On the Beating Death of a Snapping Turtle

snapping turtle migration, snapping turtle endangered,

Our neighbor beat a snapping turtle to death. The life so cruelly taken stays with me.

Every spring we see snapping turtles near our pond. We’re glad to see them return. Perhaps their presence reassures us that our farm is bountiful and feeds them well. Or perhaps their yearly return is a ritual of sorts, acknowledging as rituals do that some things stay the same in a world where so much changes.

The turtles are quite noticeable as they move with prehistoric dignity through the grass. If we pass by they slide into the water. Sometimes we’ve had to move them (very carefully) out of the way of a tractor. Other times we’ve had to caution children or guests away from them.

They linger for at least a few weeks in early spring. Then the turtles, following timing triggered by their own reptilian wisdom, trek across neighboring property toward a large lake several thousand feet away.

But this time that turtle journey happened at the same time my neighbor went outside with his two children. He saw the turtle as a danger and decided it had to be eliminated for the safety of his children.

First he shot it. Yes, shot it. (We live in a rural area where guns are common.) Somehow gunshots didn’t have the desired effort. Thankfully they also didn’t ricochet off the turtle’s shell, creating a far more serious hazard.

Then he got out a heavy implement and, slamming down over and over again, he beat the turtle to a horrifying death.

Appallingly, my neighbor did what he assumed a good father does.

But this is what I can’t stop thinking about. There are pivotal moments in a child’s life when what we show them about the world stays with them. I mean more than the bloody sight of that turtle’s death, left to rot rather than killed for food. We can show them that nature is a part of us—-to experience with wonder, to treat with respect and to embrace as a unified whole. Or we can show them that nature is separate from us—-to use for our amusement, to treat with disdain, to attempt to control.

I realized this when my first child was a toddler, barely walking. He encountered an insect and paused before lifting his little white shoe to stomp on it. I showed him instead that we could squat down near the insect to watch it but not touch it. In those few minutes he looked carefully for the creature’s eyes, remarked on its feet and clapped in joyous astonishment when it unfolded wings and suddenly lifted away. After that he kept a careful watch for insects. His questions (What does it like for snacks? Does it go home to bed when it’s dark? How does it talk to other bugs?) showed he was thinking about what it might feel like to be an insect. He learned that some sting and bite, some hustle away on many legs, some wriggle into the ground. He learned awe tinged with caution.

That’s the moment my neighbor missed. He could have called his children to come look at the snapping turtle from a safe distance, his arm around the youngest, pointing out the its heavy shell and powerful jaws. He could have cautioned them to always tell an adult if they ever saw such a creature, and to never go anywhere near it. Snapping turtles can be dangerous. That’s why we teach our children to identify, avoid and respect those dangers. But we also need to weigh risk factors to put danger in perspective. A large snapping turtle crossing the yard offers good reason for caution. But there are far greater dangers facing children in my neighborhood. Cars going by on our 55 mph rural road. Guns in the home. Toxins released when garbage is burned in the backyard.

I’m sure we all have different opinions about what constitutes danger. Maybe the way we frame this says a lot about our worldview. *


Snapping Turtle Sidenotes My husband and I have both stopped at the side of the road to move snapping turtles out of the street. This is best done without hands or feet, just the encouragement of a window scraper’s blunt edge. The turtles snap grumpily, then lumber off to a shady drainage ditch. {Always move turtles in the direction they’re going. Migration urges them in that particular direction.) We do this because we’ve repeatedly seen drivers intentionally speed up to hit these slow-moving creatures. We’ve also seen drivers do the same to vultures, hawks and crows—-nature’s blessed carrion eaters who clean up our roadsides when a carcass lies in sad repose after meeting with a car.

I tried to find out why turtles might be traveling on roadways far from ponds and streams. Looking up the Common Snapping Turtle  (Chelydra serpentina) led to me find out more than I expected.

These long-lived turtles are important to the eco-system. They eat plant and animal matter, often scavenging. Docile in the water, they’re more aggressive on land. Food scarcity, pollution and habitat destruction may be forcing them to travel overland more than before.

