In late spring of 2001, while I was driving my usual route home, I saw a turtle trying to cross the highway. I thought about stopping to help, but I didn’t really feel like making that effort. A few hours later, when I drove back in the other direction, I saw the remains of the turtle who had not made it across. It broke my heart, and I felt terrible for ignoring my impulse to help the poor thing.
A week or two after that, I saw another turtle crossing the highway on my way to the community college. This time, I pulled over and carried the turtle the rest of the way across. Feeling extremely satisfied, I decided to start leaving extra time for my morning drive to school, in case any other turtles needed saving. There was a lot of turtle traffic on that highway, so small rescue operations became a regular thing for me.
There wasn’t a ton of automobile traffic on that road, so I never had to wait long to cross safely. I liked it when people drove by while I was working. I know I was a sight to see. Back then, I wore black clothes and black makeup and assorted chains and spiked things. If camera phones and social media had existed, I could have become internet famous: “Goth teen consoles turtle while directing traffic.”
Most of my clients were painted turtles or red eared sliders. I would walk up to one, they’d impersonate a rock, and I’d move the one-pound “rock” to a safe location. One day, though, I saw a turtle in trouble that was at least ten times bigger than any of the others I’d helped, and this one had more threatening features. When I got closer, the turtle stretched out their neck toward me, opened their mouth, and let out a frantic but exhausted sounding hiss. I knew this wouldn’t be a simple “move the rock” rescue, so I launched into a motivational speech. I didn’t know what else to do with a snapping turtle.
I remember standing in the middle of the road, gesturing emphatically while attempting to verbally persuade my shelled friend to finish crossing while it was safe. Whenever a vehicle drove by, the turtle would hiss at it threatenly. Unlike the other turtles, the snapper stopped crossing and took on a defensive response. Most of the turtles crossed slowly but surely. I wondered how long this one had been standing in the middle of the road, trying to intimidate the vehicles rather than walk away from them.
I went to my car and frantically dug for something that could help. My combination snow brush and ice scraper was the longest thing I had, so I decided to go with that. I figured I could nudge the frightened critter toward the ditch without risking the loss of any of my digits. So I went behind the turtle and gave them an encouraging little poke. Instead of moving forward though, the turtle turned around and hissed at me.
I figured I might have more luck getting the turtle to come after me than trying to push them in front of me. I waved my ice scraper in their face. Instead of walking toward me, the turtle shot their neck out and bit down on the plastic end of my tool. This impressively aggressive gesture made me extra glad I had kept my hands at a safe distance. I pulled my ice scraper and dragged the turtle about a yard before they let go. After a few more pokes, the turtle was chasing me through the ditch. The internet would have loved that video too.