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Epic Turtle Save

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

          This morning's run was so jam-packed full of June, I had to come right back in and share it. I so enjoy seeing what's coming into bloom.

Moth mullein, Verbascum blattaria, is an import, but it's so lovely, and doesn't seem to overreach its welcome.
 I like how both the flower stalk and the water tower seem to have the same lean in this shot.
That's the tower that brings us our "town water." So lovely not to have to order and pay for loads of water, 1500 gallons at a time, to be hauled to the house twice a month, as I did for the first 13 years of life on the ridge. The well water was unpotable and unreliable, and I had to go buy five-gallon jugs of drinking water, too. The former owners of the house glossed over the water situation pretty thoroughly. Only after we moved in did we find their stash of dozens of plastic milk jugs, with which they hauled drinking water from town! I remember thinking that if I couldn't lift a five-gallon jug of water, I probably couldn't live out here. Still lifting them, too. Check out my arms sometime.

Hedge bindweed (Convolvulous sepium) has the most bewitching pink and white blossoms. You'd almost think they were petunias, for their size and happy particoloring. Nestled there amidst the yellow clover, at the base of the teasel, it has a rare beauty. I never let any bindweed grow, much less bloom, in my gardens, but I enjoy it when I'm out on the road.

New leaves of tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera) bend and wave under their own weight. I always wonder why juvenile trees have such enormous leaves. Maybe it's because they're in shade, and trying to get maximum surface area for photosynthesis.  But they seem to have a life force that can't be stopped.

Not everything I saw was sublime. Took me a bit to figure this one out. That's a Copenhagen tobaccy can. But what's with the stain? Well, when you've dipped your last chaw, then you unload your lip juice in the empty can, and you toss that out the window (because you don't want it in the truck). And then it leaks down across the road. Ain't that nice? The pleasure of figuring out this little phenomenon is followed by disgust. Who could trash a road like this? Almost everybody, apparently. 

 Along the way, I met up with my kind of folks: a cooperative meadow fritillary--the smallest fritillary, barely larger than a pearl crescent. I like taking photos of butterflies with my iPhone, because it's a challenge. You have to get verrry close. Like 6" away close.

It occurred to me that a photo showing its setting--in the middle of the county road on a Sunday morning--would be more meaningful.

So I hunkered down even lower and shot him in situ. 

Lord, I love this camera. I swung around, checking for oncoming traffic, which was very light before 8 AM on a Sunday. And I saw a little dark ellipse way up ahead in the road. And I thought, "Well, that wasn't there when I came by. So that means it's alive. That means it's a turtle. And the low profile means it's a snapper."

Compare the horizon trees in the fritillary shot and the turtle shot and you can see I had a good ways to go to get to that turtle. And as luck would have it, a truck was coming up behind me. I jumped up into the hayfield, off the road, so he wouldn't be tempted to swing into the turtle's lane to miss me.

And another pickup came from the east, and he was headed right for that little turtle. I sprinted up the last few hundred feet and swooped the turtle up just before the truck was able either to hit or straddle it. One never knows with pickups in southeast Ohio. Depends if there's a jackass behind the wheel, the kind that spits in a can and tosses it out the window. The same kind aims for turtles.

Oh I was so happy to have her in hand. Until she emitted an odor that brought me back to the years when I used to grow broccoli. If you've ever grown broccoli, you probably know the smell the plants get when you've harvested the big central head, and there's a hollow stem left. That collects rainwater, and it puts up a stench that's so ungodly you can't believe it's just a plant rotting. It has methane and sulfur compounds, I'm sure, as well as mustard gas. Well, this little turtle perfumed the atmosphere around us with rotting broccoli that seemed to come in waves. Lee-ord. I had to admit it was a nifty  deterrent to my ever making a meal of her!

Happy to be corrected, but I thought it was a female as the base of the tail was rather thin. Maybe there's a way to tell by the plastron. I'll wait for Boneman or Floridacracker to chime in. Fat little thing!

 And then she did the sweetest thing. It was all too much for her, to be suddenly airborne and closely scrutinized. So she closed her eyes. Do with me what you will, primate. You've got me. But I don't want to look at you. Checking out.

Her face with her eyes squeezed closed made my heart go flippy flop. And I decided at that moment that simply picking her up and carrying her across was not going to be sufficient. I would take her all the way down to the pond. Fergus' pond. 

This was not a trivial decision. There were many hundred yards of wet, waist-high June hay to navigate. And that was the other thing that made me want to help. It would take her days, maybe weeks, to get through all that, if she even could. 

I was careful to keep myself out of her sight as I pushed through the hay, and it worked. Her eyes opened and she took interest in her assisted journey, her low, jolting flight to freedom.

 If a snapping turtle can be dear, this stinky little pot of joy was dear. At least to me. And utterly docile, thank goodness. She didn't even push against my fingers. Good thing, because snappers are ungodly strong, and she'd have been a double handful.


I made a bad one-handed shot of a European skipper, my first of the year, as we trudged and swished along.