Center for Biological Diversity is concerned about a massive increase in hunting and exporting turtles. These creatures, so integral to healthy aquatic ecosystems, are being sold to Asian countries, primarily China. Consumption of turtle meat there has driven many native species of turtles to extinction.

Eight states—Arkansas, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Ohio, South Carolina, and Tennessee— permit unlimited harvesting of all turtle sizes, using lethal hoopnets and box traps in public and private waters. These devices box traps also capture, maim, kill, and drown protected turtle species, non-target fish, mammals and birds.

In our state, the Department of Natural Resources doesn’t monitor health or population trends of wild turtle populations. *

Race to Nowhere?

Most mornings of their lives my kids have slept until they were ready to wake and then curled up on the couch to read until they felt ready to leap into the day. They’ve delved into topics of interest to them, sometimes in great depth. They’ve explored, wandered and spent time with people of all ages. They’ve never had homework or tests. (Well, till they hit driver’s license exam age.) They’ve worked hard at chores because it’s necessary to keep our small farm going  but never had to work hard to look a certain way or fight for popularity. They’re a relaxed, confident bunch who define success on their own terms.

Homeschooling gives them time to grow into their own possibilities. Time to develop inner strength. Time to be themselves in a world that relentlessly pushes children toward narrow definitions of success. Apparently it also gives them a break from the crushing pressure portrayed in the documentary Race to Nowhere.

As one expert says in the documentary, “When success is defined by high grades, test scores and trophies we know that we end up with unprepared, disengaged, exhausted and unhealthy kids.”

Today’s current methods of schooling, despite noble intentions, work against curiosity, creativity, critical thinking, close relationships, community connections and a culture of collaboration.

Natural learning isn’t just the antidote to this kind of soul-crushing pressure. It’s the way young people have learned throughout time. It’s time to redefine success on our own terms. Let our children sleep in. Let them dream. Let them wake to their own possibilities.




Image courtesy of Jay Doodles

Lament of an UnNerd


Gray-haired guys in line ahead of me at the coffee shop text with casual ease, order fabulously complicated drinks and manage to pay in one smooth motion.

I’m too cheap to have texting as an option on my phone and too clumsy to text anyway. I’m not confessing anything about dropping change I meant to put in the tip jar or knocking over biscotti on display (although really, that display was clogging up counter space).

The upside of no texting? I read and write unimpeded at that same coffee shop while all around me tiny rectangles brrrr and thumbs tat in a display remarkably similar to old sci fi versions of humans controlled by robotic forces. The downside of no texting? I’m forced to leave voice mails on my cell phone. According to the hilarious (frightening) site How Not To Act Old leaving voice mail decidedly marks a person as well beyond their 20’s. Not a problem, the casual observer could tell that about me from my boring hair and tendency to knock over biscotti.


My son’s 80-something bagpipe instructor pirates and shares music.

I still buy CD’s and don’t own an iPod. I’m glad that wind through the trees is the soundtrack to my daily walk, but really, if I got around to gathering music in handy digital form I’d spend forever assembling it. I’d cheerfully search out lost tracks from vastly unappreciated musicians like Frazier & Debolt. I’d linger over the task while choosing a ridiculous array of opera, Scandinavian folk and Mongolian throat singing. Then with my short attention span I’d probably weary of each piece after one listen.

Wind in the trees is free.


And one last lament. Thank Gawd I live with tech support. I happen to love these people but their presence here is also vital to my work life. If I don’t get immediate help when trying to deal with simple problems like unzipping old files sent by certain maniacal interview subjects I tend to shriek at the blameless screen.

That scares the dogs sprawled at my feet, which activates my ever-ready guilt, forcing me right out of the house and off for a walk with wind as my soundtrack or, if the tech problem is really serious, off to a coffee shop where an innocent display is just waiting to tip over. Perhaps it’s a message that I should develop a taste for biscotti.





Creative Commons images

texting thumbs courtesy of TheKat11 http://thekat11.deviantart.com/art/Texting-100020644

pirate image courtesy of mrs.mcD’s photostream flickr.com/photos/cordandme/492100572/

biscotti image courtesy of La Mia Cucina’s photostream  flickr.com/photos/25901168@N00/313577580/