On Turtles

This picture doesn't do the ones I saw with trailing seaweed justice, but alas I didn't have a camera at the time.

This tidy girl doesn’t do justice to the ones I see with seaweed trailing off them. 

The snapping turtles are laying eggs again. It’s hard not to admire them, hauling their soggy selves up out of their primordial worlds to the warmed up gravel beside black roads. I counted twelve along a stretch of road one evening. I find it all strangely hopeful.

Not that I can’t see. The roads are bad for them. A lot of the females die crossing them at night. The general population suffers greatly from too many roads. But I can’t help it, seeing them gives me hope. I’m running around my life trying to do it right, and there they are, hauling their hefty selves one deliberate step at a time. They’re not attractive, they’re twenty pounds of turtle with fat mouldy toes, algae growing all over their shells and strings of seaweed dripping off them like hair. With speed as a non-consideration, they find their spot, hunker down, claw some gravel, lay 25 – 80 eggs, and cover them up.

Then they saunter back to whatever swamp they crawled out of. According to their own census last year, 98% of them ranked the following as, “no concern:”

*Number of microbial creatures harmful or otherwise invading my person




*Body odor

*Quality of motherly care as compared to others

*Chances of survival



*Progeny success potential

*Birth rate (despite survival rate of roughly 1 in 100 eggs laid)

*Color coordination of algae, seaweed, and shell

*Distance to road (***this is obviously a weakness that I wish they would worry about . . . but lack of worry in general may still prove a key to their ability to survive across time and in all kinds of habitats. Maybe National Geographic knows.)

If they survive the roads, turtles typically live 30 -50 years. As a species, they’ve been around a very long time. I don’t know how to justify how much they amaze me and amuse me, but I slow down for turtles, I watch for them everywhere I go. They’re so simple. So boring. So good at plodding. Reading specifically about snapping turtles, I learned they can go days without food or water. Females can hold sperm in their bodies for years, so no need to rush out for a man every year. They can walk ten miles to find a good place to lay their eggs. No anxiety ridden rushing around, just one step at a time.

Turtles remind me of Horton the elephant, from Dr. Seuss. They don’t appear to have a lot going for them, but they survive by faithfully doing what they know. And they do it without a whole lot of fanfare. They keep it simple and I like that. There’s a wisdom to their tiny brains that’s quite remarkable. They’re worth slowing down to watch and think about.

3 Comments to On Turtles

  1. Leslie Lynch says:

    A wonderful parable. :-)

    We are known for doing turtle patrol/interventions/rescues. (Thank God for hand sanitizer! I carry a small bottle in the car…) Yes. We are the car that screeches to a halt on country roads, with the occupants leaping out to carry the turtle to the other side of the road. One small act of kindness…

  2. So good at plodding! This delights me.

  3. Rachel Bushnell says:

    Thank you for your inspiring proverb. Turtles are much more helpful to me than checking out an ant, but my problem is not being sluggardly. Thanks, Michelle!!