Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Tortoise and the Care

Yesterday, I looked out the bathroom window and saw something crawling across the lawn, slowly and steadily. One of our increasingy frequent turtle visitors had come up from the not-so-big Big Timber Creek, below our back yard.

The dog went out and stumbled upon it, mid squat, and comically danced in circles around the now motionless shell. She threw a few bravado-driven barks over her shoulder as she retreated in fear.

Then, my boys went out to inspect.

They went, immediately, into salvation mode. We needed, they said, to do something to help the turtle -- take it in; make it a cardboard home; feed it; cuddle it.

A week before this, they had found another one back there and the -- we'll call him "precocious" -- kid from across the street claimed it and took it to his father (who, according to my son, is an absolute expert on turtles) and they discovered that that little green beast that they had origionally named "Sheldon" was really more of a "Loulou" -- or whatever it is they named her. She was, as they say, "with egg."

Before Sheldon/Loulou was abducted from the green of our shady yard and thrust into a shoebox, I told the kids it was better to leave the creature alone -- it was probably making its way back home, back to the cool, leafy banks of the creek to do its thing (which, unbeknownst to us, at the time, was probably digging a hole in which to deposit eggs).

Against my wishes, Sheldon/Loulou will probably live the rest of her life in a box, along with her babies. The kid was gone before I finished my tree-hugging appeal.

I went inside and ate a pretzel.

So, back to the other day: my kids were insisting that we should take this second turtle to the neighbor boy's Professor of Amphibiology dad, for safe-keeping. I tried to explain to the boys that that little turtle is perfectuly capable of taking care of itself -- more capable than we are of taking care of it; that the creatures of Nature are tough and that the natural environment is their best home...

I got dramatic. Music started playing from somewhere in the background (might have been my wife inside with the stereo, backing me up). "Let him live his life as Nature intended! Let him crawl happily through he riverbank mud and let him frolic (to the extent to which such slow-moving creatures can frolic) among his hard-backed chums under the cool, silver shadows of the summer moon! Let him sing the song of turtle freedom to the canopy, neck thrust forth, legs bare and defiant of the warm winds of the season!"

As I was speaking, my younger son plucked up a clover, his brow furrowed. "He looks hungry." He placed the clover in front of the immobile shell.

"You're missing the point," I said, fists on my hips, my spirit leaking like helium from a day-old party balloon.

"Dad," said my older son,"We really should take him to [precocious neighbor boy's] dad. He might die."

I thought. And I thought. How could I save the little fellow from the miseries he'd endure under my children's
kindness. They crouched around him, my younger son thrusting a clover into the head-end of the shell. "Why won't he eat?" they muttered, stroking their chins. I felt it coming. Precocious-boy's dad would know the answer, they'd assert. My son stood to speak... I had to act...

"Who wants ice cream!!?" I said. They ran, screaming, back in the house before the acoustics of the "m" were swallowed by the trees, their suffering green friend forgotten.

I wiped my brow with a forearm. Redirection successful. Now it was on to the problem of not actually having ice cream in the freezer.

I patted our friend on the shell and went for the car keys.

I have to ask myself: In teaching our kids to care for the creatures of nature, are we, unwittingly, teaching them to underestimate the incredible resilience of said creatues? Are we, ultimately, replacing the respect that nature's creatures deserve with condescending concern? No one is saying it is wrong to teach conservation, but I wonder if the gentle message kids are getting isn't clouding their perspective on just how superior even the skinniest squirrel is to us, in terms of its ability to survive.


  1. Might I suggest that teaching kids about the specific animals in question might help? Probably won't help Precocious, but might work with your boys.

    My guess is that you found Eastern Box turtles. If I'm right, then your instinct to leave the alone is correct (and if Precocious' Professor of Turtleology dad doesn't release Loulou, he needs a smack upside the head). There's quite a bit of good information on the Eastern Box at the Davidson College herpetology lab's website: Your local department of natural resources might have some materials as well.

    There've been a lot of Eastern Boxes in my yard this year too -- they actually don't like being soaked, and come up the hill when the creek is running high.

  2. Hi, 'nora. I fear Loulou might be doomed to a box. But she is in their back yard. I might have to put on my Ninja suit and sneak overt there tonight...make the escape look lke an accident.

    I think you're right about them being Easter Box turtles. I have been doing early morning scanes of the yard before leaving for work and hiding them in corners and over the fence, away from dogs and children...