Her first sight of the water. I saw it flash across her eyes: Yes. This is where I want to go. Her front legs came out. She thought about air-paddling, but decided playing dead would be more prudent.


As we neared pondside, the ground got soggier and soggier.  But I wanted to get her in the water. I'd come this far, I needed to complete the job. 

Such a fine home for a small turtle. Here, she could grow into a leviathan.

Finally, with the water squishing up between my toes, I put her in a little rivulet that led right to the pond. I had no doubt she'd motor on down and disappear in the cool depths as soon as I left.

And I had several hundred yards of high wet hay to navigate back to the road, and another mile to run with sopping wet shoes and socks. And nothing was ever more worth that.

It had been a most excellent save, a most excellent morning. After all the turmoil and excitement of this spring, with two kids graduating the same weekend, and 1800 miles driven in the doing, I finally feel like I'm back in my body, like my mind, body and heart are hooked up again. And that feels wonderful.

Wishing you peace, and all the heady joy that June has to offer. Get out there. Just go!! Waller in it!


Oh wow! All the critters that cross paths with you are always so lucky. What a wonderful primate you are, my friend!

Hey Miz Julie!

Turtles can be easy or durn hard to sex. I've been told that hatchling tortoises were impossible to sex, but figured that one out. Female has a notch in the rear of her plastron to clear the eggs. Otherwise you have to wait until the plastron becomes concave in the males and the thick tail gives them away too.

Water turtles can be a real pain as they are mating in the water, so not a really big need for the plastron to be concave when the male mounts the female.

If this was an adult turtle, I would say that the width of the base of the tail and to some extent the length of the tail would indicate if you had a male or a female. But this looks to be either a really seriously well fed young of the year (yolk sac scar still visible) or a three to five year old. And I think that's too young to tell.

BUT (the big but), plastron is slightly concave, which might suggest male. But I'm not sure. I have a pile of snapper material here to look at, but can say with confidence that male and female plastrons aren't that dissimilar. See my earlier comment about the vagaries of water turtles.

I am happy to defer to FloridaCracker on this one.

So happy you are back...

@Bruce Mohn, if *you* can't tell, I'm giving up! Thanks for the insight. Like sexing baby box turtles--durn near impossible. I always went on the feeling I got from them, knowing it makes no difference to the turtle if it's a boy named Sue. Thanks for the info, even if equivocal.


An excellent day. Thank you Julie!

Enjoyed enthusiastically start to finish, and I know I've already told you about my childhood trauma of seeing a snapping turtle my father was trying to get off the road deliberately run over by a pickup truck. And almost as much as I enjoyed this was Bruce's learned commentary afterwards. Do we not have the greatest friends?

Please ignore the syntax in the previous comment--it was hijacked by a particularly nice beer.

Lovely turtle story & thanks for ID of “ moth mullein”
Appeared on hillside this year w/ dames rocket (1st time). Guess bird gift?

That is the tiniest snapping turtle I have ever seen. And I can't help but wonder what her turtle brain made of her airborne status.
Well done, oh great snapper rescuer.

A quintessential Zick story; I love it! I have a puzzle for you, probably easy-peasy unless my photos aren't good enough. Critter poo at the base of a big Dougfir. Will try to remember to email you photos.

You know I like a good turtle rescue tale.
I am not a turtle sexologist by any means, but I thought girl too after embiggening the photo to stare at the cloacalocaca ...( This is a new word I just coined).
Males are farther down the tail than females.
Still not 100 percent sure, but going with girl.
Next time please rescue 2 of each sex and identically sized.
And yes, nice arms.

As long as there are turtle rescuers/angels I can bear the horror of those who deliberately try to kill them. Had my heart broken this spring when I found a box turtle mama still alive hours after being run over in my own city; it had been long enough for the birds to eat the eggs that rolled out of her cracked and destroyed shell. The kindest, best husband in the world responded to my hysterical phone call, humanely ending her suffering and buring the eggs that were still whole. All I could do was stand guard in the road til he came, tears pouring down. Darn, here they come again!

I love this in every way! Thank you so very much!!

great story - I love your tales and the information you share. I find, as I'm commuting home on the bus from Boston that I can now identify some of the wildflowers I see. Living in the city, we don't see turtles, but up in Concord (NH) there is a pond on a back road where a few live and a large rock where they sun themselves - always a treat to go by it!

Yay for you and everything about your morning except of course, that chewing tobacco (is there anything more disgusting than that?) can.

That is a darling snapper. I lifted a large one to the side of the road once and all I got was a hiss.

@Murr Brewster, yes. We have the greatest friends.

@JP, I can't get that image out of my mind. I had a similar experience (minus the egg salvage) with an old hen box turtle killed on my very own road. What. You're going so fast on a curvy DIRT ROAD you can't swerve for a box turtle? Or did you mean to hit her? If so, why do you continue to take up oxygen on this beautiful planet?

@R.Powers, Cloacalocaca is the newest Latin dance craze. I'll show ya how it's done when we meet again in oh, say, 2025.

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