My Turn: Why did the turtle cross the road? Lots of reasons
Hard to be sure, if you aren’t the turtle.
But the likeliest reasons depend on the season. In the spring, male turtles are looking to establish territory as well as hunting up a serious date. Females, having hooked up with eligible males, are looking for places to nest.
During the late summer and fall, newly hatched turtles are in search of water, and as the weather gets colder, they’re all seeking a good place to hibernate. Sometimes, like the chicken, they just want to see what’s on the other side.
Most critters who want to cross the road do so as rapidly as possible to avoid getting hit. This is not an option for turtles. So, many folks take pity on them and give them a hand. This is a good thing, because with habitat loss and various other forms of human interference, turtles have it tough enough already.
Whenever we are driving in the car, my son is always on the lookout for turtles crossing and gives a shout when he spies one. I dutifully pull over and put on my emergency flashers while he pops out of the car to go do his good deed.
Turtles, while not taking kindly to being picked up, will do what turtles famously do and pull into their shell. Brave and defiant turtles might thrash around a bit, and they can be surprisingly strong. Occasionally, one will express its displeasure in the only way it has, letting go with the rear-end spigot. Smelly, but basically harmless. Just hold it by the sides of the shell away from your body and you should be able to get the job done with no injury to yourself or the critter.
Unless it’s a snapper.
We see snapping turtles a lot around where we live, and we leave them well alone, which suits them just fine. It’s a fact that if you get in their faces they’ll take a substantial chunk out of yours. But on the whole, like most wild critters, they’d rather just avoid you than risk a confrontation. There’s such a thing as an alligator snapper who is very aggressive and whose bite force can take off a finger or cut through a broom handle, but they live mostly in southern states. Our common snapper is actually rather shy and rarely bites humans unless sorely provoked.
Picking one up to carry it across the road, however, would count as sore provocation.
We came across a snapper in the road one pleasant spring day and stopped, although we weren’t entirely sure what we were going to do. It was settled dead center of the pavement in a lovely patch of sunshine, and was not inclined to move. It was also big enough that you could set full service with glasses and silverware on his back. As we stood there weighing our options, another person stopped. Pretty soon we’d attracted a small crowd. One fellow said he had a good pair of gloves that he kept in the car for just this purpose. But when he got close, the turtle thrust its head out of its shell and reached back with intent to maim. They are fast, and have remarkably long necks, able to reach about half-way back across their carapace. Retreat was a sensible course of action.
Someone suggested picking it up by the tail, but that can injure the turtle, so the suggestion was discarded. We agreed that maybe picking it up just wasn’t an option.
There we all were, standing around (at a safe distance) with this granddaddy snapping turtle who was glaring back at us in stubborn defiance, damned if it was going to abandon its nice patch of warm pavement because of a bunch of fool humans.
Well, perhaps we could get it to take hold of a stick and drag it across the road. When they do bite, snappers tend to hold tight as a bull dog. So another brave member of our turtle rescue party found herself a large branch and began waving it in front of the turtle’s nose. At first the turtle just continued to glare, thoroughly unamused. Then it hissed, and with a speed that startled us all, especially the woman holding the stick, it lunged, not at the stick but at her. Hasty retreat was a sensible course of action.
Although she had failed to get the turtle to take hold of the stick, she had succeeded to sufficiently annoy it that it gave up the idea of sunbathing. We had ruined its day, and it was not happy. We could almost hear it muttering and cursing under its breath as it hauled itself across the road and into the grass on the other side, sliding away into the swamp. Mission accomplished.
The crowd dispersed with a sense of satisfaction, although the recipient of our good intentions did not appreciate it one bit.
(Justine “Mel” Graykin lives and writes in Deerfield, and practices freelance philosophy on her website at justinegraykin.com.)