One warm morning last year while I was riding my bike past Wolf Pit Pond in Mattituck, I spotted Chelydra serpentina, the common snapping turtle, lumbering across the road.
The turtle was almost 2 feet long and about the size of a small pig. Her strong stubby legs propelled her forward. A thick layer of algae encrusted her shell like a ragged fur coat. She spotted me and dropped to the ground. Her long snake-like neck whipped her broad flat head around to face me. She retracted her head into the thick folds of her neck and snapped open her long sharp beak-like mouth. I stood frozen.
Snapping turtles have an impressive strike range. The crushing power of their jaws can snap a broom handle in half. This giant behemoth staring me down in the middle of the road was the size of a Thanksgiving dinner platter. She could easily sever a finger or two. I decided to deflect oncoming traffic away while she slowly made her way across the road.
I heard a pickup truck pull up behind me, and the slam of two doors. I turned and saw a man and a teenage boy approach, their eyes fixed upon the giant turtle. “Wow, Dad, that turtle is huge!” the boy gasped.
The man straddled the roadway, feet braced against the blacktop, hands pressed tight on his hips, General Patton surveying the battleground. He rolled his eyes toward me, nodding his head to the stalled turtle and hissed through pursed lips, “That turtle needs to be moved off the roadway.”
I heard the command in his voice, the directive of action I was supposed to take.
“I am not touching her,” I replied.
His eyebrow shot up, his hands tightened on his hips. He blew out his breath in a blast of annoyance. He flipped his hand around and gestured with a short stabbing motion at the turtle, “That turtle needs to be picked up and brought over to the pond across the street or someone is going to run it over!”
I felt it, the gauntlet thrown down, the verbal slap in the face, the challenge issued to a duel. I raised my chin, my pride stung, my honor impugned, my courage questioned. We were two gunfighters facing each other in the sun. I drew my verbal gun and fired.
“Go ahead,” I said.
We faced each other, the air thick with the tension. A command issued, ignored. Authority challenged, repudiated.
The boy’s round blue eyes darted back and forth between his father and myself. With two little words I had turned the challenge back onto the man. I had questioned his bravery, undermined his authority. He locked eyes with me, narrowed his gaze, tightened his lips. Anger flared his nostrils. Inaction would reduce his stature in the boy’s eyes, branding him as cowardly.
Without taking his eyes from mine he snapped at the boy, “Go get those leather gloves that are in the truck and bring them here.”
The boy ran to the truck, retrieved the heavy gloves and hurried back to his father, hero worship spurring on his gait. With the gloves lying flat in his palms, he extended his arms out to his father, a page offering the heavy sword to a knight going off to battle. The father looked at the gloves, looked at his son, nodded his head and then told the boy, “Now put them on and go throw that turtle in the pond.”
The boy stepped back as if stung, dropped the gloves to the road and twisted his head around to look at the turtle, which by now had finished her journey across the road, and as we all watched, slipped into the murky water of Wolf Pit Pond.
Reader Mary Griffin lives in Mattituck.