The Reluctant Steward

Speeding down the road, mentally reviewing my day’s to-do list, I spotted a turtle, about the size of a football, emerging from the newly mowed, grassy median strip and heading across the roadway. The image of turtle soup on concrete made me pop a U-turn. My intention was a quick assist, and then to be on my busy, frantic way.

But reaching down to pick the turtle up I saw its shell was cracked—a large, clean break on the top—its pink, delicate skin visible beneath. There was fresh blood on the road under it though the turtle didn’t appear severely injured. Its feet flailed as I lifted it, but then quickly disappeared into the safety of the fractured armor. As I hurried across the road, a cautious head peeked out just far enough to cock a curious, beady eye up at me. I placed it gently amid grass and gravel, darted back across the roadway and into my car—my own armor, of sorts. Good deed done, now on with the day.

But not so fast. Would it be all right? From behind the wheel I studied the turtle—now a dark lump on the far side of the road. It hadn’t moved since I put it down. What would happen when the bayou’s muddy water poured over its raw, exposed skin? I cringed. What if ants found the wounded creature and swarmed in mass, tearing apart its soft pink flesh tiny bite by tiny bite? Okay, I’ll call the vet and get an expert opinion, secretly hoping to offload the responsibility in the process.

The receptionist listened patiently as I explained the problem. Placing me on hold, she went to consult with the doctor, and returned minutes later not with an answer but with the phone number of another vet who “handles these kinds of situations.” The second number yielded similar results leading to yet a third number which proved, in the end, to be disconnected.

Now what? Dodging traffic, I retrieved the turtle from the far side of the road, dashed back and loaded it into a battered, recycle box in my trunk.

“We like to look them over before releasing them back into the wild,” the woman at the Wildlife Rescue Center told me over the phone. The center was an hour’s drive away. Drat! Remembering the look in those tiny beady eyes, what choice did I have? So, on a day when rescuing a turtle was nowhere on my long list of things to do, I found myself en route to a rescue site an hour’s drive across town.

Arrival was like a scene from TV’s ER. Walking through the entrance someone whisked the turtle from my hands and disappeared through a pair of swinging doors to the back. That was the last I ever saw of “my” turtle.

The woman at the front was appreciative that I had brought it in, explaining that sometimes they can epoxy a turtle’s shell and glue it back together. I could get status reports of its progress, she advised.

About a week later I received a brief note. “Your turtle has been sent to A&M for repair;” followed a few weeks later with an update. “The turtle was repaired and has been released.” Ah, the turtle was whole again, and all was right with the world.

For the turtle, crossing my path that fateful day provided great fodder for The Turtle Diaries: attacked and wounded by an unknown force; abducted by an alien; transported to a strange place; poked, prodded and examined under bright lights; subjected to a foreign, sticky substance, and finally set free in a strange land.

As for me, my encounter with the injured turtle was a gentle reminder that we are each stewards of this beautiful planet along with all its creatures great and small, even when it’s not convenient and not on our list.

Author’s Note: The Almanac of Arlington Heights, Winter 2011