I can hear the distant rumble of thunder from a storm making its way across Lake Michigan. It will be here soon enough but for now I will enjoy sitting on the back porch for whatever remains of the sun and warm breeze. With as lovely as it is right now it is near impossible to believe that the skies will soon darken and rain begin to fall. Even the birds at the feeder seem to be in denial of the upcoming storm. The Indigo Bunting sings sweetly, the Orioles are taking turns sipping nectar from the feeder, and the Red-Winged Black Birds continue to disturb and disrupt as much of the peace as possible.
As I listen to the thunder I think about Snapping Turtles. I am in awe of the primal instinct that is triggered during thunderstorms that compels the normally shy creature (female) to leave the security of the lake to find the perfect spot to lay its eggs. Another less awestruck part of me thinks about the damage to my lawn, the money that Muskegon County, the State of Michigan, and the turtle people spent to erect a fence along 2 miles of US 131 to keep the turtles safe from vehicles, all the baby birds I will meet this year yet not watch grow to adulthood, and lastly turtle soup.
In the morning, I fully expect to find one or more Snapping Turtles digging holes in the soft parts of my lawn to deposit eggs. Often they dig several holes, but only lay eggs in one hoping to confuse predators such as raccoons or skunks. The trickery seldom works. Frequently I find the nests reopened and surrounded by what is left of the fragile white shells curled and drying in the sun. Perhaps I should feel more saddened about the unborn turtles. But in truth, this sadness is fleeting when compared to how I feel when a Swan cygnet disappears, or when the last of the goslings are gone.
Against all odds, a few must survive as there is no shortage of Snapping Turtles at the Lakehouse. I occasionally see them submerged in shallow water or the tip of their nose as they break the surface of the water for a breath air. There are rumors that a frighteningly enormous Snapping Turtle lives in the lake. An average Snapping Turtle has a shell a little larger than a dinner plate or nine inch diameter and weighs about ten pounds. Table Top, as he is appropriately named. is no friendly quarter sized dime store turtle. His shell is at least 36 inches in diameter (a medium sized coffee table), his legs the size of small tree trunks and his weight unfathomable. I have not seen him personally, but have heard enough similar accounts to believe that he exists.
Mostly I know that there are an abundant number of Snapping Turtles not because I see them, but because of what I do not see. Each year flocks of Canada Geese nest at the Lakehouse. They sneak to the birdfeeder while the Sandhill Cranes are not watching and eat the fallen seed. When the Goslings are born they to come to the feeder. They are yellow, cute, so very silly, and so much fun to watch! But as the days go on fewer and fewer come to the feeder and finally I notice that for the most part the geese are gone completely. The same thing happens to the swan cygnets, loon chicks, and occasionally Sandhill Crane Colt. Sadly in the eight years I have lived here I have never seen a gosling or a cygnet live to adulthood. The small awkward swimming birds are easy prey for the turtles.
Although I am saddened every time one of the small birds disappears, I do understand that this is the way nature works. Despite its short life each has served its purpose. I am reminded of an old Native American story I heard years ago. There was once a mouse that lived in fields of tall grass and tunnels below the earth. The mouse wondered what lies beyond the grass where the bright light shone down upon him. He wondered what creatures made the sounds he knows to hide from. He wondered if he will ever know anything other than the tall grass and the tunnels he travels each day. But he understands that he must live exactly where he is and declares, “I am mouse”. One day while he was foraging for food he heard a terrifying shriek right above him. Talons with sharp claws grasped the mouse and raised him into sky. Later when he awakens he feels the wind beneath his wings and sees with clarity all that lives below and declares, “I am Eagle”. Though the imagery of becoming Snapping Turtle is much less romantic than becoming Eagle, it is none-the-less the same concept. Somehow it gives me comfort.
The sky is darkening now and it is time to go inside. As I do, I feel blessed to live in a sanctuary that allows me observe, learn and grow. In this moment I realize that the holes in the lawn heal themselves, that the turtle fence may actually prevent accidents, or save the lives of other animals looking for an easy meal, and that the babies do live on in a different form.
I do, however, still think about Turtle Soup!
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© Gail Howarth and Living At The Lakehouse, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Gail Howarth and Living At The Lakehouse with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.