I have always been fascinated by little things, especially those that are alive. Which is why I halted abruptly several weeks ago while walking my dog on a well-traveled footpath along the Farmington River. The tiniest snapping turtle sat right in the middle of the path. I had almost stepped on it! Thankfully, I was looking down, since often I am gazing up at the Canada geese or swallows swooping overhead.
This tiny turtle was about the size of a quarter. I stared for a few minutes, wondering: where was it going? where had it come from? how could it be sitting out here in the open? how could it be that it was not already eaten by a dog? or stepped on by a hiker? and how long would it take for it to get anywhere? did it have a destination at all?
I took its picture, placing my hand on the ground for size comparison. Then I gave it a nudge to encourage it off the path. I couldn’t just leave it there, totally exposed. When it didn’t move, I picked it up gently and placed it under some nearby brush on the river side of the path, hoping I was heading it in the right direction and not creating a major setback for its continued journey.
The funny thing is, only a month or so earlier, along the river bank not more than a few hundred yards away, I had seen the biggest snapper I have ever set eyes on. Easily as big as a large Thanksgiving platter, it was beached along a muddy shore, its head and half its shell resting in the sun, its tail and back end in shallow water. Was it alive? The bank on which I stood was elevated, and so I dropped a twig down. The turtle blinked, and in stealthy slow-motion backed off the shore. It turned and paddled slowly down, disappearing into murkier waters.
Maybe that giant snapper was a female who’d laid her eggs nearby this past spring. Maybe the quarter-sized snapper was one of her babies, recently hatched. I suppose I’ll never know. But that’s what wondering is all about. It’s fun to ask questions and imagine or research the answers. Maybe that little fella will show up in one of my stories or nonfiction books. One thing I do know—it matters a lot to me that I didn’t step on it.