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Things That Cross the Road

Sunday, June 1, 2014

May's such a banquet, such an overstuffed portmanteau of good things, that the writer in me sputters and fusses, trying to find a theme in it all.

Perhaps "Things I See Crossing the Road" is as good as any. 

After a travel-enforced break this spring, I've rediscovered running. Totally ignoring my wise friend Hodge's admonition that "More is the enemy of good," I now feel like I'm slacking if I don't clock 4.5 miles a day. There's just so much to see and hear and smell and discover. It all pulls me along and down the dirt roads. The weather has been incredible. I'm brown as a berry and feeling more fit. Kind of a human red eft, looking for new water to swim in.

The tiniest red eft I've ever seen. Red efts are the juvenile dispersal unit of the red-spotted newt. Red efts are how newts get their DNA to new wetlands. They have thick, dessication-resistant granular skin with loads of toxins in it. That's aposematic, or warning coloration there. Don't eat me. I'm on my way.

I couldn't imagine where this little fellow had come from, crossing our driveway. The nearest pond is 1.3 miles away. How does something like this make its way through a gigantic thick hayfield? Well, he had to have. Underfoot, unseen, tiny creatures are making incredible journeys that we cannot even imagine. Everybody has a journey, whether we see it or not.

So tiny, so determined, going I know not where. Headed in this direction, he
 would hit our stream eventually. I suspect he knows that. Perhaps downhill=water?

The next morning I found another eft, but this one much older, darker, nearing adult coloration. I checked--skin still thick and grainy, but thinning, moister. When this animal hits a suitable body of water, he'll stay there for good. His skin will become membranous and thin, and he'll hang suspended, his legs dangling, just beneath the surface, watching for a mate. I think I can see the beginnings of his manparts at the base of his tail.

I picked him up and carried him across. Good luck with that hayfield, my friend. Navigating that would have to be like me making my way through a canebrake or a bamboo jungle. I guess part of how I look at wild things is putting myself in their bodies for the time that I observe them, thinking about how the world looks and feels to them. But I don't presume to make a judgement and take them to "better" habitat. This eft was headed away from the only pond in the area, headed who knows where. He's an eft. He knows. Who am I to short-circuit his plan? Lemme go!! I got places to go, people to see.

She's a box turtle. She knows, too.

But she is definitely getting a lift in the direction she's headed. When she saw me she turned around quickly and tried to go back, but I carried her in the direction she was originally heading, knowing she'd attempt her journey again when the coast was clear. Chetty saw her first, sprinted to her, gave her a quick tap with his nose, and kept going. Wanted to make sure I noticed her. 

What a beautiful jewelbox she was, with those amazing golden peacocks displaying all down her back. She also had slug guts smeared all over her beak and throat. Nice breakfast. No car would get her this time.

Speaking of slugs, I lost my beloved rehab box turtle Sluggo this winter. He had been injured by a lawnmower in August 2011, and I was waiting, years it turned out, to see if he'd ever really walk again. My best guess is that he overheated in his hibernation tank when the January sun slammed into it. I had set a bat tank atop it and had them both in the basement by the glass door because it was too bitterly cold to keep them in the garage. Well, the sun came out and the 2" airspace I'd left wasn't sufficient to keep the lower tank cool. He couldn't really bury himself in the deep moist medium, and he cooked.  It was a cruel lesson, to lose him that way. I reminded myself that Sluggo was going into his third year of rehab after his spinal injury, and still hadn't regained any meaningful use of his hind legs. He couldn't right himself when he turned over, could only drag himself with his front legs, couldn't dig, and would in all likelihood never be releasable. I didn't want to keep him until I was too old to care for him, and saw that coming down the pike. Sadly, that's probably what would have wound up happening. He'd have outlived me, but he never could have been a wild turtle again.

That didn't keep us from loving him.

Such is rehab. You win some, you lose some. My heart sinks and breaks a little every time someone calls me with a broken turtle. It's always such a long and often sad road. I remember a young hippie couple who drove all the way from Athens to bring me one who was literally in about six separate pieces.

 "We got all the pieces!" they said hopefully.
 I looked at them and nodded. I guess they thought I could wave a magic wand and put her back together, like Humpty Dumpty.

On to happier things. I helped this giant leopard moth caterpillar across the road the same day I found the elder eft. This one looked as if it were about to pupate, and was perhaps on walkabout looking for the perfect spot. I see gobs and gobs of these big bristly black cats in fall.

And I'd always wondered why I never see the adult moths. People who've tried to raise them report that a tachinid fly parasitizes them, such that few ever make it to pupate.

This fellow looked healthy and clean to me. I wished him well and set him down on the other side.

Just the night before, I'd found an adult giant leopard moth under my porch light! What a piece of kismetic coinkydink is that? 

It was so beautiful, with these awesome false eyes on the pronotum. A big, clumsy, sort of friendly moth, not so different from the caterpillar to handle. A bit pinchy in the leg department. Less ooky, though. 

Maybe I'd helped him across the road last fall. 

Like our Rain Crows' song "Little Soldiers" says,  Pick him up, carry him across.  

Give it a listen.
CD's with free song samples in the right sidebar of this blog.


Julie, love this blog entry! (Well, actually, I love all your blog entries!) Some women friends and I have sung as a group for 30 years -- used to perform locally, not so much anymore, just occasionally. In 1985 we recorded "Move That Turtle," written by Cynthia Crossen and Sarbaga Falk. Cynthia has created a wonderful web page with many of her and our songs. Wish I could refer you to the recording of "Turtle," but I had trouble accessing it. Anyway, here's link to the lyrics that are in total sync with your post today:

I carry lots of things off roads... once a HUGE snapping turtle that I could hardly lift.... but there are so many roads. I ask myself: suppose they put a highway between my bedroom and the kitchen and I had to get across it every day? twice a day? dangerous....

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