Archive | February 2020

The wood turtle Bob.

I am worried about Bob. Bob is a wood turtle that came to me two years ago with a badly fractured shell. A DNR officer had seen a young woman driving while talking on her phone. She never even attempted to miss him, even though there was room. He pulled her over, but was unable to ticket her for distracted driving. In his frustration, he made her find the turtle at the edge of the road and see the damage she had done.
I’ll never know if it impressed her or not, but it did the officer. Even though one side of the shell was broken on both top and bottom and there was considerable blood, the turtle stretched out his head and looked the officer dead in the eye. He decided then and there that he wanted to try and save him.

When he arrived here, I had my doubts. Once the inner membrane of the shell is breached, bacteria enters and the turtle usually does not make it. As I examined him, the turtle gave me the same look. Not afraid, not suffering, just interested in me. On closer inspection I noticed that he had no toes on his front feet. No claws, no toes. There were only well healed stumps.

I’ve only seen that once before in a tortoise that someone kept in a drained cement swimming pool. The turtle spent an unknowable length of time trying to climb it’s way out and literally wore off his toes.

Now a captive tortoise with no toes is one thing, but in a wild turtle, no front toes would not allow him to dig down in the forest floor or mud and hibernate. So between the lack of toes and his unusually calm demeanor (Something I have NEVER seen in a wood turtle) I assume that he had been captive and either escaped or been dumped in the wild.

Even more convincing, was that he was found in an area with neither wood nor water. Being semi aquatic, wood turtles live near streams or shallow rivers, never venturing more than a quarter of a mile from this water source. Turtles, especially land turtles, establish an internal map of their territory. Once removed to a new one, they may spend years wandering aimlessly seeking the familiar. I never encourage anyone to relocate land turtles in the wild for this very reason.

All of this added together, brought about a heavy sigh. If the turtle did survive, he would be with me forever. By all
appearances, I put is age somewhere between 20 and 35 years. In the wood turtle world, that’s an old man. The average lifespan is about 40 (up to 58 in captivity). I figured this old man had already suffered enough bad breaks and could spend his remaining years in whatever relative comfort I could provide.

So after letting him chill in the fridge over night, (it puts them in a torpid state and makes it easier to work on), I set about patching his shell. First I cleaned the wound with sterile saline, (pressurized contact lense solution does a great job). then I took bits of medical tape and did my bet to put the puzzle of pieces back in place. I used sticky plastic food wrap to cover the missing spots. Then I started coating the whole area with layers of auto undercoating and tissue paper.

Between layers, the turtle goes back in the fridge to dry. The undercoating has a strong smell, kind of like a cross between hot rubber bands and nail polish remover. It’s not real pleasant, especially in the refrigerator. It’s bad enough to open the door and see a turtle looking back at you, but then you add the smell and we usually eat out on turtle days.

Gradually, I built up enough layers for the shell to be stable, now what do I do with him? Well, you make a playpen on the ground in the herb garden. Believe it or not he thrived. He gorged on blackberries and blossoms, bugs and worms, even the occasional bit of fish or chicken was gone shortly after it was put in his reach.

Winter came and since he couldn’t dig down to hibernate, I brought him inside and dedicated space in my studio, for a four foot reptile palace of dirt and moss, with potted plants (which he ate and dug from their pots), a basking light and a shallow pool. All winter he consumed night crawlers and five dollar a can turtle food that smelled of apples and corn.

Once I made the mistake of putting a sparrow in his tank while I got out a cage. I came back to find the sparrow shrieking and Bob hanging on to it’s wing. It was his prize and he wasn’t going to give it up easily. I had to trade it for a bite of steak. I don’t think he ever really forgave me. Neither did the bird.

Spring came and we built a fence around the herb garden with a deeper pool and lots of mulch. There were spots to sun and places to hide and everyday when I called him to breakfast he would poke his head out from somewhere to see what I was offering. Summer passed and it was time to come in again.
The beginning of winter was good, every day he waited for his worms and treats, but lately, he seems off. I cleaned his water dish yesterday and when I picked it up, there were at least a dozen worms living under it. He doesn’t get as excited when I drop in fat blackberries or melon. Today, he simply watched his worms crawl under the water dish and sat under his light.
He seems lighter in weight and well…older His neck wrinkles and when he extends it, he looks like Mitch Mc Connell. (And Mitch Mc Connell is OLD-old)

Maybe that’s it. Maybe he is just winding down from old age. Maybe, like me, he longs for spring and sunshine and grass…instead of snow and cold. Maybe he’ll see another spring and perk up and have a happy summer…..maybe he won’t.
There is one thing I’m glad for. I’m glad that I gave Bob the chance to have a few happy years. I’m glad for the company in the long winters. He’s been easy to have around. You can’t say that about just any old turtle. Bob is a good boy.


I banned all snow related things from the house today. The snow globe with the Sophie dog gazing at a cardinal, the snow men from the bathroom shelf, the deep green glittered evergreen trees…all went into the box marked “After Christmas”. I keep these things to put out in the bleak and barren days fowling the holidays when the house seem colorless and drab.

I couldn’t take it any more. The sun is shining. I want it to be warm. I’ve cleaned the green house and planted the earliest seeds in their respective flats. Now, I wait for them to sprout. But….there is still snow. True Spring is months away.

What do you do in the meantime? The house is still drab and smells of dog. Ostera with it’s bunnies and eggs and flowers is two months away. The bright green moss covered topiaries look garish and out of place when there is still snow and gray and mud on the days that it thaws.

