Turtle Love

The first time I saw a turtle I was five years old. We were at a cabin on Lake Winnipesauke. (That is the first word I learned how to spell!) I had a broken arm in a cast. I couldn't go off and have fun with my cousins, aunts and uncles. They went horseback riding and I stayed behind with my mother and dad, sulking with disappointment.

My dad set me up with a fishing pole and I caught my first fish, a small pumpkin seed. My parents wrapped my arm in a plastic bag, and put me in the water to paddle around. I was already a water rat and loved to swim. I was showing my dad that I could tread water, when I noticed what looked to be a small round black leaf bobbing on the ripples. It was just a little larger than the size of a quarter. It was odd looking for a leaf, and I remember being perplexed as I put out my hand and slowly lifted it up. It sprouted legs, poked out its head, and looked around, and I was hooked. That was the first miracle in nature I can remember. Imagine the shock and surprise!

Last year I came across that familiar shape again while hiking around one of my favorite haunts: Thompson Pond. I looked down and saw a black birch-leaf-shaped object. It was slimy! It was just a little bigger than the size of a quarter. Hmmmm….

Baby Snapping turtle

I nudged it with a stick to see if it was alive. SNAP! That thing jumped up like a sprung mousetrap! It was a baby snapper. How do they know to snap like that at such a young age?! It scared me for a moment! Those snapping turtles are really something else. I think they are the ugliest of all God's creatures. They give me the hee-bee gee-bees.

Last year our house guests borrowed our canoe, and paddled upstream from Salt Point along Clinton Hollow Road. "Ooh look! Baby ducks! Aren't they so cuuuuute???" Disturbed by their presence Mama Duck scurried out from the side of the creek followed by her ducklings, and plunk dunk dunk: one by one they were plucked under the surface of the water in a snap. Our friends returned to the house in disgrace, hanging their heads and practically whispering, as they told us how they had set off the chain of events.

Just the summer before as I strolled toward the creek, I thought to myself: "That rock wasn't there in the water yesterday (was it?)." It was one of those unbelievably hot and humid days, like we have been experiencing lately. I had a good book and a comfortable seat on a sand bar just below the falls, which were about four feet higher than where I took my seat. If I turned around, my eyes were nearly at the water level above me. On a lazy summer day, it is easy to drift off into another world of daydreaming, or perhaps a sweet catnap. I was somewhere in between, when just behind my head the water exploded, as if a boulder had been dropped from the sky. I looked around slowly, the water from the splash spilled over the rocks. Then it happened again! I saw a huge shell, covered with pond scum and grass. It was turning over and over, and then I saw the smaller turtle. It seemed as though the larger one was trying to drown the smaller one. On and on they tumbled, hissed at each other, dove underwater, and exploded to the surface again. I hunkered down in my Adirondack chair and peeked through the slats. This activity went on for almost an hour.

My husband came home from work, walked down to join me, and I tried to warn him off with sign language, pointing to the turtles. "Whaat? Huhhh?" He kept coming toward me, the turtles saw him, and plunk, just like that, they disappeared under the black water of the Little Wappingers Creek. The splash became a ripple, the water calmed, and once again became a dark mirror, reflecting the green trees that form an umbrella over the falls. Dumbfounded doesn't describe it!

A few weeks later I described the snapping turtle fight to a friend of mine from Philadelphia, who exclaimed, "You saw THAT??? Did you get any pictures?" He told me that there are very few pictures of snapping turtles mating! "Honey, they weren't fighting. They were lovin'!" So that is how snapping turtles mate, in an angry twisting, biting frenzy. Their smell is so rotten, even the dog wrinkles up her nose!

I love all other turtles. They seem so old and wise, and patient. We had two painted turtles camped out on a tree that fell into the creek this spring. They were there every day for two months. They held their ground, and weren't afraid of us or the dog. We loved seeing them, their little black helmets shining in the sun, as they collected the heat needed to maintain their body temperature. Occasionally we see them in the grass and know they are laying their little white leathery eggs somewhere nearby.

Two of the smallest turtles to be found in our wetlands and along the creek are the Blanding turtle and the bog turtle. These turtles are so rare these days, if you have one about your place you have the healthiest habitat, and are doing right by Mother Nature. They require such a delicate and specific surrounding, and can be found in grassy tussocks and reeds. They are not always in the water. People are looking out for them everywhere. The contractors my husband works with have told him of situations where the Banding turtle habitat is so precious, that not only have some construction sites been halted, some developments have had to be torn down, the land returned to its original state, and the fines are steep.

Blanding Turtle
Bog turtles are smaller than the average painted turtle, with large patches of yellow on their necks, not to be mistaken for the yellow stripes of the painted turtle's neck. They have a raised diamond pattern on their backs like the wood turtle. Their head is more round than most. They remind me of the cartooned "Myrtle the Turtle." I swear these are what I have seen crossing the road on Fiddlers Bridge Road, with some dozens squished in the road. We do everything possible to encourage them to our part of the stream, and hope that the Little Wappingers can support them. I am afraid of what can happen upstream.

Bog Turtle

When you see a turtle, never distract it from its path. Turtles have an internal compass and know exactly where they are going. If you want to be a good Samaritan when you see a turtle in the road, put it to the side of the road in the direction it was heading. If you see a Blanding turtle, please document it as they are becoming rarer with each passing year. Take a picture and record its location, dead or alive.

Turtles have been around since the days of the dinosaurs. It is our responsibility to assure that they thrive. Yes, please do, keep Clinton rural and beautiful! It is a battle between the developers who scrape and scour our landscape without a care, in order to make the money to buy more toys, and the steadfast environmentalists.

Me? I'm for the turtles.

Pat Laine is an 8 year resident of Clinton. She owns and operates Little Creek Therapeutic Massage. She shares her home with her husband Will and their two Maine Coon cats. Whether walking in the woods, or from their vantage point overlooking Little Wappingers Creek and its environs, they observe the miracles of wildlife and plant life on a daily basis.

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