All the thoughts of a turtle are turtle. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson
There are a couple of fond events in my life associated with turtling. This is not a euphemism for some depraved activity. It is about the four legged creature that carries his home on his back who’s cousin the tortoise beat the hare in a mythical race in which victory went to the slow and steady over the fast and lazy. Turtling is the act of catching a turtle as fishing is to fish.
My parent’s have a ‘summer estate’ in central Wisconsin or some my dad called the cabin seated a couple of blocks from Lake Camelot. I spent many a summer vacation at the cabin wiling the days away swimming, fishing, boating, raising havoc, and, one summer, catching turtles on nearby Lake Sherwood. To get to Lake Sherwood from Lake Camelot, we had to drag our canoe over the dam and launch it into the Eastern end of the lake. Weedy waters are the turtles preferred habitat and this end of the lake had bays choked with weeds.
Finding the turtles was easy and not so easy. The ones sunning on the logs and rocks were easy to spot but very difficult to catch because the log or tree blocks the net we used to catch them. The net was attached to a long pole to give us maximum reach when hunting.
The turtles hovering in the weeds are harder to see but, with a little practice, one learns to identify the tiny heads peaking through the green of the weeds. Once Identified, they are much easier to catch, if you know the two tricks to catching them. Trick number one is to not make direct eye contact. If they see you looking at them they dive beneath the weeds. When approaching, you must face away and monitor them out of the corner of your eye. Only in this way can you get close enough to net them. When turtles submerge, they swim off opposite to the direction of the predator. This behavior leads to the second trick. Plunge the net behind the turtle and bring it up quickly. If you utilize these two tricks, more often than not, when sorting through the weeds in the net, your prize will be found. On our best day, we probably caught a dozen turtles in a few hours. We typically kept them overnight and returned them to the lake the next day.
My next turtle adventure took place at a summer camp in Wisconsin where I, now an adult, spent the weekend with my kids and the kids of many other single parents in an outing designed to help single parents get to know each other. There was a bridge across the waterway and in the water were two large snapping turtles milling about. As a bunch of us were watching them swim in the clear water, the frog my son was holding jumped out of his hands landing in the water near the snappers. Seconds after the frog hit the water, one of the snappers head shot forward and it’s powerful jaws clamped tight about the hapless frog before sucking it down into its stomach.
My young son was devastated at losing his frog but not so the other boys who ran to the end of the bridge, caught some frogs which they quickly tossed into the water and cheered as the snappers feasted. During the frenzy, a large snapper swam beneath our bridge. I plunged my hand into the water, caught the turtle by the base of his thick tail, so think my fingers and thumb did not touch each other, and hauled him up to the bridge. His legs pumped furiously, he stretched out his long neck, and, mouth agape, tried to bite me. Once the screams of the kids, who were initially terrified of the large beast subsided, they looked on in awe at the beast. I had to make sure they kept their distance because the bite from one of these large snapping turtles is formidable and they tend not to let go quickly. I kept him on the bridge for a few minutes before returning him to the water. That was fifteen years ago and was my last turtling adventure.