Although my family’s rancher was built out of the same T1-11 siding my father used to build his storage barns, and the wallpaper, paint, and plumbing fixtures previous donations to Springcreek Christian Camp, it was a luxurious mansion in comparison to our former home: a 500 square foot Civil War-era slave quarters (a setting used in my Southern novel-in-progress).
Once Father completed our rancher and we gratefully moved out of that cramped, Brown Recluse infested dwelling, my best friend Misty and I decided to take advantage of our snazzy bathroom -- which wasn’t converted from a narrow closet like before -- by dumping my brother Joshua’s stash of snapping turtles into the filled, claw-foot tub. Donning our bathing suits, Misty and I then splashed into our homemade aquarium with the prehistoric-looking creatures in their ribbed, quarter-sized shells and acted as if we were oceanic Columbuses exploring an underwater world.
But our marine biologist beginning abruptly ended when my mother went to the Gorham McBane Public Library to research our new recreation and discovered Salmonella Poisoning. Apparently it could be transferred through uncooked chicken, unpasteurized milk, peanut butter, pistachios, and turtle bacteria; but not, oddly enough, through salmon. Misty and I weren’t the only ones whose future careers suffered from this Salmonella finding. My brother Joshua’s entrepreneurial activity, selling baby snappers at South Haven Christian School, also screeched to a halt.
Shortly thereafter, Joshua’s now worthless turtles were released along the camp’s pond edge where, months before, we’d found them crawling from their soft white shells. All seemed fine and dandy until the snappers grew so large their heads were the size of Father’s fists, and they sought their revenge by ripping off the paddling feet of our neighbor’s swans. The neighbor, Gwen, a normally peace-loving pacifist, took one look at all those silky feathers floating on the surface of the water and employed Joshua to shoot his previous pets for $10.00 a head. That summer he made far more money accumulating their corpses then he ever did selling their quarter-sized siblings for 50 cents a piece.
It might just be my childhood nostalgia rising or genuine reptilian interest, but on one of my walks this week I found the tiniest box turtle I’ve ever seen in my life, and within seconds I was just as excited as that little kid swimming in her homemade aquarium. The box turtle fit in the palm of my hand, and the palm of my hand is not very big. He must’ve been hit by a car, for the corner of his shell was slightly cracked; but the box turtle was still moving, and the hinge of his shell pulled over his head whenever I tried to poke my finger inside it. So I safely escorting my new buddy -- aptly named Joel for one of my introverted characters -- off the road and carried him for a mile and a half back to our land. It was dark by the time I arrived at the gate, and I was waiting for my husband who was archery hunting for venison (sorry, y’all, this is not some PETA post) to walk out of the woods.
In our Jeep, I set the box turtle on the dashboard and waited to see if he would poke his head out or move around. He didn’t. I then thought that perhaps the mile and a half journey back to our land, although I’d been very careful not to jostle the turtle’s cracked shell, had killed him. Deciding a bumpy 30 minute car ride would certainly finish Joel off if my walk hadn't "done the trick," I carried the turtle over to the telephone pole and dug a hole in the dirt to protect him from the brisk fall air (right here’s where my Mohican-man husband would roll his eyes).
This afternoon I went for another walk and stopped by that third telephone pole on my way out our lane. Peering down into the dirt, I was as shocked to see the box turtle missing as Mary Magdalene must’ve been when she entered that empty tomb. I dug into the dirt to make sure Joel hadn’t somehow gotten covered by it, and walked around the grasses surrounding the area, but unless some creature had ambled by and decided a palm-sized box turtle would make a perfect midnight snack, Joel must’ve resurrected himself and inched off.
Who knows where that rascal is now, but if you ever come across a box turtle with a corner of its shell slightly cracked, just know that’s my good ol’ introverted buddy, Joel, and kindly remind him that he ought not run off with any fast-moving hares, for his place is out here on Rocky Springs Road, where he pretty much owes a young woman every year in his reptilian life.
Images can be found at the marvelous the Marvelous in nature by Seabrooke Leckie.