Playing Turtle God
The first time I heard the scratching noise I thought something very weird was happening. I was asleep with the patio door open, because fresh air, eh, and the noise was coming from very close. The dog had already been up for a bit, nose smooshed against the screen door, ready to bolt.
I was at the lake with my kids (and dog), sleeping peacefully through the night, the quiet of the woods punctuated by the incredible racket wildlife makes at night (and in the morning, and throughout the day, “quiet” is a touch misleading). But this particular noise was not especially natural. Something was scratching the plastic of the septic tank covers.
Thinking: If I let the dog out, whatever is causing that noise will be spooked. But on the odd chance that it might be a skunk, I decided against letting him investigate this for me.
I went outside with a flashlight. The night was dark. Most of the time in the forest I can see well enough, even at night, to find my way. But when the skies are clouded and there is no moon, the flashlight helps.
There. It’s… ew, ugly. Snapping turtles sure aren’t pretty. They are covered in moss and glisten with muck from the bottom of the lake or some other pit of despair. I mean, they’re ugly. They move slowly, especially when their butts are dug into the ground. This one was laying eggs, evidently, and its claws were scratching the plastic.
Ha. Alright then. Not much I can do about that, except wonder why on earth given all the open spaces around here, this turtle picked the top of the septic tank, with humans and a pathologically friendly dog always around, to do its most important business that year.
I’m sure it had its reasons, because it kept coming back every year to do the same thing. And every year the eggs would all be gobbled up by an army of porcupines or raccoons that also lived nearby.
It was sad, in a way. The kids wanted to save the baby turtles, as did I to some extent, but we had no equipment or knowledge of what turtle eggs need to turn into baby turtles. And besides, we reminded ourselves, we should try as much as possible not to interfere with nature. Raccoons need to eat, too.
It’s different when you’re deliberately tearing through the animals’ natural habitat to build busy roads, I suppose. My turtle didn’t have to come near where the humans were. There was plenty of wild spaces around. But when we dry up wetlands to build a highway, where are turtles supposed to go? They’re prehistoric beasts, they don’t have sophisticated brains or google or anything.
Do you help them, then, or do you not? Is “let nature take its course” still the right option when humans make a mess of natural habitats and disorient wildlife? This group says no, and helps rescue eggs and baby turtles. They know they are interfering, but they figure it’s OK given what caused the problem in the first place.
It’s probably alright, on balance. But turtles remain threatened, by you and me when we’re driving down those roads. They get squished by our heavy tires. We can’t all play turtle god. But we can certainly be careful. All we have to do is slow down a bit and pay attention to what creature is trying to cross the road.
And if one comes to lay its eggs on your septic tank, best to leave it be.