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

Holiday Guests — 13 December 2001

It never fails. No matter how private you try to keep your holiday celebrations, someone always crashes the party.  Or in this case, two someones.  The U.S. Humane Society’s Cape Wildlife Center called and asked if I could shelter two of their patients for the winter.

In October I had presented them with a 13-year-old female terrapin with punctured carapace and crushed left bridge.  She had apparently encountered a harbor dredge will swimming by Wellfleet’s town pier and was discovered injured and stunned on the abutting shoreline on 16 October.  Since then, she has progressed nicely under the excellent care of veterinary director Dr. Rachel Blackmer and Dr. Catherine “Katie” Brown in the Center’s turtle ward.  But she still has an artificial support for her broken bridge and needs to remain under supervision for a bit longer.

So, Terrapin #1195 has moved into the garage lab of Connemara Cottage where she now has ample room to submerge in her faux paludal tank . . .

. . . and still stretch upward for a quick gulp of air.

The second patient is a nice surprise: a rather large male snapping turtle who hits the scales at over 25 pounds, affectionately dubbed Darth Vader for the loving sounds he emits when approached by humans.  You can hardly blame him after an encounter left him badly injured and with a wired jaw.  But while Darth, too, has been making progress, he’s getting a bit cranky at being kept up long after his fall bedtime and one look will tell you: this fellow needs his beauty sleep and lots of it!

Darth has reserved the Connemara Cottage guest suite — the tree house that doubles as my turtle tool shed where he plans to slip into quiet brumation for the duration.  In the spring time, the CWC plans to remove his wire support and release Darth back into his homely pond.

What I love most about turtles, and snappers in particular, is the life lesson they teach. Unlike dogs and cats and even some humans, to love a turtle is to remain forever unrequited.  You can risk your life saving a snapping turtle, and the only thing he thinks in return is how to shorten your arm by one biteful.  Not ingratitude, simply nature.  And so I look forward to the freedom of their release, knowing they love me most when they don’t see me at all.  Who says you can’t learn the meaning of life from a cold-blooded critter?