It is early June and the painted turtle is crossing Route 30 along the Pepacton reservoir, a very slow trudge, vulnerable, vulnerable, what is it thinking? Is it thinking? Do turtles think? What am I thinking? Do I stop, turn around, is it too late? I turn around; pull alongside the wandering creature, reach down and the damn thing suddenly moves faster toward the other lane and an oncoming car, reach further, got her and she now pees all over me as I place the continuously peeing creature onto the passenger side floor. As it is said, no good deed goes unpunished.
Turtles, of which there are four species in our area as far as I know: painted, snapping, wood and the red eared slider. I have yet to see a box turtle. In springtime the gravid females are leaving their deep water sanctuaries in search of that perfect place where she feels confident that conditions are just right for her batch of eggs to be warm and safe from scavenging raccoons, skunks, possums and every other critter that would love the opportunity to dine on fresh turtle eggs. This journey, a tough and sometimes arduous one, calls for avoiding many potential hazards. Predators, some like us, that would love to catch and put them in a fish tank for our viewing pleasure or even make a meal of them. Of course, we may run them over inadvertently. When she finds that perfect place she will dig a hole with her hind legs and drop in her eggs which have a kind of leathery shell, relatively immune to breakage. After the drop and the covering up, she might feel she has more to go, and, if so, will find another spot and do a repeat performance. Finally done, the return journey, equally arduous, is undertaken. It takes 72 to 80 days for the eggs to hatch and if all goes well we might find the need to make more rescues in August, as many little shelled creatures will be headed across the road then in the same direction as mom’s return trip to the great water sanctuary.
The naturalist rule is—if you partake in a road-crossing rescue, always take the turtle to the side of the road to which it was headed for release as it will take to the road again if taken to the wrong side. Warning, if perchance it is a snapping turtle, make sure you pick it up by the tail, or the very back of the shell keeping the head away from your body, as you might wind up very painfully wearing her. And as they tend not to let go, she also could take off your finger.
I decided, rightfully or wrongfully, to release this nervous little creature into one of the ponds on my property placing her about a foot from the water’s edge, where she sulked withdrawn in her protective shell. Finally poking her little head out, she looked at me intently for a moment, then suddenly made a mad dash to the presumed safety of the watery depths .
“Ah escape, deeper, deeper into the soft cool bottom mud and security I think. Wait, this place is not my home
where I grew up. What happened to me? From the very deep depths of my clear water home with the familiar niches and logs and rocks upon which I have safely basked all my life I am now suddenly in foreign waters and must find my place. I was at peace at home when I had an encounter with another turtle which resulted recently in an urge to move onto dry ground and find a place suitable for my now growing eggs. On this urgent trip, passing a stretch of hard open ground, I was overshadowed by a number of very large and very fast-moving monsters. I would duck into my shell and after they would pass I would move on at my anxious pace. Suddenly one of them slowed, pulled alongside me and in a moment I was hauled into this cavernous monster. In full panic mode I peed and I peed hoping this would fend off this beastly captor, but to no avail. Deposited on the floor of this vibrating trap I continued to pee and scramble mightily to escape all to no avail. This went on for too much time as my urgent need for egg release pressed me in to a real panic. Then suddenly there was quiet and I was grasped and carried for some distance. All the while I am thinking the worst, but to my delight the grasping captor set me down right next to some water. Was this a trap? The huge beast was hovering over me, but I made the decision – go for it – freedom! I must now find my rightful place in this new environment, where is the food, the cattail roots, the basking logs? Are there other folks here and are they friendly? All this, but first I again must go aground and find that special place for my pressing issue. Please wish me luck as this world is large, unknown and can be very scary for a very gravid female painted turtle.”
To understand our critter friends better it behooves us to place ourselves in their world and attempt to view it from what we might think is their perspective.
Since I wrote this I did manage the safe crossing of our Tremperskill Road by a very large snapping turtle as she attempted the return trip to her pond. Too large to grasp, I sat in my lane, with blinkers flashing. This did not slow a number of large trucks, although she eventually did make safe passage. The owner of the pond came by and mentioned that she knew this turtle well and was happy to know of its safe return. Also, I blocked off a portion of our driveway to protect a nest site containing a number of eggs which will be monitored closely come August so that hatchlings not able to make it over the barrier are transported to the nearby pond. Bravo to all those out there who hazard to rescue our turtles!~