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Shelly Comes Home

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Sara and Kelly visited us from Toronto during the week of July 19. On the 20th of July, 2012, we walked the meadows and checked the bluebird boxes, finding most of them full of THIRD BROODS. Yowza, what a crazy fun mixed up year! We walked down the woods road that leads to our oil well (the one that heats our house with natural gas, pumped off our own land). I gestured to a long puddle in the scarcely-used road. "This is where I let our turtles go when they're ready for release." I was referring to box turtles that, for one reason or another, need a home. Perhaps they've been found in a parking lot or crossing a city street or walking along a Jersey barrier on a parched highway, bound for nowhere, death on all sides. Perhaps they've been injured and needed years of care and nobody remembers where they were found in the first place. Or perhaps they were hatched and found right in the middle of town, where they'd have no future as wild animals. Like Shelly. Shelly was hatched in 2007 in the middle of Marietta, given to me to raise up in 2008, and released here August 16, 2011. 

We hadn't gone 50 feet from the turtle release puddle when Sara gave a little yelp as she almost stepped on a smallish box turtle in the grassy wheel track. 

photo by Sara Stratton

I got down on my knees and checked to see if everything was OK. And a small bell rang inside me.

I know this turtle. I'm not sure if it's Shoomie or Shelly, but it's someone I know. I know this face, these markings.

Who are you? I know you. Turtle: I know you, too. You were nice to me. Hi. 
 Photo by Sara Stratton

I made a snap decision to bring the turtle in for identification, photodocumenting, and a little culinary pampering. A reward for putting up with my curiosity, with the handling. The turtle didn't seem particularly perturbed to be picked up. 

We booked to the house, me carrying the turtle. When we got to the sidewalk, the turtle's head and legs came out of its shell. As I was opening the front door, her neck stretched way out and her legs started to paddle madly. Her head inclined strongly to the foyer behind the opening door. It was clear to me that she was indicating she wanted to go inside. 

I set her down on the living room carpet and she started off for the corner of the living room where the turtle tanks are kept. No hesitation.

Bum ba bum I know where I am. Dum de dum I'm going there now.

Not so fast, Missy. Let's take a look at the iPhoto archives and see just why you look so familiar to me.
So I picked her up and hit Apple i (my favorite function, the one that finds anything I want on my computer) and typed in Shoomie. Looked at a bunch of jpegs of his 2010 release. No deal. This turtle is not Shoomie. All right. Let's try Shelly. Up popped a double handful of jpegs of Shelly, from lemon-sized youngster to her release date nearly a year ago.

This photo is a little confusing, but it's also awesomely cool. Compare the markings on the live turtle in the foreground to the one in the photo that's up on my computer screen. It's SHELLY!!

The moment of discovery. Agggh ah ha ha ha!! That's my girl!! Photo by Sara Stratton.

And if there were any doubt, our little prodigal peered at the screen and indicated that she would like a  bite of that delicious-looking hard-boiled egg, please. She paddled and dug at the screen. Not exactly a dope, little Shelly. I put her back on the floor to wander the living room and set a pan of cold water and an egg on to boil. 

Was there ever a better present, than to know that three years' tender care of a city-born hatchling had paid off in a thriving wild box turtle, who'd made it on her own on our bountiful sanctuary for almost a whole year? Who'd blossomed into a brilliantly-marked five-year-old beauty? Who still remembered her foster mom and her home and her favorite food?

And all because Sara looked down and said Eep. Shelly was the first box turtle Sara's met personally.

While the egg cooked, we set a little plate of cantaloupe spiked with Repto-Min down in front of Shelly.

  Shelly knocked all the  melon off the plate in her eagerness.  Sara documents the moment.

 Ah, you beautiful little creature. Do you have any idea how much joy you have brought us?

What I know is I have cantaloupe. You are still a very good cook.

 And you, sweet turkle, are the apple of my eye. Oh, happy birthday to me!

 More crippling chelonian cuteness to follow.


I'm thinking that Shelly was just looking for a home cooked meal. What you've really told us is yet another young adult returning home! I trust Sara didn't find a small bundle of laundry needing to be done...
Kidding aside, what better gift for Science Chimp than one of your many progeny returning home to say--hi, Mom, happy birthday.

I'm still looking down!

Happy happy! Love this story!

