A few weeks ago, I tested the brakes of my car when I saw a small turtle in the road; my car has excellent brakes. My middle son, Art School, was with me, and I instructedhim to lift the turtle out of the road, keep it facing the same way, and put it down in the grass. He was surprised that the turtle scratched his hands with its desperately waving paddles, but he was more surprised than harmed. We drove to dinner with the excitement of having done a good deed, and though we were late picking up the Bacon Provider at the train station, and Art School had to wash the wild turtle germs off his hands, we were glad we did it.
|Gregor, Soup Turtle|
Back at the farmhouse we have rented in Dutchess County for the season, we are playing host to a pet turtle named Gregor for the second summer in a row. Gregor is a third year student at Bard College, having been enrolled after being purchased by other Bard students from a Chinatown street purveyor of “soup turtles.” Now he is an overfed beast, a red-eared slider, the kind of cheap pet that finds itself living in the green ponds at Central Parkonce it exceeds the normal dimensions of an apartment-sized aquarium. Somewhere in Gregor’s future there is no doubt a real pond and an old age spent basking in real sunshine instead of a propping him/herself on a small pile of rocks under a light bulb, and eating real insects and pond weeds instead of Rep-to-Sticks and wilted lettuce. But for now, he is our houseguest at the farmhouse.
Last summer Gregor’s aquarium sat on a shelf out of view or reach from our permanent pets, but this year he was placed by his exhausted owner on a little trunk in the mud-room, just inside the door. And there the aquarium has remained.
Just the other day I was feeding Gregor, and Cherry (who is a dog interested in all things small and squeaky, and has recently caught herself two baby rabbits) suddenly noticed the soup turtle for the first time, and now she actively wants to smell, watch and taste the aquarium of said small animal. I don’t want to find out if turtles squeak like baby rabbits.
Yesterday morning, because there was a train to catch, the dogs were roused when we got up. Even though the dogs should be exhausted from oh-so-much running around, wasp-catching, bunny-chasing and sun-bathing, they will leap to attention from a sound sleep if we make a gesture towards the door. So out they were sent, and they galloped about, did their morning business on the grass, and Cherry, being the senior and more obedient dog despite her predilection for hunting, presented herself promptly while Captain went off for an early morning adventure.
There was no time for an early morning adventure yesterday.
Once again I had made an incorrect calculation; I was wrong about what time we needed to leave the house to have the Bacon Provider to the train on time, and so we had lots of
yelling anxiety in the car on the way there. The problem had started when I wasn’t ready to go at 7 am, got a bit worse when I was found at 7:08 stripping the sheets off the bed, and got worse still when Captain didn’t come back in. Captain finally took an out-of-the-way route via the open garage, and was shooed into the house. As I fired up the engine of my car at 7:12, the Bacon Provider leapt out again, because in my haste I had put Captain in the closed mud-room with Gregor, the turtle.
yelling anxiety got more intense at the long stoplight in Rhinebeck, where all directions of traffic go red for a pedestrian, and then it always begins with green for the direction you don’t need. We should have left at 7 a.m. and it was my fault that we didn’t. Good thing I’m a multi-tasker; I can simultaneously offer an apology, articulate a bland re-assurance that the clock in my car is fast, and drive like a bat out of hell slightly exceed the posted speed limit without crashing into anything. We made the train, just in time.
On the way back from the train station delivery, I met a large snapping turtle in the road, about 1½ miles from the farm. It was bigger than the last one we encountered.
Last year, we were still in North Dreadful, where we had a swimming pool and some scenery but were still surrounded by people who didn’t want to know us, I witnessed a woman in a large white SUV purposely driving over a large snapping turtle. It made a loud popping noise, turtle guts were strewn all over the narrow pavement, and I let out a shriek of horror. What kind of person goes out of her way to run over a snapping turtle? Oh, yeah. North Dreadful.
|Angry snapping turtle, still ready to bite me|
Yesterday’s snapping turtle was actually on the other side of the road, and almost all the way across already. I stopped my car and put on my hazards. I opened my window and tried to make a frightening noise. The turtle didn’t move. I opened the door and clapped my hands at it. The turtle didn’t move. I touched the back of the turtle’s shell with the toe of my shoe. The turtle spun around, snapped at me with its enormous mouth and scared me. I jumped left, hoping to get around it again. It hunkered in. I tapped it again, thinking that now I had its attention I could herd it off the road. The turtle spun and snapped again. Now it was pointed 180° from its original destination. I tapped the turtle once more, hoping to get a course correction. Now it was pointed towards the road’s shoulder, and looked ready to move.
I got back in my car and sat with my hazards on, waiting to watch the turtle make it to safety. A car came up from the other direction, and the turtle was directly in its path. I waved them down. I told them about the turtle. They thanked me. I told them about the turtle rescued by Art School. They told me they saw a man throw a jacket over “one of the big, aggressive ones” to be able to move it safely. I told them this was one of the big, aggressive ones.
The approach of their car inspired the turtle to rise to its greatest height, stretch out its neck and start booking it, turtle-style, up the road. I said it looked like it had an appointment in Rhinebeck. The other drivers laughed and said they could give it a lift since that was where they were headed. Another car arrived, and I pulled forward to tell the second driver about the delay. He was as good-natured about letting the turtle make its way safely across the road as the people ahead of him were.
Today I am back in New York City. I saw a green leaf on the sidewalk this morning and mistook it for a frog.
1 thought on “A Turtle in the Road”
I seem to recall once reading a story by Lillian Hellman about Dashiell Hammett trying to deal with an angry snapping turtle.