Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Too Late

Usually, when I find a dead animal, chances are it has been lifeless for quite some time. Skeletons, partially-decomposed carcasses, and even most roadkill are almost always long-deceased by the time I find and photograph them. Last night, however, a needless death could have been prevented, had I been paying attention to the road.

No, I didn't hit and kill an animal -- but within two minutes of Steph and I arriving home, someone ran over a small snapping turtle, right in front of our house. Had I been watching the road as I got out of my car, perhaps I would have seen the turtle crossing the street; after all, I could see its smashed body plainly from our living room window.

Judging from the damage to the head, neck, and shell, the turtle died instantly. It was gruesome, gory, and sad, and I moved it off the road immediately. The legs were all limp, but the muscles of the tail were still firing and flexing, which made the scene all the more disturbing. Because the shell was so damaged, and the head and neck were flattened, there wasn't much for me to photograph. I focused on the snapping turtle's scaly, armored feet and its tiny, hooked claws.

Turtles are common victims to both rural roads and highways. Because they move so slowly and are generally dark in coloration, they can sometimes be hard to spot, especially at night (this snapping turtle was hit about an hour before sunset). I have also had the displeasure of seeing motorists hit turtles on purpose, which is a sickening, despicable behavior.

If you see a turtle trying to cross (or in the process of crossing) the road, and it's safe for you to assist it, by all means, do. I once saw a woman holding up traffic on a very busy street in Ann Arbor to let a painted turtle cross, and though it was dangerous, it was also very admirable. Last summer, Steph and I helped a medium-sized snapping turtle cross Highway 550 just outside of Marquette -- a much safer road, for sure. If you do transport a turtle across the road, always carry it in the direction that it was headed (if you just put it back where it came from, it will attempt to cross the road again). And of course, always use extreme caution when picking up snapping turtles!

After I finished photographing this little turtle, I buried it in our backyard with an offering of semaa. Semaa is a mixture of tobacco, sage, and red willow. Oftentimes, it is used by the Ojibwe to give thanks, and to honor deceased family members and ancestors. Turtles hold a very important place in Ojibwe culture; when I took Anishnaabe language classes at NMU, our instructor, Kenn, told us how he would give semaa offerings to the animals he found dead on the road -- especially turtles. They are, after all, our family -- beings we share this earth with.

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