A totally "Squee" worthy post!!

Happy Birthday. You are supposed to get gifts but you just gave us another beautiful one.

This brought back fond memories of a box turtle that lived on our farm in Missouri. It loved to eat the peaches that fell from from our peach tree. When we found it at other times, we would bring it in to the house for a snack of caned peaches.

Yet another amazing but true tale of natural wonder to emanate from your world. Happy Birthday Julie,

I'm in tears of joy.

Great story, Julie - keep an eye out for Nahrat!

Beautiful. What a charmed life you and Shelly live. NPR commentary? Start of another book?

Thanks for sharing.


Congratulations, Julie.
I had an emotional moment that reminded me of the moment when Elsa and Joy are reunited at the end of "Born Free". Thank you for sharing your wonderful birthday gift with me.

Posted by Anonymous July 24, 2012 at 9:44 AM

Happy Birthday Julie and what a great reunion, a very special birthday gift to be sure. Thanks for the story, I loved reading it.

This comment has been removed by the author.

"crippling chelonian cuteness"

I've GOT to find a way to work that phrase into my next social get-together...

...but in meantime I'll just wait for more here!

Happy Birthday Julie! Thank you for the gift! You always make me cry.

Omigosh......I love this post.
I love turtles.
I love you.....Happy Birthday.

I'm thinking NPR, too. Happy, happy birthday!

adorable! and Happy Birthday!

I never thought a turtle would be able to be so expressive but the egg photos show joy and the cantaloupe in the mouth show contentment. Thank you so much for sharing this!

This is such a neat story! Thanks, Kathleen B, a friend of Sara and Kelly!

Nice to have a happy ending. I wish her many more years and clutches of eggs.--hart

Hi, Julie. Sorry, I know this is off topic but a friend just posted this picture, which she assures me is not fake: the-day-to-day-stuff/

Do hummingbirds do this for a reason? It's so strange! I would love to hear your take on it.


Unmitigated me: Thanks for pointing to that beautiful blog. I don't know why she has such a concentration of hummers at her feeder, other than normal postbreeding dispersal of juveniles, but I did note that she was feeding commercial hummingbird "food" which is loaded with Red Dye #40, a carcinogen that's very bad for them. So I hope you'll forgive me for giving a little lesson in her comments section. Here's what I posted:

That is a pretty astounding shot of the hummers around your feeder. Gone are the days when we got that many. In the early 90's I'd put out a half gallon of food a day for more than 150 rubythroats, but not since Katrina, which probably wiped out a huge portion of the Eastern migrants, hitting in Sept. on the Gulf coast as it did. Let's hope it speaks of great nesting success this year, and lots of juveniles finding your feeders.
I am a contributing editor to Bird Watcher's Digest, and having written an article on the dangers of artificial coloring, I am wondering (politely) why you're using commercial hummingbird "food" with red dye #40. This dye is derived from coal tar and is banned in Europe as a carcinogen. A hummingbird drinking from a feeder with commercial hummingbird food is taking in, on average, 17 times the minimum daily RDA for *humans* of red #40. Banders working with hummingbirds have noted an increase in soft tumors of skin and bill and it is thought to be linked to this dye.
Not wanting to criticize without offering a solution, I'd highly recommend that you do what I do. Boil one part plain white sugar to one part water, until it dissolves. You can make four, five cups at a time. Refrigerate that. When the time comes to refill the feeder, simply put one part of your 1:1 simple sugar solution to THREE parts plain water in the feeder. Voila: 1:4 sugar water solution, easy to store, easy to make, and more importantly better for the birds. Commercial hummingbird food, whatever the claims made, does not contain any more nutrition than simple sugar solution, and it does contain potentially carcinogenic dyes which we have no business offering to wild birds, in my opinion. There are more than ample red parts on the feeder to attract the birds.
I hope you accept these comments in the spirit in which they're made--to be helpful. Thank you for caring for so many hummingbirds and sharing it in your beautiful blog!

Julie Zickefoose, God broke the mold after he made you! Happy Birthday, Nature Girl!

aw what a lovely gift from Mother Nature to you...happy birthday, and so wonderful to find Shelly in such good health!

I'll join the chorus of tears ... totally choked up when your turtle recognized where she needed to go inside the house. Wow, what a beautiful story.

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