August 2. The word is turtle.

Oh, so many things I could write. Turtles are my wonderful mother-in-law’s little totem critter, the way otters are mine. Their biology is entertaining and strange, the group includes both endangered species and invasive ones…

But I want to tell you about MY turtle.

See, I had a turtle once. For one whole summer. We had recently moved to small-city Indiana from Orange County CA, from a place where nature happened in concrete ditches and was reconstructed through landscaping in high-fenced backyards to a neighborhood where we could walk down a hill into an undeveloped flood plain around a creek. It was a whole different world down there. Jungle-like and overgrown, with thorny plants and seaweed smells, mud and nothing contained–and we were allowed to wander all over it.

Wonderland for a ten-year-old, in other words.

Early the second summer there I found the weirdest looking turtle ever (small, the size of my hand, with big lumpy bumps all down his back)  wandering around the creek bottom. Now, we were a camping family who made leaf pressings and knew wildflower names and trees and had all the Little Golden Guides, so I’d thought I knew turtles. Box turtles and sliders and pig-nosed…nope. He was none of those. He was A Mystery!  I had to take him home with me so I could consult the guide.

Be still my childish naturalist’s heart, he was A SNAPPING TURTLE! How thrilling was that? It was the best thing ever.

I decided I had to have him, even though I knew it Wasn’t Responsible to keep wild animals. “Can I keep him for a little while?” I asked. “Just for the summer?”

My clever parents, who knew dissuading their stubborn daughter from her obsessions was best done indirectly, said, “You can keep him as long as you keep his aquarium clean and feed him. You know he only eats live fish, right?”

Of course I knew, because I’d read my nature book. Looking back, I’m sure my parents expected me to give up and let the turtle go, if not immediately, then in a week or two, but no.

It was summer.  There were lots of little fish in the creek. The fictional kids in my adventure books caught fish to survive all the time. How hard could it be? Not hard at all, actually, although I gave up on the fishing pole after an hour because it was B-O-R-I-N-G, and also midges, flies, and mosquitos.

Hand-fishing, on the other hand, was fun because barefoot and water EQUALS fun, and there were lots of things to look at under the water while I waited. It takes only stillness, I learned, and loads of patience. (I needed practice with both skills, did I mention how clever my parents were? Either way, they won…)

Anyway. I carried creek water two blocks uphill for that little turtle’s aquarium and  caught little minnows with my hands for him all summer. He got a lot bigger, and when it came time for school, I released him down on the grassy creekside where I’d been catching his meals. And that’s the end of that story. Sorry. A bit anti-climactic, I suppose.

Fast-forward twelve years to my first post-college job. Did you know pet stores sell  goldfish for ten cents apiece specifically for feeding to carnivorous turtles, frogs and fish? Maybe you did, but I didn’t. Not until that day I started working in one.

I laughed so hard.

The more you know…


word provided by Amanda Bonnett

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