Slowly and methodically, a hub cap-sized snapping turtle inched its way across New Columbia Road, and I felt compelled to help.
My family and I just left our campground to grab a bite to eat, and this poor reptile — seemingly lethargic and docile — was oblivious to the dangers of crossing such a well-worn piece of asphalt.
I pulled over, hit the four-way flashers, and approached the turtle near the middle of the road.
Ignoring the hiss and agitated look from the snapper as it sized me up, I reached out to pick it up by its shell and almost lost a finger.
There was nothing slow or docile about the way it reacted, as I continued to circle it, looking for a safe way to approach, grab and move the snapper. It felt like a duel from a Clint Eastwood western … our eyes locked in the midst of a mid-road standoff, waiting for the right moment to strike.
Ultimately, I grabbed its shell from behind, hoisted it up as it continued to kick and snap and hiss in a shell-covered ball of reptilian fury as we ungracefully waltzed across the opposite lane and to the safety of a small ditch on the other side.
For a moment, I was proud of myself. I overcame my fears of confronting this snapper, and rescued it from impending doom while keeping all 10 fingers.
I prepared to cross the road for the inevitable cheers and praise of my family waiting in the minivan when I realized the long line of cars that had pulled over to watch the turtle-centric theatrics.
“Thanks, I needed the laugh,” giggled a teenaged girl as she slowly passed.
“That was so nice of you — and pretty funny, too,” added the next driver, a gray-haired woman who I’m positive mumbled something about Fred Astaire and the ninja turtles as she drove off.
Who knew helping nature could be so humiliatingly difficult?
The trauma of it all had worn off a bit as I drove into work recently when, off in the distance, I spotted a softball-sized painted turtle crossing Route 204 near the former Camelback bridge.
I was tempted to ignore it, but couldn’t. As I approached, he politely retracted into his shell and stayed there until he was safely placed on the opposite side of the road.
There’s some mixed viewpoints to the concept of humans helping nature.
State agencies urge people to not feed deer or bears or other wildlife for fear of them losing their natural tendencies to fend for themselves. Yet, those same groups advocate installing bird feeders with sunflower seeds and suet cakes in the backyard for hungry songbirds.
I’m not sure where ushering turtles safely across a busy road falls in the spectrum of whether or not people should be helping wild critters versus letting them fend for themselves. However, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service did post some tips for those who feel the need to intervene. They include:
That’s OK. I feel pretty good about doing my part and learned something valuable about myself in the process.
Kevin Costner may Dance with Wolves, but I — at least to a few motorists from the New Columbia area — am apparently the one who dances with turtles.
John Zaktansky is an award-winning journalist and avid promoter of the outdoors who loves camping, kayaking, fishing and hunting with the family.