Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Nature of Man? A Turtle Tale

(All photos taken this week, when we returned with a camera, but none of the same human characters could be found.)

Last week, Libby and I had some time to kill between her teaching hours, so we decided to take a stroll on the grounds of the public library and a nearby pond.  Sounds lovely, doesn't it?  It was!

Calopteryx maculata (male)
We came to a run-off creek downstream of the small pond.  Peering into the creek we saw some large black insects.  At a glance they seemed to be butterflies, but as we observed them, we saw that they are actually a species of damselfly.  I took some photos with my tablet (once again, the naturalist's lament rang true in my head--why did I not have my camera with me?) and we admired the insects for a while.

That's when things got weird.

A woman walking her two soft-coated wheaten terriers came over and asked us what was wrong.  Wrong?  Nothing, we answered.  She looked too.  Another woman came by, and asked, "What's wrong?" and then another woman walked up and asked--you guessed it--"Is something wrong?"
Libby at the creek's edge.

 Why, we wondered, must we be looking at something "wrong" just because we are paused by a creek? Don't folks stop and admire nature around here? We patted the terriers and chatted with the first woman. She told us a bit about the breed, and since we were interested in nature, she suggested we look for the swallow nest nearby.  Pointing to the pond, she complained, "That fountain has been broken for over a year!  I called the town and complained about it.  I told them that algae was going to build up in the pond and they would have to clean it out and that the fountain ought to be on, and they said, 'What pond?' Can you believe it"  To be honest, we were not from the area, so I just said, "Huh."  It really is a tiny pond, in a town with many ponds and streams.

Things got weirder.

A week later, the snapper followed us around the pond.
 We walked to the edge of the pond, where we saw a father and his two young sons.  The father was hauling a struggling snapping turtle out of the water by the tail.  He had used a bagel for bait, and his son had snagged the large turtle with his net.  The turtle was bigger than a football.

The terrier woman began to yell frantically.  "That does not look like fun to me!!" she said.  The man looked coolly at the woman and said in a voice that reminded me of Lewis' Weston in Perelandra, "It does to me."  OK.  Maybe he didn't sound as demonic as all that, but it was a pretty creepy reply.  

She and her dogs scurried off in a huff and we joined the man and the two boys, maybe 4 and 7, and watched as they returned the unharmed turtle to the pond.  The turtle swam away deftly, and the man explained how to hold a turtle--by the tail--so it could not bite.  I laughed and showed him my snapping turtle bite scar. He turned away silently.  Undaunted, I tried to initiate a conversation again. "Now you can follow-up by reading Minn of the Mississippi."  He sneered--really, he did!--and said, "We read Shakespeare."

"That's nice, too," I said, trying desperately not to laugh at his misdirected intellectual snobbery.

He and the boys walked away and met up with his wife under the gazebo where the swallows were nesting, sending the parent-swallows into a frenzy.

The woman with the terriers had rounded the pond (did I mention that it is quite a small pond?) and her dogs were trying to attack two other dogs on the far side.

We were left wondering, perhaps in a most Chestertonian sense, "What's wrong?"

The end.