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Turtle Treasures

‘We stood and watched, there she was at dusk flicking up dirt and moss and digging a hole in which to lay her eggs...’

A turtle about to sun on the breakwater logs.

My turtle enjoying the warmth of the summer sun.

Ever since I was very little I enjoyed watching the many turtles at the lake. For our region, it is my understanding that we only have The Western Painted Turtles left. Previously, there were apparently a few other breeds, but basically on our lake now it is just The Western Painteds. They are quite beautiful on the under-section of their shells, which is called the ‘plastron’, which you rarely see unless you turn them over or hold them up, (see below). Their heads, necks, legs and tail has the bright yellow and green stripes, which is said to be why they are called ‘Painted’ turtles. Generally, we only saw adult turtles around our property, I can never remember seeing really little ones, (I expect because I am not usually in residence about the time of a turtle hatching). The logs in our back bay will often have one or two turtles basking in the sun on the old partially submerged logs and deadheads. One particular log, is the most preferred spot, and I will always enjoy the chance to observe the sleeping giants. I call them giants because when I was little my brother and I had turtles as aquarium house pets. Back then, it was common for kids to go through the ‘turtle stage’ and have a couple at home. They were the most likely the Red-Eared Sliders. Those are still in our general region, but they are not native to our area. People have put turtles in several places, including ponds and lakes, when they got set free for one reason or another. As kids, we had these little ones and loved the little reptilian house pets, but when there was a Salmonella scare many places outlawed buying or selling them anymore. I remember my mother freaking out about the dreaded Salmonella. Anyway, turtles such as these can live for many years. Another story I have a about turtles just warms my heart every time I remember it. Let me share it with you. When my boys were small they had evolved past the ‘Dinosaur Age’, and then hit the ‘Ghostbusters’ thing, and then they entered into their ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ stage. It was about that time that my sister-in-law decided my boys each needed a big turtle since they liked them so much. She brought over as a gift these two fairly large turtles (in relation to the tiny ones I had as a child). These ones were much bigger, and one bigger than the other. My kids were delighted and promptly named them, ‘Leonardo’ and ‘Raphael’, I think, or was it ‘Leonardo’ and ‘Donatello’ after the movie, The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I must remember to see if the kids remember now, as they are currently in their 30’s.  We kept those turtles for years and years, and it became apparent that the kids had finally lost interest in them. Now I might mention, that when kids get tired of things, it becomes the parents’ sole responsibility to look after them. I can tell you that the aquatic environments these turtles have get rather sludgy and rather stinky quite quickly, and therefore, my husband and I sat in our family room often watching a movie and looking at each other with that look that needed no words, but translated to, ‘it’s time to clean the turtle aquarium again, it seems like we did it just the other day’, followed by a groan, and a further thought, ‘which one of us was going to get the job?’ Also, my husband hated the gurgling sounds of the water pump and would turn it off for the few hours when he was trying to hear the TV. It is okay to do that, turn off the pump for a bit, the turtles were fine. My husband and I knew it was time to consider getting rid of the turtles altogether, of course, only in a way that they would continue to live, that should go without saying.  So, one day we had a garage sale, and we decided to put the two, now rather, large turtles into the garage sale. A little boy came by with his mother, and I remember He told me it was his birthday that day. He begged and pleaded with his mother to buy the turtles from us. We practically gave them away with all their stuff they had, supplies, food, rocks, aquarium, etc. The little boy was beaming from ear to ear, and I can tell you, so were we. How great was that that we found a happy new home for them? Well we lived in that house for almost 30 years. One day we had another garage sale, and I’m guessing this was about 15 years later. A man got out of his car and had two darling little girls in tow. We heard him explain to them that ‘this was the place’. Sure enough, this was that little birthday boy who got the turtles that day from us. Now he was fully grown, with two little girls of his own. Guess what he said? He still has those turtles today! He said that he had been so happy to get those turtles for his (I think it was 7th birthday). He was now a man of 22 or so, and he still had the turtles. Naturally, they are rather large now, but his girls now have grown up with them, too. I found this to be such a heartwarming story for those two lucky turtles. They got well looked after for at least 20+ years and counting. Incredible. Back to the lake turtles, you know I just had to share that ‘turtle treasure’ story.  These days I see turtles less than before at our lake. I understand it can be the change in the environment and the available vegetation. I know we have less weeds and lily pads by my shoreline now, though I am not sure if that has anything to do with it. Sometimes it can be the increase in the people population, or even land animal predators, which result in the turtle environments getting disturbed. I think they only lay eggs once every couple of years, and so they are often subject to so many dangers, and other wildlife and people interferences. Apparently, they can lay eggs in around June and then they hatch around September. Only once did we get the rare pleasure of seeing one of these turtles dig a hole and start to lay eggs. I can tell you it was on our rocky point and not far from the water’s edge. I don’t think that was a very good spot to do it, there was mostly just moss and very little dirt over the rock base, so the nest would not be as deep at it should have been. Nonetheless, we watched from our deck one night at dusk as a Painted Turtle came onto to shore and started to dig. She used her front claws and then her back webbed feet. It was getting dark, and so we could not watch for long.  That rock point location was one of the spots that was leveled out for my son to use as a good tenting spot, and so we had to forgo both tenting there, but also walking there. We did not want to disturb the nesting environment. I did manage to get a photo of this turtle prepping to lay her eggs event, but I do have to point out that it was dusk at the time, so the photo is rather dark. 

The nesting site of the turtle on our property.

A closeup of the turtle laying its eggs.

When my son had a friend up one year it was the boys-will-be-boys thing and one of his playmates picked up one of our turtles. I wasn’t happy about it, but rest assured, he was promptly put back where he was gathered from. I will fully admit I picked up snakes and alligator lizards in my youth. My kids have also picked up snakes and lizards. It is what kids do. The thing I always stressed with my family, was that we are the visitors at our lake forest cabin, and so we must respect and protect our neighbourly creatures. That goes for the squirrels, the birds, and even the bats, too. Only things like carpenter ants, or other cabin-destructive bugs, or the odd spider or two from inside meet a different fate. Ask the girl (me) who nursed a Brown Bat back to health after my son slammed the door and knocked him flat to the ground injured. I made an environment out of a cardboard box, twigs for a perch, bugs that we all caught, and with a layer of Saran Wrap, with holes, on top, until he was mended well enough to fly again. You see, the bats swoop down at dusk from the rafters and eaves of the cabin and swoop up the bugs and mosquitos, and so they are a good thing for us. Naturally, I never bare-handedly handled the little guy, and wore heavy protection to put him in the box. He escaped on his own when he was well enough. I am well aware of the, all be it, slight, risk of rabies from a bite, so I was very careful.

My son's friend picked one up and showed us the wonderful designs on the turtle's plastron.

Today, I am delighted to see my turtles at the lake, but it seems they are fewer than I remember as a child. To pay tribute to my turtles I have painted several turtle rocks. Turtles will continue to be an endearing part of our lake experiences.

My painted turtle rock down in my rock garden at the lake.

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