Kimmy Sophia Brown

Snapping Turtle Hunter

Aug 10, 2003
It's springtime and I don't know why, but wherever I'm driving I see turtles about to set foot into the death trap of oncoming traffic. Maybe they want to bask in the sun on the nice, hot pavement. They have no idea that they're about to become a stain if they don't move.

I find that I'm constantly scanning the roads, searching for turtles. I pass fields of wheat, alfalfa and foot-high corn. Tiny, gorgeous bluebirds flash in and out of the tall grass. The goldfinches are almost as plentiful, and the cardinals appear like red peppers against the green. As the birds dart through the pattern of sunlight and trees, I watch for the unmistakable army helmet shape of turtles at the road's edge.

A couple of weeks ago I saved one the size of a half a cantaloupe. He was brown and handsome, a box turtle -- a LAND turtle -- so it was a good thing I didn't deliver him into a pond. My kids told me about the Gary Larsson book, "There's a Hair in My Dirt" in which the heroine kindly (she thinks) throws a land turtle into the lake and it cries out, "Oh, the irony, the irony!" as it sinks to its death.

This week I found several real, pretty painted turtles, eager fellas, who did not want to be in the cardboard box on my backseat while I searched for a safe place to let them go.

I was driving down a major Virginia highway the other day -- this was a full fledged, four lane country highway, not an Interstate, but a road with a 55 mph speed limit. I saw a large steering wheel sized thing in the road in the left lane as I was going down the right lane and it turned out to be a big turtle. I pulled over on the shoulder and waited for the traffic to pass. A couple of people passed right over it. It pulled itself inside its shell and I shuddered for its life.

When the traffic dissipated I went up to it and saw a ridged back, and a long ridged tail. I went behind it and tried to pick it up by the back of the shell so I could move it out of the road. It lunged at me, hissing. Of course I dropped it like a hot potato. It was a snapping turtle - the first one I'd ever seen. It clearly did not appreciate the fact that I was trying to save its life. In fact, it thought of me as an enemy. Imagine! I was astounded by the involuntary pumping of my adrenaline. The traffic was backing up now. A well-meaning guy stopped in the LEFT LANE to help me and traffic backed up for half a mile.

"Here turtle, here turtle," I called tentatively. I tried to do the Dana Carvey "Master of Disguise" imitation. "Am I turtley enough for you?" He hissed and lunged.

Embarrassed by the situation and not knowing how to deal with it I decided to drive away. I was ashamed at my fear, at my lack of ingenuity. What would Steve Irwin, aka, the Crocodile Hunter, have done? He would've grabbed that baby and said, "What a beauty!" and would have moved it across the road before it knew what happened. And it would have paddled happily away into the deep, reedy river.

Even though I was as pumped as if I had just been mugged, I was ashamed of myself. I thought of the poor, huge, ill placed creature and wondered if it would get smashed to smithereens by a truck, or worse -- tortured by a car load of dim-brained, young males.

When we drove past the spot on the way back he was gone, so I don't know what happened to him. But! Two days later I got my chance to try again!

My daughter, Gracie, and I were on a back road and another snapping turtle, slightly smaller than the first one, was in the left lane of a two lane road. I pulled over and got out of the car thinking I knew what to do this time. I got out the jumper cables and with Gracie's help, tried to drag him out of the road. He turned and hissed and lunged at me. I got out a short shovel which I carry in the van, and found a stick and tried again. This turtle hated my guts too, just as much as the first snapping turtle I had met. Rejection in the line of love! Really, it was too much. I was full of all that nasty adrenaline again, and wasn't succeeding a second time. What should we do, Gracie, what should we do?

You know what I did? I gave up and drove away. I prayed for the angels of turtles to lead him home. I looked through the rear view mirror and he was heading back into the pond from whence he came. I was still kind of mad at myself for giving up a second time, I knew Steve Irwin wouldn't have given up. I had renewed respect for Steve. This guy climbs on the backs of crocodiles and picks up poisonous snakes. This snapping turtle business was like brushing away a housefly for him. I felt tremendously disappointed with myself for my very wimpy efforts -- even though I heard that when they bite they hang on like pitbulls. Still! Pitooey to wimpiness!

Later that same day I saw a black snake in the middle of the road and went right over it before I realized what it was. I mean, the tires went around it, but I didn't stop in time. When I returned from the other direction, the poor thing was smushed by someone else. I didn't move it in time!

I learned that no matter how much you care, you have to act! You can't always save everything, but it's worth it to seize the moment and try. Creation is too precious to let it go to waste. Krikey!

Kim lives in Maine, which is lovely, and where she continues her enthusiastic relationship with Art, Music, Nature, Books, Animals, Humor and Trees.