Sunday, June 26, 2011

Good Intentions

June 25, 2011
A half- mile up the road

I have just been through the process
of killing the cistudo for the sake of science;
but I cannot excuse myself for this murder,

and see that such actions are inconsistent
with the poetic perception,

however they may serve science,
and will affect the quality of my observations.

I pray that I may walk more innocently and serenely through nature.

No reasoning whatever reconciles me to this act.
It affects my day injuriously.
I have lost some self-respect.
I have a murderer’s experience in a degree.
-- HDT Journal, August 18, 1854. He had been working with naturalist Louis Agassiz, providing specimens of local flora and fauna.

Today I am driving down Meadowbrook Road, and up ahead, I see a turtle slowly walking across the road. It is a small snapping turtle, several years old. She is heading for a large puddle of water on the other side of the road.

It is heartening to see her, since this month -- the month of turtle-nesting -- I have seen more dead turtles by the roadside than living ones.

In fact, I have "rescued" several turtles who were crossing a road. This year, I have gone so far as to keep garden-gloves (for handling smaller turtles) and a small plastic shovel (for turtles who are too large for me to want to put my hand anywhere near them) in my car. Nature Girl to the Rescue is the title of the self-congratulating movie now playing inside my head.

My joy turns quickly to alarm, as it becomes apparent that this will be an almost impossible journey for her, given the number of cars going to and fro at this spot.

So, lover of turtles that I am, I pull over as soon as possible, to the nice wide shoulder of the road, next to the spot where she is trundling across the pavement toward the other side. I throw the car into park and get out. I know another car is approaching right behind me, and there isn’t much time.

Fortunately, the turtle has made it as far as the yellow center line of the road. It seems she is at least safe from that car behind me.

But as that next car comes swiftly along, it doesn’t slow down, but instead swerves away a little bit, and

whump whump

That sickening sound – as the car passes,
the turtle is now belly up and most certainly dead,
and I am jumping up and down in the middle of the road,
yelling at the unseen driver “you ass ! you stupid ASS !”
though by now the car is a mile down the road,
and it is myself who is the ass.

All too late I realize that the car must have swerved to avoid ME,
that if I had not been standing there, that turtle might have LIVED.
In my efforts to help it, I killed that turtle,
as surely as if I had run over it myself.

I slowly put on my garden-gloves.
My heart is a heavy, heavy stone.
I walk out morosely between oncoming cars, whose drivers stare uncomprehending at me,
and carry what’s left of the turtle
over to the water she had been seeking.

It is a costly lesson.

Like Thoreau, I cannot excuse myself.

But can you tell me, has this sort of thing ever happened to any of you?


  1. Many years ago I was heading home from a school function with my young son. He observed a cat in the road that met the same fate as your unfortunate turtle. He was concerned about it being left in the road and asked me to stop and remove it to the roads edge. I had passed by quite a distance so I had to back up a ways. As I backed up I gouged the entire passenger side of my week old GMC Sierra with a sharp and well anchored mail box. Oh, the Good Samaritan...

  2. I too have saved many turtles over the years as they go about their travels across roads. In fact I saved a eastern box turtle today. I discovered your blog & am enjoying your posts. A fellow lover of Nature & Thoreau, I blog from Indiana. Will become a follower!

  3. hi Joni, thanks for visiting -
    I remember box turtles fondly from growing up in Southeastern Pennsylvania. I visited your blog too and will follow from now on to see your amazing photographs !