Of Turtles and Tractor-Beams

I don’t care about sound systems and GPS.  I’d rather sing loudly in the car and pore over maps before the journey.  My dream car has a tractor beam.

I could have used it today.

The fragile curve of a turtle’s neck is one of the images that punches me hardest in the gut.  These animals that survived the mass extinction of the dinosaurs, these gorgeously-adapted creatures that wear predator-defeating armor, are helpless on a highway.  From May through November, the period my biologist dad refers to as “The Great Turtle Migration,” I drive in a state of obsessive alertness.

My dad is not thrilled that his daughter will whip her car off the road and scuttle across lanes of traffic in heels to pluck a turtle from the highway.  I remind him that you can’t teach a child something by repeated example and then expect her not to do it.  For years, we all yelled, “Hi, turtle!  Bye, turtle!” when we passed the blind curve where Dad once pulled over to rescue a box turtle.

So today, as I drove through a small college town on the way to work, I pulled over in the nearest parking lot and jumped out of the car.  Now, because I always want to be prepared for the zombie apocalypse, I never do stupid things like jump out of the car and leave the door open.  Unless there’s a turtle in the road.  Turtle safety trumps zombie preparedness.

The baby snapping turtle had nearly made it across two wide lanes when the first car hit it.  I saw it recoil in pain and terror.  The second car flipped it end over end.  If I had had a tractor beam on my car in that moment, this pacifist would now be blogging to you about her brand-new restraining order.

As a biologist’s daughter, I love all critters.  But squirrels have death wishes.  I can understand how they get flattened.  My husband’s car actually got hit by a deer earlier this spring.  The cop who responded said, “Yeah, 6am to 9am is when deer commit suicide.”  But a turtle isn’t exactly a moving target.  If you’re traveling 35 mph on a long straight stretch of road with no oncoming traffic or pedestrians or aggressive drivers, you have to be either oblivious (in which case you shouldn’t be driving) or a horrendous excuse for a human being (in which case, tractor beam for sure) in order to hit a turtle.  And if you really are so oblivious that you don’t see the tall woman running frantically toward the little lump in the road, then you should have your license revoked.

I took the first turtle of summer to the local wildlife hospital.  She was an Eastern painted turtle.  She didn’t make it.

I took the baby snapping turtle to my herpetologist friend at the college.*  When he picked it up, the rush of blood from its tiny body took my breath away.

I want a tractor beam on my car.

I want the person who crushed that baby turtle to see what I saw–to cradle a life in hand, to know its suffering, to wonder at how much blood can flow from a tiny body.  To choke back tears on the way to work.  To hope that the internal injuries are so severe that it will die sooner rather than later.  To be haunted all day by the knowledge that our conveniences are too often death-dealers.  To scan every inch of road from May to November, bracing for the visceral rush of hope and fear triggered by the curve of a fragile neck in an unkind wilderness of asphalt.



*Thanks, Gavin, for interrupting your anatomy lecture on the eye to examine a wounded baby turtle.  Thanks, college kids, for being cool when your lecture got interrupted by the crazy lady.

4 thoughts on “Of Turtles and Tractor-Beams

  1. UGH. I feel ya.
    I was reduced to tears when a butterfly got caught in the windshield wiper during a rainstorm.
    And, Kevin, God love him, forced me to stop when a deer was dragging itself across the road—
    who only wounds and animal and doesn’t stop to have someone come tend to it or put it out of it’s misery?!!
    Ultimately, I had to talk him out of running wildly into the road to get kicked to death by a scared hurt animal he could do nothing for….
    The combination of cars (often captained by soulless morons) and wildlife certainly produce TRAUMA for us sensitive folk, I say.

    1. I love you two and your good hearts. To me, one of the greatest mysteries of this messed-up yet beautiful world is that anyone *wouldn’t* care. Soulless morons, indeed. When they finally open that sci-fi auto accessories store I’m dreaming of, you and I will have to make a field trip.

  2. Poor Brenna…I hate, hate, HATE animal violence even when it’s by accident (as you already know) My friends have to give me for-warnings about animal violence in Game of Thrones so I can be safe to cover my ears and hum while something CGI dies…my mom just showed me a video of some place out in Asia where all the gulls are dying because ppl litter and they’re full of bottle caps and lighters and razors and plastic. They eat it then regurgitate it to their young and then their young die. And there were videos of them writhing in agony before finally giving in and just dying. It broke my heart. I’ll never be able to rid my mind of those terrible images, just like you and those turtles.
    My heart goes out to you. It’s a shame some higher force couldn’t just smite the a-holes who don’t care.

    1. Sue, I saw the trailer for that film, too! It’s called Midway, I think, and it’s about Midway Island in the Pacific. It reduced me to a soggy mess!

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