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Molnar: Turtle Crossing

It was no great mystery why the turtle was crossing the road, but who knows why it decided to cross right in front of my bicycle.

I like turtles the same way I like horseshoe crabs and dragonflies, as creatures from the prehistoric past with admirable survival skills. And I want them to continue to survive.

This one lacked the colorful markings that would make it anything other than an overgrown snapping turtle. It appeared to be a female, inching along in search of a nesting site to lay eggs. Turtles grow extremely slowly and live a long time, so losing a breeding female is serious. I decided to lend it a hand, metaphorically speaking.

I was careful not to get too close to because snapping turtles tend to, well… snap. I thought about picking it up from the back, but remembered that their shells have nerves, so the turtle would know. And since their necks are almost as long as their shells, it could reach my hand. I’m highly allergic to bee stings, and didn’t want to find out how I’d react to a turtle bite. I needed a stick but didn’t want to leave the turtle in the road.

When I frantically waved my arms at an approaching car it stopped some distance away and the driver got out. I noted with relief that it was a large man – and after assessing the situation he found some sticks that we used to push the turtle from behind. Assuming the turtle knew best, we nudged it in the direction that it had been going.

But the turtle didn’t like being pushed around and turned to face us. As we moved around it, thinking it would turn again to snap at us, and thus continue its journey, the now furious turtle took off in the opposite direction, where it soon reached the edge of the pavement. Then, ignoring the safety of the nearby woods, it turned and started across the road all over again.

It’s said that Ralph Waldo Emerson once noted that all the thoughts of a turtle are turtle.

We humans, however, are locked in our human thoughts. So I wished the turtle well, said goodbye to what was now a small group of concerned humans sharing turtle facts, picked up my bike and rode away.

Martha L. Molnar is a public relations and freelance writer who moved to Vermont in 2008. She was formerly a New York Times reporter.
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