November 5, 2013

On Turtles & Micromanaging. ~ Lee Sears

Should I pick up the turtle?

This was the gripping question the other night.

I was out walking near dusk when I hit an area of road that dips to form a gully and where, at least on one side of the road, there is a rather wide creek.

However, if you look at the other side of the road, in the direction the creek is flowing, there is a bunch of pine straw. I’m guessing the creek travels through a pipe beneath the road and empties out somewhere on the other side.

The turtle seemed to think the same thing, but looked confused with two flipper feet on the asphalt and two still on the curb. It wasn’t the largest snapping turtle I’d ever seen in this area.

The largest one was looking confused in the middle of a parking lot where I worked several years ago. It had a shell at least 18 inches long and, with tail and head added in, was a minimum of two feet.

This was a turtle of substance, which is probably what saved its life because it appeared to have been nicked by a car. A crack ran down the back of the shell and tire treads fanned out on the pavement on either side of where it rested.

To be honest, mentally, I registered only distressed turtle. Not distressed snapping turtle.

Without any thought at all, I set down my stuff on the sidewalk and walked right up behind it. I took a deep breath, did the best I could to lower myself while wearing a pencil skirt and high heels and hoisted the creature by its shell.

It weighed as much as my youngest child.

My goal was to carry it further across the side parking lot to the safety of the retention pond. But I only made it onto the sidewalk when I felt the body inside the shell torque with some serious force as its tail and previously hidden and very long neck swung round to one side.

It hissed loudly and snapped. My reflexes ruled. When I saw its mouth about to close on my hand, my hands let go and the turtle—about the weight of 3 bowling balls—landed on the cement with a thud that just sounded, well, it sounded bad.

Reflexes are a funny thing. In addition to mindlessly releasing my grip, I apparently jumped back a few feet, too. The turtle was on its back, very still. I was completely frozen. I wanted to go tip it over but my recently snapped at hand said no.

So I stood there and watched as in one swift and, it has to be said, graceful movement, the giant turtle flipped itself back onto its feet. It looked at me and hissed again for good measure, and I watched it take off toward the pond with slow but determined (and sort of peeved) steps.

As I stopped to ponder the much smaller, but not completely insubstantial, snapping turtle on the side of the road, it occurred to me that I had a choice: to pick up or not to pick up.

He (turtles always seem like men to me) gazed with some degree of fatigue at the other side of the road where the dry pine straw didn’t exactly beckon yet beckoned all the same.

He seemed to know the road should be approached with caution. Realizing I had my phone with me, I dialed my daughter, Nature Girl. Somehow I knew she would know the proper way to pick it up, but no answer.

As the light faded, I remembered the torque, the hiss, the thud and I just couldn’t do it. I didn’t want to have my fingers snapped off and I didn’t want to drop and hurt the poor thing. I decided to let nature take its course and I moved on.

I moved on, but the event stayed with me a little while. There was a lesson in there somewhere. I just knew it.

And, sure enough, the next day it hit me. Turtles, as they say in certain parts of the globe, carry the entire world on their backs—plus four elephants. When you come to think of it, that’s a fairly sizable burden.

Of course, thinking turtles to be blessed with such a burden, ancient wisdom suggests, these guys are pretty strong and durable. Even though they can get hit by cars just as dogs, cats or even people can, many probably make it to the other side.

Was I, in fact, micromanaging the turtle—much to his detriment?

Was I neglecting my own tasks to take over the tasks of another?

I mean, sure, if someone had assigned me the weight of the world, I might want a little help every now and then. Plus, they are so cute and I hate the thought of them being steamrolled. Still, the one time I tried to intervene and help I almost finished off the poor guy and he wasn’t thanking me on his way to the pond.

In the end, I don’t know the right answer. But, surely, I can stand to at least consider for one moment the fact that the turtle has his job and I have mine. Even if I think he’s slow. Even if he is not the best communicator and I don’t know what he’s thinking as he gazes at his goal, not one step closer.

I must respect that we approach the problem differently and that he has been doing this a long time.

Just in case, though, Nature Girl called back and according to her, the way to pick up a snapping turtle is as follows:

1. Get behind it.

2. Put your foot on its back.

3. Press the back of its neck down with one hand, carefully.

4. Use the other hand to grab its tail.

5. Somehow, in this Twister situation, lift the entire animal by its tail (this last bit had me worried—what if the tail falls off?).

6. Supposedly, the turtle will not swing its neck around while inverted and can be carried to safety thusly.

Meanwhile, I will be on the lookout for any micromanaging tendencies on my part.


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Assistant Ed: Steph Richard/Ed: Bryonie Wise

{Photo: Nyoman Sundra via Pixoto}

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Jeff Black Nov 5, 2013 11:18am

"(turtles always seem like men to me)" made me laugh. That's a meme in the making, I think.

I remember, years and years ago, visiting where my grandmother lived in southeastern Kentucky, way up in the hills and hollers, and walking along the road and coming across a big terrapin. He stared at me as I passed, and his eyes were red-rimmed and angry-looking. As I got to a certain point, I noticed one side of his shell was staved in. He must have run afoul of one of the coal trucks that roared up and down the road; not enough to flatten him, but enough to badly injure him. It wasn't a pretty sight. I thought about picking him up off the road and putting him in the grass alongside, but he shifted to always be facing me. I imagine the pain made him quick to assess anyone and anything as a threat. Here I am, thirty-some-odd years later, still thinking about the poor guy, wondering if I should have done more, done something, to help him.

This is the second time I've thought about that terrapin recently. Sometime back in the spring, on a nice Ohio day, I was coming up on a local train crossing. It's not the most heavily-trafficked area, but a few cars were sitting there, even though the warning lights and barriers were sitting silent and still. I then noticed one of the local police cruisers sitting there also. The officer got out, opened his trunk, and pulled out a rod. He walked to the middle of the road, where a big turtle was lounging. The officer poked and prodded at it, trying to goad it to the roadside. Eventually, the turtle grudgingly trundled off into the roadside weeds. I laughed a bit, but then the image of that old terrapin leaped to mind, and I thought, "man, why didn't I think to get a stick to poke him off the side of the road?"

It's strange what little moments or encounters can stick with us across the decades, causing us to think about them when we least expect it, making us think and consider.

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Lee Sears

Lee Sears: Lifetime writer and mother of three who is consciously taking time for herself not only to refer to herself in the third person but also to spend time on the important things in life: loving self-care, loving her children, loving her friends and family, writing, walking in nature, more yoga time, meditation and making the occasional Youtube video.