The Turtle Whisperer

Sunday, August 28, 2011

(While I work fervently on a journal article involving posthumanism theory and why young children engage in animal play (pretend to Be animals), please enjoy this treasure from last August.)

There is no secret that I am a liberal white lady.

Therefore, like the best of my breed, WE CARE. WE CARE ALOT!

We recycle. We buy our kids organic milk so that the bovine growth hormone doesn't make our kids go through early puberty and have some crazy not-yet-discovered cancer. Many of us volunteer at places like libraries, or homeless shelters.

We donate clothes to clothing drives, we help organize fund raisers for causes near and dear to our hearts.  We buy those special "Help a local school out with the purchase of 10 dollars of school supplies" bags at Office Supply stores.

We can't help it.  The polite white people gene in us just WANTS to do good. We WANT to be good neighbors and responsible stewards of the earth. My generation debuted at the beginning of recycling and organic and trying to buy locally while thinking globally. It is our default mode.

Ergo, when I saw the turtle in the dead middle of the exit to our vacation condo, you knew I was going to do something about it.

Terrance will share that I have a disturbing tendency to leap out of vehicles to offer care and comfort during any perceived danger. Roadside accident? I leap out of car with bottled water and instruct people to Stay Put so we can assess for internal bleeding. Guy on Motorcycle gets hit and knocked off bike in front of us? I go into primary first aid response to check him for broken limbs and concussion.

One one hand, I like to think it is my long time career with children that has made me move towards the hysteria in order to direct and calm. I know it isn't motherhood, as I was doing this shit LONG before Emily, much to Terrance's chagrin.  I am unbuckling and grabbing blankets out of the back of the car at every accident scene, usually with him chasing me yelling something like "Jesus Christ! I can smell Gas! Get BACK into the car!"

In the world of the socially conscious white lady, a Turtle in a Florida road is as good as a Human casualty. I instruct Terrance to STOP while I unbuckle and move to offer my assistance to the hapless Terrapin. He is left in the car with two girls who:

1. want donuts
2. want to go to the world of Harry Potter  
3. Would probably trample the turtle to death in their effort to get either of those previous goals accomplished.

Now, I can claim a small amount of turtle expertise, due to the summer I spent in a chi-chi Connecticut town and their nature center. I had to show various animals, including turtles, and elaborate on life cycles and habitat. In that job, handling the owls and hawks constituted the most fearsome work. The turtles were a piece of cake, comparatively. The worst they would do was pee on you. The Hawks and Owls might try to take a chunk of flesh out of your face in front of 35 screaming three year olds as you attempted to explain why we should protect their habitat while stuffing your dangling eye stalk back into your skull.

To this point in the story, we have established these facts:

1. I am a liberal white lady
2. I frequently offer assistance to others
3. I have turtle knowledge as I have worked in a Nature Center in 1992.

I see turtle in Road. I assess that this turtle is going to be crushed by an uncaring motorist. I know that turtles, while not an endangered species, fall prey to vehicles once they are large enough to reproduce and are an important part of our ecosystems.

*lightbulb* MUST HELP TURTLE

What I, and many other nice, well meaning, liberal white ladies both past and present, failed to account for was the desire on the part of the Turtle ( or by extension, ANY group, or animal or cause) to be HELPED.

This was not my concern. I was there to save the turtle.

I approach the turtle with no hesitation. This is a Hella big turtle. I am accustomed to Eastern Forest type turtles and this baby was no Eastern Forest Turtle. It was also no baby.  EASILY 12 to 15 inches in diameter. I was going to have to bend at the knees, get ahold and lift this sucker in order to cart her to safety.

As I stepped over the turtle in order to best assess how to pick her up, I noticed she was one FUGLY turtle.

The weird snout like thing that could only be the nose bobbed in and out as she assessed my threat to her. She pulled her head back as far as she could to pretend as if there was nothing to eat here and I should really just keep on moving.

Oh no, Turtle damsel in distress! I am here to Help You! I leaned down and positioned my hands in the center of her side shell. I wanted my fingers to be safe since I wasn't entirely sure what subspecies she might be, while still having a firm enough grip to carry her back to a protected place.

Hands in place, I bent down and LIFTED.

Two things immediately struck me. The Stench of the turtle. And the Sliminess of the turtle.

All my turtle exploits had been with dry, smallish forest type turtles. This was a culvert dwelling water turtle. A BIG culvert dwelling water turtle.

 My next mistake lay in my assumption in the perceived passiveness of turtles.  I assumed that the turtle would not protest, nor would she struggle in any significant manner. She would accept my help, and then mildly go on her turtle way. Safe. Sound. Whole.

Imagine my surprise as I lifted the turtle in the air to figure out that THIS turtle was having none of it. THIS turtle began to flail about like some toddlers I have known as they do their "dead weight drop" of protest. In my shock, I drop the turtle, who then launches herself even faster towards the oncoming traffic of 192.

In my attempt to save the turtle, I am driving it faster towards its doom.  I recover quickly and race in front of the turtle to herd it back towards the driveway and away from oncoming traffic.

OK, new strategy. Now I know the turtle is Heavy. It is smelly and slimey. It is going to kick like hell when I lift it off the ground. It has extremely sharp nails. And it moves Fast.

I am going to lift it, and then move it over to the grassy area where I can direct it back to the culvert which I assume must be its home.

The turtle also has a new plan of attack. Immediately flail like hell and try to scratch me.

I lift the turtle and begin to turn. As I do, the turtle gets a nail into my forearm and with an amazing vault that would make Mary Lou Retton proud, she flies upward into the air.  During my last moments of  physical contact with the crazed turtle, I lean out and stretch my arms towards the grass.

The turtle lands on her back. I rush towards the turtle to assist.  You would have thought I would have learned to leave the turtle alone, but No. Now there was a large turtle on it's back, and it was my fault and I was going to flip her over and then direct her to the culvert.

It is difficult for me to describe how quickly this turtle turned over.  I was a mere step and a half  coming towards the turtle when it flipped over like something out of the Last Exorcism and began running - yes, running - towards me. Weird little turtle snout all out and aiming at my exposed in sandals feet.

Holy Crap. This turtle has gone wild! I am about to be on the receiving end of some heinous turtle attack that will be featured on one of those Discovery channel about dumbasses who end up being bitten by the Only spider of its kind in the known world and practically die specials.  The last thing my daughter and her best friend will see is my hand, falling into the fetid water of the culvert as the turtle drags me to its lair.

So I do what all liberal white ladies do. I make a last ditch effort to herd the turtle in the other direction. This mainly consists of  me NOT TOUCHING the turtle, while dancing around it to discourage it from running into traffic.

The turtle, who can not believe my stupidity and anthropomorphizing of her plight, gets disgusted and turns back towards the culvert.

I look up. Several cars have gathered Behind my husband.  They can not get around him, as I have left the passenger side door open.  They have been watching my whole unwitting performance art piece. ( I really should have "super-starred" for them)

I smile. I walk back over to the car and get in. Terrance shakes his head. The girls are laughing.

Emily leans forward, "Mom. I think we should call you the turtle whisperer."

3 Baleful Regards:

GracieMack said...

Awesome story and you are so funny and so kind.

Jenny K said...

I'd love to know why children engage in animal play. One of my daughters did this extensively for 3 - 4 years, I was starting to wonder and worry a little. Other kids got tired of playing this way, still she insisted on continuing. She had a whole dog alter-ego and the play (pretending to be a dog) would continue even during non play activities. She's 8 now and it's finally tapered off quite a bit.

velocibadgergirl said...

It's a spiny softshell turtle, I think...a very cool species!

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