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Don Lewis, Massachusetts Audubon Society,
Fox Island Wildlife Management Area

In the Dark of Dawn — Saturday 14 October 2000

Conditions were mild, 55 degrees and dead flat calm, as echoes of last night’s full moon haloed Wellfleet Bay.  Wading cross channel in shadowed darkness prompts eerie thoughts of what lies beneath, as you probe for sink pockets with your net pole and pray that slapping sound somewhere to your right is really a striper and not something a tad more ominous.  The welcomed rise of the rip, midway between Lieutenant Island and Indian Neck, signals a chance to breathe once more.

Water visibility was Cayman perfect.  With just a dash of headlamp, you could see anything passing through the pre-dawn outflow: a lonely horseshoe crab half buried in the flats, a too friendly flounder flopping over the rip, fist-sized calico crabs patrolling the channel for a late season snack, and one very sluggish terrapin. 

Turtle 958 floated down stream with the current, head tucked well inside ample layers of fat, coasting and tumbling more than paddling as he bounced through the channel.  A seven-year-old male of 11.42 centimeters carapace length, he had plumped up to 280 grams for impending brumation.  I suspect he didn’t burrow down well enough for the night and the full moon tidal current uncovered his hiding place, dislodging a surprised and not too happy camper.

Protesting the unfairness of life, #958 refused to budge on release.  He held his ground and waited for the water to come to him.  I guess you don’t get turtle fat by wasting energy chasing an incoming tide.  He heard this tale about the mountain and Muhammed, and drew his line in the sand.  This far and no further.



And so our chilly friend waited and waited and waited and waited as the tide lapped over his shell.  From his expression you could just barely read his mind, “Look at those stupid humans standing around watching a turtle watching the tide advance inch by inch.  You’d think a supposedly intelligent creature would have something more productive to do.  And they call us dumb animals, indeed...  Well, this looks like a good spot for winter.  Night, all.”