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Turtle Crossing Season

Posted on Friday, July 14, 2023
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by AMAC, Robert B. Charles
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Turtle

In Maine, as in much of America, there are undeclared seasons. I do not mean hunting and fishing or the four we flip through, but quiet seasons, the sort locals know – seldom talk about. One is turtle crossing season – with an unspoken lesson for our time.

Undeclared seasons are like the silences between notes in a famous piece of music, always there but seldom mentioned. When was the last time you heard someone say they loved the silences in Handel’s Messiah, Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man, or the 1812 Overture?

But ask yourself, would those pieces be more than run-on sentences without the melodious unspoken magic – of all those well-placed silences? Of course not.

Or think about how an uncelebrated prelude changes things. What would Sweet Home Alabama be without “one, two, three…” Half the Beatles songs without an unexpected first note? Does anyone talk about it? Or rest between sprints, sleep between days, on sunny days haze? No.

So in Maine, we have all sorts of undeclared seasons, antler-dropping late December to April, moose rutting – fighting and mating – late August to October. Add black fly, loon baby, leaf peeping, and tourist – none of which makes the national calendars.

All this is fine, the way different regions take turns awaiting, surviving, and celebrating all sorts of seasons, planting to harvest, worry for rain, running, skiing, and hurricane.

If these are not quite seasons, they are at least rituals. If not quite silences or preludes, they are a shift in tempo or pause, and behind each one is a cause. One such season is turtle crossing in Maine. It starts late spring, tapers early summer. You would be surprised what happens.

All of a sudden, when you least expect it, rounding some corner, topping a hill, driving for coffee or groceries just after sunup or right before sunset, even in black night, you may see a car pulled over, side of the road, lights flashing or maybe not – so be careful.

You will look around and nine times in ten, find some good Samaritan, a teenager who has no need to be cool – or fire or Gucci, picking up a painted, wood, or spotted turtle, maybe (with practice) a snapper behind the rear legs, careful not to let the longnecked critter snap him.

You might find an older lady or gentleman, well off the road, helping a rolling mudball or self-shuffling shoe get across the asphalt, picking up the turtle, speeding her on her way.

Her? Yes, her. The season, you see, is just a stretch when females search for the perfect spot to lay their eggs, invariably crossing roads to get to where only they know they are going.

If this sounds quirky and infrequent, it is neither. It is a ritual with method. These turtles – if taken too far off route – will almost always go back, cross where they were. They seem to know their digs, surroundings, where they are going.

The problem, as with many of us, is they are slow, and drivers can be impatient. Turtles are independent minded, go at their own speed, choose their own direction, and in this season are filled with resolve, all of which can get lost on fast-moving cars.

This is where something amazing happens. On Maine roads, more often than the reverse, you will see live turtles not dead, and people just stopped ahead, helping these loggerheads cross.

You will see grown men, living otherwise busy-and-do-not-bother-me lives stopped, pulled over with intent, reprioritizing things to help their slow-moving fellow Mainers complete the journey, to safely lay their eggs and get back to where they came from.

This is where the lesson appears. How curious, surprising, even mesmerizing – how strangely contenting and silently satisfying, oddly gratifying – to see someone you do not know, someone you would not expect, asking no credit to help a turtle, cutting the old leatherback some slack.

How funny, in a way, that people will stop – by the thousands – to do an animal a good deed, halt their rolling fortress to help a helpless tortoise. What does it tell you? What might it mean? What does the undeclared season suggest?

My guess, although it could be wrong, is that there is something inside us for which, in this impersonal world, we often long. The chance to do something simple and decent, not grand or glorious, not going to change any world but one – a little blessing, no sin, to help a terrapin.

Here is the silence between those notes, point of this piece, a question. If we can do this for a little, nameless, hard-shelled critter – and we can – why not more often for our fellow man? 

Robert Charles is a former Assistant Secretary of State under Colin Powell, former Reagan and Bush 41 White House staffer, attorney, and naval intelligence officer (USNR). He wrote “Narcotics and Terrorism” (2003), “Eagles and Evergreens” (2018), and is National Spokesman for AMAC.

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CeeDee
CeeDee
11 months ago

Fantastic writer and storyteller. The article tells me to watch, listen, wait if necessary, and then take action because our actions have an effect on more people’s lives then we think we do.

Barbara D
Barbara D
11 months ago

I have found, in my experience, those unwilling to have feeling for animals and other lower creatures as youths, end up having no regard for humans later in life. Beware how your kids react to animals. It’s very telling……..

Rob citizenship
Rob citizenship
11 months ago

Very good article Robert, important topic — Respect for animals and respect for people , nice stuff to think about, good for soul and spirit. I have not had much experience dealing with turtles, however lived in a small town in Pennsylvania several years ago with a sizable duck ( Mallard ) population, and had several experiences where I saw several blocking traffic , and I would find myself herding Mallards for two or three minutes , so the motorists could continue and ducks could reach their destination, a lake about a quarter of a mile away. Having consideration for critters sure enough helps to make this a better world. Very good story about the turtles . Well Done !

Sharon Ormsby
Sharon Ormsby
11 months ago

How cool is that? Every so often we have terrapinscrossing the roads in Texas and we often stop and pick them up and put them in the grass so they won’t be hit by cars. They are too precious to us.

Karen Knowles
Karen Knowles
11 months ago

Always happy to pull over and pick up a turtle and help them more quickly get across the road and out of the path of another car.

irene
irene
11 months ago

one Sunday I was drive to a store early one morning and a large turtle was have way across but still too slow so I stop and pick it up and walked it to the area it wanted to go. turtles are my animals. mocking me in high school, guys would call be turtle tits and I later learn that the tribe my grand maternal grandma belong to was the turtle tribe. when my husband and I were in Navajo land, our guide gave me my Navajo name so when I die I will not be tricked by satan. it had turtle in it…..

Sarah S.
Sarah S.
11 months ago

Great article. If only people would be as concerned about the millions of humans that are killed in the name of “birth control”. Whenever I see ads for adopting a dog or cat and how the advertisers make them seem so pitiful (so to pull on our heartstrings) I shake my head and sometimes cry that that same empathy for humans is virtually nonexistent except for the true Christ followers who know who they will be answering to.

SusanW
SusanW
11 months ago

Haha! I loved this! This is truly where you shine! My answer to your question would be – many of us already do this for our fellow men and animals. That is why I always gravitate towards your more philosophical writings rather than the political ones. It was obvious to me many moons ago that I would never be able to change or correct the madness or the chaos in our nation’s capital. As a result, I was encouraged by the big guy upstairs to follow an empathetic and compassionate road where I could make a difference. As an educator of many years, I swore to be the best I could be, touching as many lives as possible. One by one. In my world “a nameless, hard-shelled critter” is equally as important as a curious child – they both need love and compassion to survive and they are both His creations.
We should all devote our lives to being more loving and empathetic towards our fellow man. Maybe, just maybe, then, and only then, might the chaos and division in our glorious country, be silenced. Are you game?

Max
Max
11 months ago

Cute article, RBC. I believe that most other states have similar seasons. Just for a note, I posted a comment on your article yesterday that appeared then disappeared. The only comment listed was from the usual Troll person and this comment was gone this morning. Well have a good weekend. Semper Fi.

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