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DayCreek Journal

June 5 , 2008

Herding Turtles

A weeping snapping turtle.

I was going to write a journal entry about the fourth anniversary of the solar panel installation (and I will get to that soon), but I've got to share with you one of the strangest things I have ever seen.

Today the weather was warm and muggy. In a normal year, you would expect days like this, but considering we had a long winter and a cold spring, it was the first day that it really felt like summer around here and evidently this was a good day for turtles to be out laying their eggs.

I was driving down our county road this afternoon when I spotted a snapping turtle on the road. Upon closer inspection, I realized the turtle had been killed by a passing vehicle. I find it hard to believe that these turtles are killed by accident. It would seem to me that most people would avoid hitting a rather large, slow moving creature. If it was intentional or not, I do not know, but I was saddened by seeing this magnificent creature lying there dead on the road.

Snapping turtles have been on this planet for millions of years. It just doesn't seem fitting that after surviving on this planet for so long the turtle is taken out by a speeding car or pickup truck.

Shortly thereafter I was driving up the road to the house when low and behold, here was another snapping turtle right there in front of me. I swerved to avoid hitting it and as soon as I parked the truck, I headed over with my camera to photograph her.

I spent about the next 5 minutes photographing this turtle from various angles and just when I moved closer to get a full head shot of the turtle, a drop of water ran down from the turtle's right eye to the ground.

Now I'm not about to enter into a discussion about anthropomorphism (attributing human characteristics to non-human creatures) but the timing of the event was intriguing.

So is that the strangest thing I have ever seen? Nope. Read on.

After photographing the turtle, I watched it as it traveled down the driveway and down the grassy hill towards the creek.

About three hours later I am in the house and I hear a rumbling noise. There were a few dark clouds on the horizon and the forecast was calling for severe thunderstorms. Checking the radar did not reveal any storms in the area.

I listened for the noise again and there it was. It sounded like the noise was coming from the second floor outside deck. (For those of you not familiar with this deck, you can view an image of the house/deck here.)

So I went up the stairs and out onto the deck expecting to find a racoon. Even though it was still daylight, raccoons have a thing for the deck and it wouldn't be out of the question to find one up there.

Most raccoons however steer clear of the deck ever since I put a trap out for them. (The trap gets used once and a while when raccoons start defecating on the deck. That is when they get relocated.) Although the trap is not set, I do use it to block access to the deck.

As I walked the deck, I wasn't seeing anything unusual until I made it half-way around the house. It was there that I saw one of the strangest things I had ever seen. There it was just looking at me. It was another snapping turtle!

How in the heck did a 20+ pound snapping turtle get up onto the deck??? I had the back entrance to the deck blocked with a racoon trap. It just didn't make any sense.

That's a long way down looking from the second floor deck.

But even before attempting to figure out how this creature got up onto the deck, the more pressing issue was how was I going to get it down?

Back in the days of the TV show "Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom" Marlin Perkins would have had his assistant Jim take care of it. Unfortunately I am not Marlin Perkins and I did not have an assistant handy.

Without an assistant, I looked on the Internet for how to pick up a snapping turtle. I figure everything on the Internet is legit, right? On the Internet I learned that picking it up by its tail was not a good thing. That would injure its spinal cord and it was so big anyway, I doubt I could have lifted it by its tail while it tried to snap at me. The best option was to pick it up by the rear of the shell but to be extra careful of their lightning-quick reach with their necks. (Oh, that was reassuring.)

I went out to try this method, but as I approached the snapper, it turned its body towards me and lifted its head as if to say "Make my day!" Okay...I'm not gonna try that.

Back into the safety of the house, I found Karla's phone number. Karla is the director of the Houston Nature Center in Houston, MN. I told Karla that what she was about to hear was one of the strangest stories she'll probably ever hear. She seemed intrigued, but I think she was a bit skeptical that it would top her list.

I explained my predicament and she agreed that it was very strange. Nonetheless, I needed to figure out a way to get the snapper off of the deck. Karla wasn't so sure about picking it up as I had almost tried to do. Snapping turtles don't have a bottom plate like other turtles and therefore they can move their necks much more freely.

I finally decided to bring out the snow shovel I had stored away just a few weeks ago. (When I had put the shovel away, I had wondered if I would need it again this year. Little did I know, that yes, I would need it again.) My plan was to try to pick up the turtle with the snow shovel and carry it out onto the hill in back of the house. I approached the turtle I held out the shovel to block her view of me. She didn't seem to mind as much. I guess the view of a large, black plastic shovel is less frightening than my beady eyes. Very carefully, I gently slid the edge of the snow shovel under her right side. I now had her partially in the shovel. I quickly realized however that she would not completely fit onto the shovel and even if she did, it would be difficult to lift her heavy body.

With half her body in the shovel, I slid the shovel along the decking. The ride was a bit bumpy and just as I got her to the decking that leads to the hill, she had enough of this ride and promptly got up and started walking in the direction of the hill all by herself.

She took her time, but about 10 minutes later she was safely on Terra Firma.

Now the question was how in the heck did she get herself into this predicament in the first place? The only thing I can think of is that she somehow wedged herself in along the side railing at the end of the deck where the deck meets the hill in back of the house. I don't think she climbed over the raccoon trap.

No matter how she did it, it made for a good story and now that it is over think I will celebrate by treating myself guessed it...a turtle sundae.