snapping turtles along with the frogs that died with them?

As I climbed on my bike to continue riding home, I remembered another snapper I had seen. In mid-June I stopped traffic on a local street to pick up a medium-large snapping turtle heading back to a pond, I assume, after laying her eggs. I am happy to report that the drivers who had to wait didn't seem to mind at all. This snapper had a shell about 14" long and I grabbed her by the back edge of the shell with two hands. She was so intent on getting across the street and back to the pond that she never even looked back at me. She must have thought she was morphing into a bird as I picked her up and carried her right in the direction she was pointing.

Before going home, I rode across town to check that spot. Sure enough, I saw three or four reptilian grease spots, along with a dead garter snake, its hind quarter crushed into the asphalt. I wondered how long its head had lived as its tail was dying.

Later in the afternoon, on a bike ride with my wife through a neighboring town, I found another baby snapper in the road. It was intact but showed little or no sign of life. I placed it at the edge of a pond, just in case.

Even those of us who love wild places and wild creatures, unwillingly or unknowingly, take our own toll. From the cars we drive, to the food we eat, to the houses we live in, we have an impact. I may have saved two little turtles today, but I was too late for the others. Ironically, I may have killed them myself. We may hope to tread gently, but tread we do.

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At 2:21 AM, Blogger LauraHinNJ said...

Is this the first ever picture on Moose Hill Journal?

I'm surprised that snapping turtles hatch this late. A few guys at work saved some baby snappers from a similar fate a week or so ago one morning on our way in to work. I only knew they were snappers by their very long tails - so cute, as turtles go.

Glad you were there and able to help along those two. Sad about the others.

At 12:47 PM, Blogger robin andrea said...

I think a lot of people walk and drive so overwhelmed in their own lives that they are unconscious of the world around them and their impact on it. Being alert, having free attention enables us to see both the beauty and the sadness in the world. We may try to tread lightly, but we still tread.

At 4:25 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You may not have saved ALL the baby snapping turtles, but to those two, it meant the world.

At 9:50 PM, Blogger MojoMan said...

Yes, Laura, with the exception of a photo of Earthrise I stole from NASA, this is a first. I've tried taking a few photos with my son's digital camera, but I've learned it's not as easy as talented people like you make it seem.

Robin Andrea, some prople try to keep their eyes open and I've found a number of them right here in this little sliver of the blogosphere, thanks in no small part to you and your readers. Thank you.

Anonymous: I've always loved baby turtles, but especially since my lovely little daughter had a baby painted turtle one year. She took good care of it all summer, but agreed it should be set free before the weather turned cold. We took it to a local pond and we both cried as we watched it swim away.

At 12:21 AM, Blogger Wenda said...

Lovely story, despite the tragedies. I've never seen a real snapping turtle. Wish I could see those ones in your hand a little better. But I guess that's the point, isn't it?


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