Beware of Turtle
by Jessica Shenefield
first published in Crunchy Carolina, June 2008
I have a soft spot for turtles. Though I recognize that it’s based purely upon influence, I like to joke that it’s hereditary. My mother had red-ear sliders from childhood till college. My sister has had a chinese box turtle since 1989. We were stewards of four precious young desert tortoises in the early 90's due to an over-breeding at a wildlife center. Turtles, lizards, and snakes—oh my! I have an affectionate fascination with all of them—and I’m passing it on to the next generation.
For years now I’ve been encouraging my children to stop and smell the flowers, watch the ants, observe a spider, contemplate a wasp and photograph a butterfly. I point out vistas, pastures, yards, gardens, trees, hawks, vultures and livestock as we travel about on errands and road trips. I teach them to observe the wildlife but not harass it; including the vegetation. They are great about letting me know when they’ve happened upon something nifty and taking me to it for discussing, identifying and recording.
My husband, on the other hand, will collect it and bring it to me. Such was the case with Snappy.
One sunny Sunday afternoon in April my dear husband was standing in the doorway of our outbuilding when, marching across the driveway in front of him—at its full one-inch of height—was a hatchling turtle with a tail twice as long as its body. Being fully aware of my turtle amore' he plucked it up and brought it inside for identification as he’d never seen a turtle with such a long tail (we both originate from the left coast).
It was a very young common snapping turtle and we started browsing big-box stores online for a terrarium to keep it in, then opted for CraigsList to find a used one instead. Snappy didn’t have time to wait for somebody to communicate via email so we put the turtle back where he had been found…and ten minutes later discovered another terrarium, with a phone number. Scooped Snappy back up (he hadn’t gone but a couple inches in all that time) and discussed it further; finally returning him—AGAIN—to the spot in the driveway where he’d been sighted. Snappy took the cue and bolted for the direction from whence he’d come. Twice picked up, once shy?
Perhaps we’ve unintentionally ensured that he’ll not venture into the populated portion of our property in the future. In hindsight, had my dear husband been as well-trained as the kiddos, keeping Snappy would never have been an option; and I admit to being embarrassed that we’d ever considered making a pet of a wild critter—we’d resisted the temptation with other wild turtles. I suppose it was the draw of an extended science project…the ability to observe a turtle growing up and learning about their habitat more personally as we attempted to recreate it within captivity, but with wild turtles there is no returning them to the wild when you get tired of them or when they become unmanageable. Once you start keeping them you have to keep them till their end. If you try to return them to their natural habitat they most likely will not survive and they’ll be taking your germs. Call to mind the devastation on native tribes by early settlers—same story with wild critters turned pet, and later returned to the wild.
That said, I still get tickled over the mental picture of a ‘Beware of Turtle’ sign at the top of the driveway. Perhaps we’ll install one anyway, and have the satisfaction of perplexing our neighbors…as well as a conversation starter that this is not our habitat alone.
About the author:
Jessica Shenefield, LMBT (NC License #8367) is a nature-loving, four-wheeling, homeschooling mama of three.
She occasionally paints, occasionally bakes, and occasionally blogs.
When she isn’t tromping about the countryside with her kids, or providing chair massage at local farmers’ markets, she is likely on Facebook.
Find her at pauseNC.blogspot.com.