It wasn’t long after we bought our house that Kevin was sitting down by the pond, gazing into the middle distance and enjoying the proximity to the water. Our pondfront is very private, and lends itself to reverie.
Suddenly, a head popped up, not fifteen feet from the shore. And then another. Two snorkelers came out of nowhere.
“Hallo!” one of them said in a heavy German accent. Kevin smiled and waved.
“We are observing snapping turtles,” he went on. “You have much better snapping turtles here than we have in Germany. Yours are much bigger.”
Kevin wished them luck, and they went on their way.
This was our first clue that we had a healthy, robust snapping turtle population. Since then, we’ve seen a number of them.
The ones we see in the pond are generally small, and we usually see only their noses sticking up out of the water. Once or twice, though, we’ve found big ones on land.
Yesterday, our friend Allison found one. She came all the way from Brooklyn to stay with us for a couple of days, and she spotted the creature as she was driving down our driveway. After she greeted us with her characteristic affection and enthusiasm, she said, “Did you see the turtle?”
We hadn’t seen it, and we went up to take a look.
If you believe the herpetologists, snapping turtles haven’t changed much in the last 215 million years. They pre-date the dinosaurs, and have survived every natural and man-made catastrophe that ever was. When you get a close look at one of them, that’s easy to believe.
They have a scaly, impenetrable look. Everything is hard and pointy, and you can see why they never needed the speed that most other species require to escape their predators. Short of the nutcracker from hell, nothing could get through the shell and the skin to get at the meat.
Except humans, of course. Snapping turtles are reputed to make a mean soup, and those of you who follow this space and understand the assiduity with which I pursue every possible source of food may be wondering why I didn’t catch the thing and dispatch it for dinner.
And I don’t have a good answer. Maybe it’s because reptiles, intact, are singularly unappetizing. Maybe it’s because this turtle might be older than I am, and it’s hard to kill something so venerable. Maybe it’s because I wouldn’t know where to begin. I just couldn’t do it.
Besides, we thought this might be the same turtle we saw up by our upper garden last year. Maybe this particular individual makes an annual pilgrimage through our property. That Kevin’s theory, at any rate.
“Maybe we should mark it so we’ll know if we see it again,” he said.
I nodded noncommittally. So did Allison. Then I took her over to the turkey pen to show her how big Drumstick had gotten. We spent a few minutes admiring him, and then went back to the turtle, who hadn’t moved.
He had, however, acquired a mark. A huge OSHA-orange spot on his back. We’d used the color to paint our lobster buoys, and Kevin thought it would be the right thing to use to make our turtle easily identifiable.
Allison and I looked at it, not quite knowing what to say.
“Do snapping turtles have any natural predators?” I asked, worried that a bright orange splotch would make the turtle easy to spot.
“Nah!” said Kevin, with a wave of his hand. “He’ll be fine.”
“Do you think you might have gone with something a little more understated,” Allison asked, tentatively.
“That turtle goes in the water, and burrows through the underbrush, and digs in the muck. We need something that we’ll still be able to see in the spring.” Kevin was adamant.
Okay, then. Check back in the spring.