Wednesday, October 22, 2014


"Snapping turtle is good eats."
A posting on

It was a funny place for a 
traffic jam.

At the east end of Holliston, where Route 16 crosses into Sherborn, is a low-lying place with little ponds on either side of the road and a stream running underneath. The road briefly becomes a narrow causeway that curves through the area, and heavy 
guard rails stand on both sides to keep cars from sliding into the water. But there isn't usually much to make people tap on the brakes.

Traffic had slowed to a crawl on the causeway, in both directions. You could tell that something small but attention-getting was in the road just ahead, and the drivers seemed anxious to get by it without hitting it. There were four cars in front of me, moving forward in a hesitant, confused way. Necks were craning.

The car at the head of the line bucked to the right, stopped abruptly, then swerved to the left and broke free with a wide swing around the object, and the following cars did much the same. When it came my turn, I was not surprised at what I saw.

A snapping turtle was in the eastbound lane, engaged in crossing the road from right to left. Large but not huge, its shell about the size of a dinner plate, it was moving as snappers do, with a deliberate, slow-motion pace, as if all its joints ached. Poor snapper! Trying to get across a busy road at rush hour, this turtle was toast.

I passed behind the turtle, to my right, and rolled down the window for a better look just as it was reaching the double yellow line. Its head, bluish-gray and streaked with muck, turned this way and that as cars and trucks eased by just inches away. Poised delicately on its clawed feet, ignoring the noise and vibration, it swung one foot into the westbound lane, heading for the tall weeds and soft earth at the far side of the road. But it had a long way to go, and I thought sure that, any moment now, one of these drivers was going to squash it flat.

But maybe not. As I pulled away, I saw a big trash truck, grinding down 
the hill in my direction, suddenly lurch to a stop to let the turtle finish crossing. And the rest of the westbound traffic fell in line behind him. Either this was the luckiest turtle alive, or people are more "environmentally aware" than I'd given them credit for.

Times have certainly changed. I guess we're better educated now, less likely to run over a turtle just for the heck of it. (Aren't we?) It wasn't that long ago that a snapper would have been hit the moment it crawled out onto the road, probably on purpose. Of course, some of the drivers may have been under the impression that the snapper is protected by law, so why go looking for trouble? (In Massachusetts, it's not.) Or maybe people simply felt bad for it, a defenseless animal in a tight spot. Here it was, impelled to get across the road, heedless of the risk, and in its determination looked both pathetic and enormously dignified. Besides that, it was so literally the creature from the black lagoon, unscrutable and muddy and armored from head to tail, I think some of us might have been a little in awe of it.

I drove on, thinking things over. Something about the turtle bothered me. What was it thinking, crossing a busy road like that? (Silly question.) I pictured its snake-like head and heavy, sharp beak. The plain truth is that I'm not very happy with snapping turtles myself, and neither are you, I suspect. You have to be wary of it. Any animal that can remove one of your fingers in the blink of an eye ... it just gives you the willies. The fluid and lightning way it can extend its head and neck to strike at whatever is bothering it, seems to me especially dismaying. It's the turtle people love to hate. Check out the web sites: some of the measures people have taken against snappers seem particularly vindictive and extreme. I respect snappers! Of course I respect them, and hawks too, and coyotes and muskrats and deer and all the rest of it. Only, those animals don't usually get in your face.

In the world of critters, the snapper is the antithesis of cute, no cuddly marmot or elegant penguin. There's no such thing as a snapper-hugger. It spends its time hidden in murky pond waters and swamps, doing whatever it is turtles do. You don't matter to it. If it can, it ignores you. It has no fear of you.

So part of me despises it. True! And I really did expect it to get run over (not that I would ever do it myself; I thought somebody was going to do it for me). I know you're not supposed to say things like this or even think them. Most of the time the snapper is out of sight, out of mind, but then it rises up out of the water and sets foot on your turf, and now you've got your chance. You can steer your car towards it and smash it flat. Then you feel ... what? Relieved? Justified? Guilty? How guilty?

What was that I was saying about "environmental awareness"? One fine morning, a snapping turtle crosses the road, and I, safe behind the wheel, get a peek into the dark lagoon of my own impulses.

So is it just me? Where do you fall on the "turtle love" scale? Let's say you're driving along and you see a snapping turtle on the road up ahead, what do you do?

a) At all costs, avoid hitting it. Swerve into the path of oncoming traffic if you must.
b) Stop short, and pull over. Wait until the turtle has safely crossed the road. Better yet, get out and direct traffic around the turtle until police arrive. If you end up late for work, use a calm voice with your boss to explain why.
c) Run the turtle over and keep going.
d) Run it over and pull to the side, get out, gather up the remains, put them in your freezer at home, make stew, invite some friends over, open a couple of beers, enjoy.

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