The Eagle and The Terrapin

By Jonathan Katz

National Trails Day 2019. Good day for a bike ride, along the Folks on Spokes route in Milford, by the shore. I make a right, residential downhill toward the water, and people are staring into the top of a big tree, next to a guy with a telephoto lens. This is usually a pretty good clue that something is in the tree. So I stop, hoping to see a UFO, and a pregnant lady standing in her driveway tells me it’s a bald eagle. Sure enough, it’s there, on a high bare branch, looking out over the Sound. Above and behind him, where I would not want them if I was the eagle, are a couple of crows. They despise the eagle in their tree. They’re cawing and making a racket, and I’m waiting for the eagle to turn around and thrash them. But this eagle is a chicken. He spreads his majestic wings and drops out of the tree. It takes him a little while to get up to speed, and the crows give chase. They scream and harry him till they drive him out of view. See picture of stationary eagle. All of which brings back memories of Egil Krogh, Richard Nixon’s plumber. It’s strange what seeing wildlife can do to your brain.

On Sunday I pursue my celebration of National Trails Day by driving to the gym. My car radio default is the Grateful Dead Channel. They’re playing the insipid front end of Terrapin Station when I look up and see the terrapin, crossing Route 146. He’s a snapping turtle with his head out, in the opposite lane. I know people sometimes hit these on purpose, so I turn my car around to stop traffic in his lane, put the flashers on and get out. This tortoise is about the size of your toilet seat, big head, pale feet, big claws, black shell with a hole in it, so he’s seen some trouble in his life. I nudge him with my foot to try to head him in the right direction. SNAP! He has a real fast snap on him! He can snap me before I can move, and he’s not about to be “headed” anywhere. I think about picking him up from behind, but I’m not sure about the range of that snap. I don’t want to feed him a foreknuckle.

I am a tool-using animal and I’ve got him outgunned in the IQ department. So I find a stick and try to lever him around. He braces on his opposite foot to resist me — he’s been levered some in his life, and knows not to get flipped over. The stick breaks. So I get a bigger stick, and that one breaks too. The guy whose lawn I’m next to is a fanatic for getting rid of sticks. I mean his yard is bereft — there’s just nothing decently big enough to scooch a snapper. The turtle is recalibrating now, walking straight up the middle of the road, not crossing at all.

So I go to my car and get my six-dollar IKEA umbrella and I slide it under him and lever him with that. He digs his feet in, and snaps, and the umbrella bends, but I get him pivoted around, snapping like mad, pointing toward the culvert. I nudge and shove him to the edge of the road, and over the embankment. He starts heading down. It’s a pretty steep slope and his reptile brain knows that if you seek a swamp, down is a good direction. Gravity gets a grip and he’s committed now. Last I see of him, he’s heading toward Young’s Pond, hunting frogs legs for supper. My radio is playing the heavy end of Terrapin Station. My umbrella is fresh-curved. I’ll keep it.