I need an in-between brightness. Something that will transition me from the desire to hibernate and the need to get in the garden. I need something between snowmen and daffodils. I need fresh air moving through the house…but the windows stay closed against the cold and I smell dog….and turtle.

When I was sculpting, I would do a show in South Carolina during the first week in March. Afterwards, I’d sneak down to Folly Beach, just outside of Charleston. That’s my favorite place in the world. A five mile strip of beach, uncluttered with tourists, with only seagulls and pelicans for company on my walks. It’s never really warm in March, but there isn’t any snow and it smells like ocean and wind. Not like dog.

When I would come home at the end of the week, the rest of the winter seemed bearable. I’d had my walks on the beach and seen the sun, I knew it would only be weeks before the forsythia bloomed and the grass started to green. Then it would be baby season and the house would smell like squirrel pee and formula and pine shavings. I wouldn’t notice that the house was messy or drab and the wind would blow away the smell of dog.

I don’t go there any more. I miss it. I don’t really mind being home. I’m just tired of snow and turtle poop and dog. It’s supposed to snow this week and it will cover what bare ground we have, but it will also cover the mud and the mounds of dog poop in the back yard that look like someone had a battle with a catapult and poo.

Maybe this weekend I’ll set the taps in the maple trees and then, at least on the back deck, it will smell of sweet syrup. If it warms up enough some bees may show up, hoping for a few drops of sweetness. I’ll give it to them and watch them lick the spoon.

Maybe I’ll paint the kitchen, lord knows, it can use it. I could always finish that curtain that still isn’t hemmed. If I’m ambitious, I’ll clean the fridge and pantry and give this turtle a good scrub. Maybe…. maybe, I’ll wash the dog.

Or the dog and I can curl up on the couch and watch an old movie. She doesn’t smell that bad…..

Almost Spring.

I went out to get the mail this afternoon and noticed a change in the wind. For the past few days it has been a brutally cold wind from the North. Even just a few hours ago, it felt harsh and grains of snow slithered into drifts. Not now. This new wind smells of spring and sap and sunshine.
For the past few nights, I have not heard the lonely, pleading calls of the male owl in the walnut tree. They have been replaced with the flirty calls back and forth between he and a female out in back. Soon they will steal one of the Pileated Woodpecker holes in a snag in the woods and start to nest even before the snow melts. It takes a long time to raise an owlet to an owl and need to get an early start.
Even the African tortoise that sleeps under my desk in the winter senses spring. He gets restless and I have to take care in locking the sliding door, lest I find him out in the snow. The squirrels know it too. They play chase and tag in the back yard, to see who gets to mate with whom. The mothers will soon be kicking the grown kids from last fall out into the world on their own. No couch in the basement for these young adults to fall back on, new babies will be born in late March and April. She’ll have no time or patience for their shenanigans.
I smelled a skunk one night last week and have seen two that didn’t look both ways while crossing the road. (It didn’t end well for the skunks) The boys are on the move right now looking for women instead of cars. Here, they creep silently between the houses and when they encounter a rival, they feel it necessary to mark their territory with a quick spritz of “Essence du’ Spring” If a female chooses to den under my shed or woodpile, I’ll give them time to raise their kits till they are old enough to be out and about. If I’m cautious around them, and don’t get nosey like the dog, I’m usually ok. (Did you know that skunk spray glows in the dark? Seriously. I can personally attest to that. I also have an excellent deodorizer recipe)
Raccoons, possums, and muskrats are among those who really don’t hibernate, but spend the harshest weather sleeping, venturing out on nicer days and evenings. They will hit the snooze button more often than not for a few more weeks, then they too will be on the move, looking for love in all the right places. (Hopefully on their own side of the road) Please watch out for them while driving.
Right now, the hares and ermine have their white winter coat for camouflage. It helps them to hunt unseen and keeps those that hunt them from seeing them. An early spring leaves them pitifully exposed and often hungry.
The sturdy old men of winter are the bobcats, porcupines and cottontails. They never seem bothered by the cold and spend the winter doing exactly what they do in the summer. The porcupines are especially important to the wellbeing of deer and rabbits as they snip off tender twigs high in the trees and drop them to the ground for the others. Even with their help, the low hanging branches of the old apple tree will be stripped of bark as high as the rabbits can reach.
We’ll know when the neighborhood bobcats mate. It begins with the female allowing a male into her territory. There will be a thankfully brief courtship of shouting to each other, an even noisier coupling and then she’ll chase him back to his solitary life. Raccoons are almost as noisy and a lot more frequent around here. Each will find a private, out of the way spot to give birth between April and May.
I can hardly wait for the robins to come back. I so miss their songs in the morning. Usually the first to arrive in the Northern Realm, there will inevitably be a late snow and I’ll run outside with chopped apples and raisins mixed with hamburger and mealworms. Once spread in the driveway, they will come out of hiding and fill up to keep warm. The snow won’t last though, and the other birds will follow with hummers and orioles being last.
The yard will be full of song and then it will be time for the first fawns. There is nothing as achingly beautiful as the first fawns. It takes a rehabber’s breath away and breaks her heart at the same time. By that time though, the house will be filling up with baskets, cages and crates, each with hungry mouths to be filled and sleep will be hard to catch.
Maybe wildlife rehabilitators should be like the chipmunks…we’ll snuggle in a warm hole, snacks within reach, sleep a lot and wait for spring.