When I leave on my nocturnal excursions—clouds strewn across the sky from the beautiful chaos of a painter’s palette, sunset layering above the mountains, mists slinking over ponds as one normally experiences only in fairy tales—when I traverse these earthly delights, it pulls a serenity in salt-laden damp from my eyes. The knowledge that I am not, can never be, alone in this world settles within my chest and shrugs off the weight from my shoulders, if only for a few hours. But always, as I begin the return trek, the magic fades, and I reflect on what I know and what I have seen.
On Monday, the drive through darkened quietude dredged a story about turtles from the recesses of my mind. In 2012, Nathan Weaver, a student at Clemson University, conducted a road survey in which he found, on this particular day in Clemson, 2.6% of the motorists passing him intentionally swerved to hit a turtle decoy. It makes me wish he had somehow outfitted the turtle with a hidden caltrop.
Now, I realize that people of all walks of life may read this blog—some people, perhaps, who do not see the value in a life that is not human. But can we at least agree that needless, intentional killing is always a bad thing? Sure, people define “need” in many different ways, but taking a life simply for the sake of taking a life—well, I guess that’s my definition of needless. And I do not think it is too radical to expect that people who do this would see consequences for their actions.
In a most peculiar turn of events, the very next day I was called upon to assist a turtle that had, indeed, been hit by a car. An acquaintance found the large female Painted Turtle on the road, her anterior carapace cracked through at a diagonal. A large chip of shell was embedded beneath the crack. When faced with this situation, there are four things we can do:
- Put the turtle out of her misery
- Attempt to fix the crack
- Relinquish her to a wildlife rehabilitator, or
- Let her go
It’s never an easy decision.
The closest reptile rehabilitator to Craftsbury is in Burlington, a good hour and a half away. I do not feel good about permanently removing an animal from its population, especially a female who may or may not be gravid at this time of year. Fixing the crack may have actually worked, but I had never performed this particular operation, and the large chip below the crack made me uneasy about the possible outcome. When I saw the turtle, besides the obvious injury and two leeches attached to her right marginal scutes, she looked really good. That is to say, she was very active and alert. I felt she had a good chance at survival, so I recommended returning her to the place where she was found, sans leeches.
Afterwards, I emailed an expert to ask his opinion. He informed me how to do shell surgery, even with the chip still under the crack. In the future, as I’m sure this is not the last injured turtle I have seen, I will try it out. Perhaps I should keep a reptile emergency kit—silvadene cream, chlorhexidine wash, gauze, epoxy. Maybe a piece of hard, flexible plastic and scissors, for grafting larger cracks in shells. Betadine, for sure.
Tonight, when I go out for frog call surveys, I’m sure the estival Vermont dusk will once again conjure metaphors of Disney movies and Bob Ross to my mind. Would that I could stay in that headspace forever. But life requires growth, and growth requires conflict—as such, I will just have to press on using my keyboard as a weapon against the grave injustices inflicted on the ectothermic world around us.