Thursday, June 5, 2008

An Afternoon Hiking & Meeting Henry

“If the sight of the blue skies fills you with joy, if a blade of grass springing up in the fields has power to move you, if the simple things of nature have a message that you understand, rejoice, for your soul is alive.” ~Eleonora Duse

It was forecasted to be a beautiful day, so I got up early, put my hair in a ponytail, laced my sneakers and headed out with my camera and tripod. I was on the trail by 8:30.

I had the whole day to myself, so I meandered along the woodland paths leisurely.

I paused for a while at the dog cemetery. There was something very sweet about this place. It was evident that these pets were cherished family members. And given recent events I could certainly relate to that.

I paused again at a little waterfall. I love the sound water makes as it trickles over the rocks and gurgles into the pool below.

While photographing the waterfall, a red-sided flat millipede caught my eye.

And so did some mating mosquitoes on the bench where I sat to take a break.

Of course I had to spend some time at the pond.

There were lots of frogs and snakes to keep me occupied (and keep me vigilant as I stepped between the weeds).

When I reached the easternmost part of the trail, the dense trees gave way to reveal a sunny sky, a glorious river breeze, and the perfect bench from which to enjoy both. I took off my shoes, removed the pony tail that was tugging on my scalp and rolled up my dampened sweats. What a perfect resting spot.

It was then that I realized my camera battery was completely drained. In my haste to get out and enjoy the day, I’d forgotten to charge it.

Well that was okay. I packed everything up and headed back up the trail. I had been here before, and I would be here again. No matter.

But then, on my way up the trail, something caught my eye!

About 9 years ago while hiking with Mandy, we spotted their rubbery eggs littering a hillside above a cove along the river. The babies had already broken free and made their way down into the reeds and seaweed below. I made a note in my journal of what we had found there at the end of June. “Next year, we’ll come back in time to see them hatch, or at least see some of them descend into the water.”

And I’ve always remembered that. Usually in August, or maybe even July I think of it. But I never remember in June, so I’ve never gotten to see them.

And now 9 years later at the beginning of June, I had stumbled upon one on the trail.

I was amazed I'd even seen him at all. He was motionless, and he was so tiny! It was the sort of thing that Mandy would have noticed. She’s the one with the eagle-eye, spotting fossils as we walk, or interesting insects, or animal bones.

I have to call her, I thought. She’s the only one who will understand both my excitement at finding him and my disappointment over the dead camera battery.

“Aww! How big is he?”

“Well, if you hold out your palm, and then curve it up into a little cup, he would fit inside the cup.”


“I’m going to wait here a while and see if I can trick my camera into taking one more picture for me.”

“Okay, Mom, good luck!”

I did actually coax one more shot out of my camera, but the settings were all wrong and it came out completely black in the dark of the forest.

Now what?!

I had to call Mandy back. She would talk me out of this. It’s stupid, and it’s selfish… But she didn’t answer.

Am I really going to do it? I think I am. Damn it! I absolutely hate hate hate when people treat nature selfishly. I never want to disturb the wildlife. Even when I’m photographing something for a while, I’ll move on after a few shots, just so I don’t make it uncomfortable. I never want anything to be nervous, or feel threatened…

Or be removed from its natural habitat.

But there I was, taking my camera out of the camera bag and putting the little baby snapping turtle inside.

I wasn’t going to keep him, though. I was just going to bring it home, charge up my camera battery, and then bring it back. I’d been waiting nine years to see one of these things!

I was so ashamed…

Mandy was actually happy that I’d brought him home. She had really wanted to see him. We put the little baby on a plate of water while the battery was charging. It looked like he took a drink.

While we weren’t looking, he crawled off the plate and hid under the trail map.

When the battery was charged, I took the turtle outside to take a few photos in the yard. I mean, I had a baby snapping turtle! I should be able to get a decent shot of him, especially since he hardly moved at all.

I tried taking his photo in a few different places. He had such big beautiful eyes! And he stayed perfectly still. This is totally wrong. I’m using him. I have to bring him back.

After only a few snaps of the shutter, I went inside to grab the camera bag.

“You ARE going to bring him back, aren’t you Mom?”

“Of course! I just came in to get the bag.”

“You’re not thinking of keeping him, are you?”

“No. I don’t believe in keeping wild animals as pets.”


“I promise. I’m bringing Henry back right now.”

“Mom!!! Don’t you dare name him! Then you won’t want to bring him back!”

I was laughing. “I didn’t really name him; I’m just messing with you.”

Mandy fixed up a plastic container with some moist paper towels inside. It fit perfectly inside my camera bag so I could smuggle Henry back into the woods.

But when I went outside to get him, he was gone!

I looked everywhere. Mandy helped me. I thought instinct would direct him to travel downhill, so we focused our search on the side of the yard where it sloped into the trees along the border. The area within the trees was blanketed by an accumulation of leaves. With his instinct to hide, we were never going to find him.

After a half hour or so, we gave up and went in the house.

“I’m so mad!” I said.

“Me too,” said Mandy.

“I knew I shouldn’t have taken him. I knew it was wrong. I mean, not that he couldn’t survive here. But this isn’t where he’s supposed to be.”

Mandy and I sat in the living room and watched some television. I had promised myself I’d do nothing but fun stuff on my day off, no cleaning or yard work, but the wind was taken out of my sails. I ended up doing the dishes, clearing the counter, and gathering up all the recyclables.

With my arms full of emptied grapefruit juice bottles and a few cans, I headed out to the recycling bin, which was still outside by the street since garbage day. I set everything down so I could flip the overturned bin and fill it up.

