Box Turtles and the Power of One: A Sweet Story

Photo: Williamson

By Miryam Ehrlich Williamson

Mary moved to our town a couple of years ago. A retired dog trainer, she brought ten dogs with her and rented a house from perhaps the only man in town with the courage to allow such a menage move into the house he’d grown up in — and next door to the one he now lived in, no less.

It worked out fine. She’d rescued the dogs from one situation or another, given them heaps of loving kindness, and they repaid her by being clean and well-behaved.

Mary distinguished herself in other ways, too. She became a mainstay of our little food co-op. For a while she was the transfer station monitor, there on Saturdays (the only day it’s open) in all kinds of weather, keeping the place neat and the residents honest about what they were putting where.

The house Mary lived in was on the main route into town, once a state road that the town took over rather than let the DPW turn it into a speedway. It still sports the state route signs and number. It has a regular road name, but we locals refer to it as “78,” as in “She lived in the last house on 78 before you leave town,” which would have been true when we moved here, but by the time Mary moved in two more houses had been built south of the one she rented.

Across the road from the house is a pond, big enough for swimming and boating, but privately owned by someone who, for reasons I know not of, won’t allow anyone to use it.

Except that he doesn’t get to say about the box turtle.  It’s been there for at least as long as we’ve been here, longer probably. Box turtles live an average of  40 years, but some make it to 100.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Many of us, heading south on 78 in late spring or summer, have seen the turtle in the road, looking for all the world like a big rock. Lots of us have stopped, turned on the flashers, and carried the turtle gingerly back to the edge of the pond. I keep work gloves in the trunk of the Saturn and I’ve put them on before picking her up. She shuts down like the box she’s named for so I’m not afraid of getting bitten, but discretion, I’ve been told, is the better part of valor.

Why does the box turtle cross the road? Who knows?  She’s not telling. How has she survived all these years without getting run over? I credit the benevolent universe. She crosses just past a curve where you’re supposed to slow down to 35 m.p.h., but few do.  Or did.

Mary got to worrying about the box turtle. She put a note up on the town e-mail list asking for contributions to buy a sign warning people about the turtle in the road.  The town’s inveterate scoffer scoffed, but people sent dollar bills, fives, and tens and the $200-plus was raised without commotion, and the sign was ordered.

The highway department put it up in the spring, about 30 feet past the 35 m.p.h. warning sign. Nobody’s brake lights go on at the curve warning, but they do when they see the turtle crossing sign. The road crew  took it down in the fall. We have a snowmobile crossing sign at the north end of 78 that’s there year ’round since forever. We don’t need to look silly going both ways.

Last winter Mary bought a foreclosure in the next town over and she and the dogs moved out.  I wondered about the turtle sign, but to my delight the highway guys put it up even though Mary wasn’t here to remind them.

I haven’t seen the box turtle yet this summer, but if she’d been hit the news would be all over town. I’m hoping she makes it to 100.

A postscript, and another sweet story: When Ed and I went down 78 this morning to go food gathering, I finally remembered to take the camera so I could show you the sign.  I parked before the curve and put the flashers on so as not to cause an accident. On my way back to the car, I saw a panel truck and a passenger car heading north, both stopped across the road. The driver of the car got out and was heading toward our Saturn. I realize he thought we were in trouble, so I called out, “We’re OK. I was just taking a picture.”

“That’s good,” he said,” and added, “I stopped because I have a cell phone in the car.”

Clearly, he wasn’t from here or he’d have known in this town a cell phone is as useless as teats on a boar hog. But it’s nice once in a while to encounter someone (two someones, in this case) who isn’t in too much of a hurry to see if a stranger is in trouble and offer to help.

No matter what, I’ll go to my grave believing there are more kind people in this world than mean ones.

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4 Responses to “Box Turtles and the Power of One: A Sweet Story”

  1. I couldn’t agree more. Thanks for a great little story with as happy an ending as humanly possible. As long as there are more kind ones than mean ones in the world, life is worth living.

  2. Mary fits well among the web of critter-protectors in her new town. I smile as I go by her house on my morning walk.

  3. Why did the box turtle cross the road? Almost surely to lay eggs. That’s why turtles are on the move in the spring.

    Thanks for your giving Mary the credit she’s due, and thanks for telling the story so delightfully!

  4. Please don’t plan to go to your grave any time soon.

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