July 11, 2003

From piscicidal maniac to patron

From piscicidal maniac to patron saint of tortoises.

Recently I seem to have seen a lot of tortoises, or Eastern Box Turtles,
to give them their proper names, crossing the road I live on. Each time
I saw one, I was thinking, Oh shit, some creep in an oversized pickup
is gonna come screaming down the road and pancake the poor sucker. So I
made a decision that, each time I saw one, I would stop and give the
little guy a hand. regardless of how late I was for work or how
desperate I was to get home to the porch and my evening latte and
Salems. After all, it's fine to feel bad for the poor creatures as you
sail past at 60mph, different altogether to take the time to stop and
do something about it. The trivial nature of my decision is not lost on
me, nor is the fact that taking a couple of minutes out to do something
as trivial as this - as a matter of principle, a kind of promise, if
you like, as opposed to a casual act of benevolence when one happens to
be in the right place at the right time with nothing better to do - is
something that the clock-driven, calendar-planned world of the 21st
century professional guy doesn't really allow for. After all, what
about that 9am meeting you're already late for?
I guess the question for me is, and always has been, which is more
trivial: the 9 o'clock meeting, or the ponderous little creature trying
to make its way across a winding, woodland road? It might have taken
that turtle 20 or 30 years to get to this point. It takes 'em a long
time to do anything! :-) The meeting, on the other hand, will be over
soon enough, will have bored the pants of every sensible person in the
room and, if it's like most meetings I've been to or heard of, will
have made very little progress, if any, on the issues it was supposed
to resolve. We all know this is what happens at meetings, we all hate
them, and yet we all indulge in the same group delusion that, somehow,
they're important - mustn't miss 'em!
As it turned out, the day after I made my decision, I was able to put
it into practice. Late for work yet again, I sped past another tortoise
crossing the road. So I slammed on the brakes, pulled the car over as
best I could (there's not really a shoulder as the woods come upto the
road on both sides) put the hazard lights on and got out. It came as no
surprise to find he was still there :-) So I picked him up, carried him
over to the side of the road he was pointed at (I know it's never a
good idea to make assumptions, but I figured, under the
circumstances...) and deposited him a few yards away from the road. The
next move was upto him - I was late for work :-)
Come to think of it, this isn't the first time I've done something like
this. A few years ago, same road, different place, I was driving home
from the store when I saw a medium-sized snapping turtle, of all
things, in the road right in front of me. This was a surprise, as it
was a good way from any water. I decided I'd better move this guy, too,
and for the same reason, despite their reputation for a nasty
disposition. This was not quite the cakewalk I had with the little box
turtle, though. This creature's shell was about 10" to a foot long (so
he wasn't huge, for a snapper), and I approached with some caution,
because the only thing I knew about snappers was a maxim I learned from
an old farmer I used to rent a house from: Once they bite, they don't
let go. Given this, I figured the best way to move him was to get him
to bite on a stick, and then drag him to safety. Talk about quick
thinking! Nothing doing: I guess the maxim was wrong. Oh, he bit OK,
but when I tried to pull, him he let go. Bugger. Plan B: get hold of
the sides of his shell from behind, hopefully far enough back that his
iron jaws couldn't reach, and pick him up.
It was at this point that I discovered how incredibly fast these
creatures are. I couldn't get behind him. I ran round to one side, and
he just spun around to face me. Back the other way, same result. So
here we were, doing this absurd dance in the middle of the road
(there's not much traffic on my road - did I mention that?), him
thinking I was gonna eat him, I guess, and me scared he was gonna sink
his gums into a soft part and not let go. So I had to stand back and
scratch my head... Of course, I tried persuasion ("Look, asshole, I'm
trying to HELP you!"), but that did about as much good as I had
suspected it would.
Finally, I adopted plan C. Something else I discovered, during our
dance, was that snappers have long tails which they don't seem to be
able to pull into their shells. I decided this was my best bet. I
jumped over him, grabbed his tail, and literally flung him into the
woods. Yeah, he may have had a hard landing, somewhere, but at least he
wasn't sandwiched between the pavement and a one and a half ton truck
Do I brake for other animals? Well, no, not really. I mean, most times,
if you hit a deer or a squirrel, it was already too late to have
avoided them and, let's face it, they're mostly quick enough to get out
the way, too fast to pick up and carry across the road, and
comparatively short-lived and numerous, too. They're not gonna go
extinct because a few of them are unlucky enough to run the wrong way
when a car comes along. Tortoises are different, though. I mean, let's
face it, what can they do when they get buzzed by a car? Tuck
themselves up in their shells and hope for the best! I once found one
when I was walking in a park, and I picked it up cos I wanted a closer
look. I was surrounded by deer flies and all sorts of other bugs, so I
ran a few yards to shake them off, tortoise in hand, then put him down
on the ground and sat down to watch. He didn't even poke his head out
for 20 minutes! So, you have a 20-year-old tortoise. It's gonna take
him, what, 5 minutes? to cross the road under ideal circumstances. And
every time he gets buzzed by a car or truck, you have to extend that
time by 20 minutes while he regains the courage to continue. The deck
is trully stacked.
They're like trees: an age in the making and so quick to destroy. So
it's worth being a couple of minutes late for that meeting, I think.
(Saw one laying it's eggs once - it was a miniature of the ocean
turtles folks cordon off beaches for. It had dug a hole in the mud,
dropped its eggs in, and was covering them again with its hind legs.
Maybe that's my point - the big ones go first, get noticed first, but
the little guys can't be far behind.)

Posted by dettifoss at July 11, 2003 09:50 PM