May 23

World Turtle Day

 

As you scan the Big Saver parking lot, you find three adjacent slots along the cement curb towards the back.  That section will be the easiest to pull into, and maybe the door of your car won’t get dinged again like happened last month.

You turn the wheel sharp, ready to zip in.

But…Is that what you think it is?

In the center slot, a large rock that seems to be…moving.

Moving slowly.  A turtle has somehow lumbered its way into the lot for this suburban grocery store.

You park more carefully than you’d planned, taking the spot to the turtle’s left.  As you get out, you walk through the neighboring space to get a closer look.

This guy doesn’t have the colorful green-yellow stripes that brightened the shell of the box turtle you remembered from your childhood.  Any color has faded from age, or from a dried coating of mud.   Though it’s hard to estimate the turtle’s age — they’re all a bit wrinkled, aren’t they? — you guess this specimen has had a long, rough life.  One of his front legs looks like it’s been crushed to a stump, possibly from a previous parking lot accident.

He glances at you with suspicious indifference.  A few spikes protrude from his lower jaw, and the upper jaw has a sharp, overhanging beak that looks dangerous.  A snapping turtle, most likely — though you’ve no plans to wave a finger beneath his mouth to find out.

Basically, you’re afraid to touch him.  Turtles are supposed to be slow, but this guy might go into an unpredictable rage of snapping.

You’re not really sure what to do.  There’s no collar or identification tags, so it’s not a family pet or lab animal.  It’s not a dog foaming at the mouth with rabies, so no need to call animal control.

It’s also not in your parking spot, so technically isn’t your responsibility.

So you let yourself off the hook, decide to go ahead with your mid-day grocery shopping.  The turtle got himself into this mess, so he can get himself out of it.  By the time you finish shopping, he’ll have lumbered somewhere else.

Just to make sure, you take extra time in the market — comparing prices, getting fresh-sliced meat at the deli counter, going through the slow regular line instead of self-check.

By the time you return to the lot wheeling a cart overflowing with purchases, the turtle is gone from his parking space.  You scan the immediate area, and see no sign of him in the lot, or in the sidewalk and street beyond the curb.  It’s possible he could have moved on his own, slow and steady like the tortoise of fable fame.  Maybe another shopper with more confident animal-wrangling skills had wandered by, had lifted him by the shell to a mound of grass, nudged him with a toe to encourage him toward safer terrain.

You unload the groceries into your trunk, then get behind the wheel ready to back out of your space and return home.  As soon as you put the key in the ignition, an uneasy thought stops you from turning it.

With a sigh, you unbuckle your seatbelt and step out of the car.  It’s not your fault if the poor old turtle wanders into the street, and you’re not nearby to stop it.  But if you actually run over it yourself….

You support yourself with one hand against the car, crouching low to check under the chassis.

It’s hard to see.  You have to bring your face close to the ground, squint at the shadows beneath the car…  The whole time, you worry the blur of a reptile head will launch forward, snap and clamp down on your nose or rip a chunk out of your cheek.

But there’s nothing.  Nothing under the car, and your circuit of the vehicle reveals nothing behind either back tire, behind the passenger-side front tire, or the driver-side —

Wait.  Right behind the front tire.  The old turtle wedged there behind the tire and still as a stone.

 

[…continued tomorrow…]