Chelydra serpentina, or common snapping turtle
The dogs raced along the backyard fence, barking and growling like fiends at something on the other side. My husband, upon going out to investigate, hollered with equal parts glee and shock: “Come see this! You won’t believe it!”
All I could think was It had better not be a snake.
No, but close.
The dinosaur turtle.
Okay, not really dinosaur, just the biggest snapping turtle I’ve ever seen. In my yard, in the clover. With algae growing on her shell.
And her head.
I am really at a loss for words to describe her. Monumental. In size, and in her likeness to stone.
And tell me this tail does not scream dinosaur to you:
My family gawked, marveled, shuddered until we could gawk, marvel, and shudder no more. We let our visitor be. I went inside the house and watched from the kitchen window. After a few short minutes, she began zipping—okay, not really zipping, but crawling a whole lot faster than I imagined a turtle could—along the outside of our backyard fence. Periodically she stopped, leaned up, put her front feet on the fence, and stretched her neck impossibly long (think brontosaurus). Down she dropped again to resume her steady clip.
She’s trying to get to the woods behind our backyard, I thought. The fence is blocking her.
Yet when I turned away from the window for a moment, she vanished without a trace.
I felt oddly bereft.
I mean, it’s not like she’s a snuggly sort of creature.
Several days later I read in a local news article that a record number of snapping turtles appeared in our area en masse, looking for places to lay their eggs.
Nesting, they were.
Old Serpentina—I don’t even know how old she is, she just looks like the ages, a fossil from the dawn of time—her sense of urgency was real.
Maybe that’s what sort of spoke to me, without words. Mother to mother. Living being to living being. In my recoiling was a stab of appreciation; my sense of wonder overruled my impression of fearsome. And somehow, in all of it, lurked a twinge of sadness for which I have no explanation whatsoever.
When Carol Varsalona extended a recent invitation and challenge to create digital inspirations for her #SpringSplendor gallery, I thought of Serpentina. She came along in spring, all right. She’s not what I had in mind at all. I had a beach sunrise in mind. A sprig of wisteria. Beautiful things.
But Serpentina has, you must admit, a splendor all her own.
So, my tribute:
in algae carapace
seeking with care
to lay new life.
—My best to you and your splendid babies, Serpentina.
I kind of hope I get to see them.