And there was Henry hiding in the handle.

He’d walked all the way from the backyard to the end of the driveway, probably about 40 yards or so. If I hadn’t noticed him when I did, he would have crossed the road and been long gone. I couldn’t believe how far he’d traveled!

I was so happy to have found the little guy. I know I wasn’t supposed to take him, but I was definitely supposed to find him. Five minutes later we were in the car and on our way back to where Henry belonged.

But I had a dilemma. I was surprised at where I’d found Henry on the trail, because he was not near any of the streams or ponds, and the river was quite a distance away. Should I put him back exactly where I’d found him? Maybe to repay him for the ordeal I’d caused him, I’d bring him closer to the water.

I walked along the embankment of an offshoot of the river, a slow-moving inlet which was marked as a wildlife sanctuary. The bank was so steep, though. I decided to follow the trail for a ways until it dipped down near the water.
Once I’d found the perfect spot, I set down the camera bag and lifted the lid. Henry was ready to go!

I took him out and placed him under a tree.

The water was only about 5 feet away. Surely he’d find it. I decided to put a big oak leaf over him. Back at home he'd preferred to be hidden under the trail map. Maybe the leaf would make him feel safer.

I started to walk away, but I turned back. Maybe I should face him towards the water so he knows which way to go. I put him on the other side of the big tree root, facing the water. Then I put the leaf back on top of him.

Goodbye Henry. You’re a good turtle. Thanks for today. I actually felt a little sad. Mandy was right – I shouldn’t have named him.

I walked all the way back out the trail that ran along the inlet. When I got to the end, I stopped.

I wonder if he’s moved yet? I walked all the way back in. His little head was outstretched from beneath the leaf, looking in the direction of the water.

I decided I’d sit and watch his journey, feeling like a proud mama watching her child go off to kindergarten. Just wait until he finds that water!

As the tiny turtle climbed over little sticks and rocks and leaves, he occasionally tumbled and flipped over on his back, but he immediately righted himself with a quick twitch of his head. He’d pause for a bit, look around, and then resume his expedition. Finally, he reached the rocks at the edge of the water…

And then he was in. He dug his way under the seaweed and muck with his tiny clawed feet, and then his little head popped up above the water. He burrowed his way under the vegetation again, and then up came his little head, over and over. Was it possible for a little turtle to be happy? He sure seemed to be.

Good luck Henry…

“The world is mud-luscious and puddle-wonderful.” ~e.e. cummings


Jill said...

I love the millipede picture, and the self-portrait is lovely.
And Henry. Wow. It is not until I see the picture with your hand in it that I realize how tiny he is.
I grew up in the desert with desert tortoises and once found one that small.
My dad was driving the truck down a dirt road and I was in the passenger seat.
I saw a rock move, just the slightest bit.
I told him to stop.
I got out and saw this tortoise the diameter of a silver dollar.
I carefully picked it up and moved it out of the road.
I think I was about 7. I totally remember that moment.
And I am glad you put Henry back. He deserves the water and not a bowl sitting on a table.

Tammie Jean said...

Hi Jill! Oh, I can't count how many times I've slammed on the brakes, gotten out of the car, and moved a turtle to the other side of the road. But how in the world did you see that little thing while riding in a truck? You must have those "eagle eyes" like my daughter :)

Glamourpuss said...

Whay a wonderful post - I'm sitting here smiling. Thank you.

And his tail is so cute.


KJP said...

Super cool post! Actually several stories all intertwined. Love the turtle!

Malathionman said...

My kids are bad about trying to make every living thing they find a pet. We have a frog and a lizard that they found to go with the 3 dogs and two fish.

Tammie Jean said...

Hi Puss! Isn't he adorable? I love the way the tail curled up around him while he was resting, but stuck straight out while he was traveling.

Hi KJP! Yes, I was trying to fit it all in, so there are a few stories from my day. I was afraid it was going to be too long of a post and considered splitting it up, but I know people hate part one and part two. Glad you enjoyed it :)

Hi Malathionman! Oh I did the same thing when I was a kid. We caught a chipmunk and kept it in an aquarium for a few days before we let it go, and I think we did the same thing with some frogs and even some sunfish that we caught in a pond. My daughter is somehow more evolved than any of us ;)

Travis said...

That was such a wonderful story.

Bud Weiser, WTIT said...

While not a pet person, I love animals. Great story TJ. Also, terrfic photos. You've got talent with the lens!

citizen of the world said...

Lovely photos. You did the right thing, of course, taking Henry back. Cute little turtle now, huge beast who needs a place to hunt later.

Tammie Jean said...

Hi Travis! And thank you - I'm glad you enjoyed it :)

Hi Bud! Thanks - I always have fun running around with the camera... I never know where the day might take me...

Hi Citizen! So true... everything starts out adorable. And then they grow and become unruly and people set them free when the animals have no idea how to take care of themselves. Besides, I value my fingers :)

The Real Mother Hen said...

Beautiful pictures. The water flowing picture - you control the shutter speed really well.
And beautiful story too.
This post makes your blog glow. It really does.

Tammie Jean said...

Hi Mother Hen! Thank you so much! I was playing around at the little water fall for a while, trying different shutter speeds, etc. I prefer the "flowy water" to capturing each little droplet, but some people prefer the latter. Either way, I'm glad you enjoyed the story and the photos - thanks so much for stopping by :)

MyMaracas said...

What wonderful photos, and a great story to boot. I just love your blog. You're a really good writer, you know that?