Wednesday, May 15, 2013

A Turtle on the Road

Yesterday, Zach wanted to take a long walk, and I wanted to hide under the covers and eat ice cream. I’m thankful to have a husband who makes me walk 12 miles when I’m feeling like that. If I don’t walk enough, then my body starts punishing me by feeling awful (which, ironically, makes me want to hide under the covers and eat ice cream instead of walking). Zach breaks the vicious cycle and rewards me with pizza. 

My husband, usually a fan of cold rainy weather, felt his California roots stirring him to run outside and enjoy the dry heat (he was born in Sacramento). Around 4:00, he finally convinced me to put on my sunhat, lace up my shoes and step outside into the gusts of hot dry air. Don’t get me wrong— I hate St. Louis’s humid summers as much as the next person, but dry heat saps out every ounce of fluid in my body, and no matter how much water I chug, I’m always thirsty. (Wow, Shafter, that’s a promising sign, since 600 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail runs through the middle of a desert!)

But I digress. I was going to tell you about the turtle.

Zach and I were chugging down the Katy Trail by the side of the busy 45-mph road Arena Parkway, blinking in the overbearing sun, when Zach gave a cry and pointed to the shoulder. I looked, and gasped too: there was a footlong snapping turtle crawling toward the traffic!

We ran out to the shoulder and stared at this weird beauty: he had a mud-colored shell worn smooth, a head the size of my fist with cute wet blinking eyes, legs as thick as my wrist with impressive claws, and an alligator-like tail. Two tear-drop-shaped leeches clung to the top rear of his shell, squirming in the sun. (Why would leeches be attached to a turtle’s shell? I do not know.) An Internet search today revealed that this sucker (“Mr. Turtle,” as I oh-so-creatively named him) was an Eastern Snapping Turtle.

As Zach and I approached, Mr. Turtle raised his thick back legs and scrunched his head into his shell, sticking his butt in the air in some sort of defensive posture. Zach and I debated: we couldn’t herd him back into the grass because there was a curb in the way, but neither of us thought it was wise to pick up a footlong snapper. (The Internet confirms our conclusion: apparently the only safe way to pick one up is by the tail, at arm’s length.) I tried to guide him with my foot, but he whipped his body around and hissed, making me jump back.

This isn't Mr. Turtle, but one of his cousins in Maryland. (Photo source)
At last we decided there was nothing we could do but hope for the best. We watched him worriedly as he altered his original course and started walking parallel to the road down the shoulder. Why on earth, we wondered, would a giant turtle leave the water, climb up a steep embankment, cross the trail and hop down from a curb to head out into traffic? What did he hope to find on the other side? 

Later that night, our brother drove us back along the road, where we anxiously looked for the remains of Mr. Turtle. We didn’t see any roadkill, so we let out sighs of relief, still wondering what became of the brave wanderer and his faithful leeches.


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