Do you like turtles? I do. Most of them.
One day I saw my dog, Misty, barking and pawing at a box turtle at the edge the woods. Her nose told her it was alive, but it didn’t seem to have any body parts and this was driving her crazy. Box turtles have a trap door in the front that they can close, like lifting the drawbridge on a castle. Then he sits safely inside, completely closed in. I picked the box turtle up and noticed his trap door wasn’t quite shut: I could see his shiny eyes glaring at me from inside.
Turtles seem to be the most patient of creatures, but even the most patient of creatures will finally decide, after being barked at and pushed around long enough: “Enough of this, I’m going to bite something!”
“Hi, Mr. Boxy,” I said. He just stared. I poked my finger toward his nose to see if he would close his shell. Surprise! Quick as lightening he darted his head out and gave me a good beak-shaped bite that bled like crazy. Note to self: Do not poke at turtles.
On another day, when I was fishing at the bullhead pond, Boo and David were riding their bikes past me when they spied a snapping turtle crossing the road. It wasn’t too big, maybe as big as a turkey-baking dish. “Hey, let’s catch it,” I said, heading toward it. “Oh yeah? Watch this,” said David. He got a branch about as thick as my wrist and poked at the snapping turtle, which promptly bit the branch in half. Note to self: REALLY do not poke at snapping turtles.
But our neighbor Vincent ate snapping turtles, which he said were very tasty in soup, so I decided if I ever did catch a snapping turtle, I would give it to Vincent so he could feed his family. My plan was to catch it by the tail so it couldn’t bite me. Does that sound like a good plan? Maybe I needed some advice.
Through the woods, over the sandhill and across a hay field-in a little valley by a little pond lived a Turtle Master, Deer Slayer, and quite possibly Wizard-in-Disguise, whose name was Billy Wolf. He had snapping turtle shells big as laundry baskets nailed up on the front of his shack, bleaching white in the sun, along with deer antlers and cow skulls.
Would you walk up to an old man with bones hanging on his house and say “Hello?” I did and he told me stories about where he got all the bones. Finally I asked, “How do I catch a snapping turtle, Mr. Billy?” He peered at me for a bit and then said simply, “You don’t.”
Sometimes wizards disguised as regular old people like Billy Wolf give us good advice. Sometimes we don’t follow that advice and wish we did. But that’s the next story.
The Giant Snapping Turtle
What a day! I must have caught and released a hundred fish. The fishing was great at the reservoir, maybe because the “No Fishing” signs kept a lot of people away.
On my way home I took a detour through the marsh, which was flooded at that time of year. Deeper and deeper into the woody marsh I went, hopping from a grass clump to a mossy rock to a log. I was just about to jump onto the next mossy rock, when something stopped me.
The rock was so…so…shaped like one of Billy Wolf’s giant snapping turtle shells! I crouched down and looked more closely. Sure enough, it was not a mossy rock, it was the mossy back of a huge snapping turtle, mostly under water. “This is my chance,” I thought, “I will catch the biggest snapping turtle ever and take it to Vincent so he can make turtle soup.” Then I would nail its huge shell to the Magic Barn as a trophy, like Billy Wolf did.
I slipped into the cold water, my feet sinking alarmingly into the muck. The water had looked pretty shallow, but the closer I got to the turtle, the deeper it got and the more I sank into the muck. But there was its big fat, scaly tail, which I would grab and then what? Then I would drag it back to dry land and drag it home.
I leaned over and grabbed the tail, which was as thick as your lower leg. The snapper moved forward, churning up mud and turning the whole pool dark. The snapper, in fact, moved forward exactly like a tank towing a tricycle.
All of sudden I realized I was almost waist deep in a muddy pool being towed by a powerful ancient creature that could easily snap my leg off. A little voice in my head screamed, “RUN! Run now! Run as fast as you can!” And I did what that little voice said.
I was so scared that when I got home I still had some scared left over. Sometimes when you talk about scary things you feel better, so I told my big brother Boo about trying to catch the snapper.
“Now, that was really, really stupid,” he said. He wasn’t very comforting. But he was right.
The Magic Barn-growing up wild on a New England farm