A Pine Point Turtle Tale
There is a large dingle near The World Famous Thomas M. Balliet Elementary School in the Pine Point section of Springfield, Massachusetts that we kids used to call "Snake Woods" on account of how you could catch a lot of small snakes there to put in your sister's bed or something. You could sometimes capture other creatures there as well, such as frogs and turtles.
One day when I was about ten years old I saw a black turtle with spots on its back basking in the sun on a rock near the swampy creek that passed through Snake Woods. Ever so quietly I snuck up on the terrapin with that perfect agility we have only as children, and with lightning speed I snatched it up in my hands before it could escape into the water. I thought this spotted turtle was one of the neatest things I ever caught, so I brought it home and decided to make it my pet.
The first problem I faced was where to keep it. I knew it lived in the woods and obviously liked rocks and water since I had captured it near both, but how could I recreate that environment in my cellar near the washing machine, which is where I determined that he should live? Eventually I settled for a very simple decor consisting of a medium sized metal tub in which I placed a sizable rock and some water. That gave my turtle the varied options of either sitting on the rock, swimming in the water, or hovering near the rock half in and half out of the water. Most of the time he seemed to prefer just sitting on the rock.
Next I had to figure out what the turtle ate. I put some lettuce in front of it, and then I tried pieces of fruit, but the turtle was bored by these offerings. Turtles always look bored, but you know what I mean. Finally I was showing one of my cousins the turtle and he said, "That looks just like the kind of turtle I caught fishing one time!" So my cousin and I jumped on our high-handled banana seat bicycles and zoomed off to the nearest worm farm, which was located a few blocks away on Denver Street.
There were quite a few worm farms in Pine Point. A worm farm usually consisted of a large wooden box filled with rich soil and mixed with coffee grounds. Some people claimed that adding little dashes of other ingredients like orange peels or eggshells improved the mix, but it was mostly the dirt and the coffee grounds that mattered since apparently the worms got all agitated and horny off the caffeine and would reproduce like crazy. Then you could sell the worms in a paper cup to folks going fishing at fifty cents a dozen.
It was easier money than running a paper route, as I would surely know, having the largest paper route in all Pine Point! Today you don't see worm farms, since about twenty years ago the government passed ordinances requiring you to have a permit to sell fishing supplies, including bait. That had the effect of ruining the profitability of the homemade worm farm, and thus yet another field of small business was killed by government regulation.
Anyway, when we got back to my house we offered the worm to "Barney" (as I had decided to name him, in honor of my favorite Flintstones character) and he loved it. It was wonderfully gross in a way only ten year olds can appreciate to watch the worm writhing frantically as Barney methodically, in his slow-mo turtle way, sucked the poor earth-borer down his gullet.
I assumed that Barney must be very happy in his new home, swimming, dozing on his rock and enjoying all the fat juicy worms he could eat. But after a week or so of this life of leisure, he started to act out of sorts. He rarely went into the water, and simply sat on his rock with his legs drawn in with just his head sticking out of his shell and his eyes closed. He had even lost interest in the worms, who when fed to him slithered all around the rock untouched until they fell into the water and drowned. I went and told my mother that something seemed to be wrong with Barney.
After examining the turtle, my mother and I had a little talk. She explained to me about how animals that are born wild don't usually take very well to being kept in captivity. She also said that creatures like to be with their own kind, and that Barney probably missed the other turtles he had known in Snake Woods. I knew what she was getting at, so I decided I better do what I had to do.
Placing Barney in a cardboard shoebox, along with a worm in case his appetite was revived by the ride, I got on my bike and rode to Snake Woods. There I returned to the spot where I had first captured Barney and I opened the shoebox. The moment he was exposed to the air and the sunlight and saw where he was, Barney instantly snapped out of his lethargy and began frantically waving his legs. I put him on the ground and he ran towards the water. I'd like to say that he glanced back at me once before diving into the muck, but maybe I just imagine that he did. In any case with a splash he was gone, and of course I never saw him again.
Recently on the front page of the paper there was a picture of a spotted turtle looking very much like Barney. The accompanying article announced that the Massachusetts Fisheries and Wildlife Board had removed the spotted turtle from its endangered species list. The article went on to say that the habitat of the spotted turtle - marshy wooded areas like Snake Woods - were being destroyed by economic development to the point that the population of spotted turtles had plummeted. Now thanks to conservation efforts the turtle population has revived to the point that it is no longer in danger of extinction.
As for the turtle habitat of Snake Woods, it is still very much there. In fact it is even more wild than it was in my day, since kids don't seem to play in the woods much anymore. The last time I was there the trails had become mostly overgrown. I guess kids these days are too busy with video games and such to fool around in the woods.
When I finished the newspaper article, an odd thought struck me - could Barney still be alive? I know I read somewhere that turtles have some of the longest life expectancies in the animal kingdom, with some turtles being documented as surviving more than a century.
Who knows? But Barney, if you're out there somewhere in the muddy bottom of the wetlands of Snake Woods, I want you to know that I was thinking of you today.
The 2010 Obama
Here's the new model the government is forcing General Motors to build.
This banner in Northampton is actually quite inspiring now that it is no longer being used as a cheap campaign slogan.
Nature's Party House
In Amherst there are two giant pines standing so close together that they appear as one.
They are located behind the Golden Nozzle Car Wash on Route Nine.
This path leads right past the pines.
If you look carefully, you will spot an entranceway to a hidden, natural enclosure created by the trees.
Inside there is this mattress made of a wooden pallet covered with cardboard. It doesn't look very comfortable, but I assume you would put a sleeping bag on top if you had one.
The hideaway was deserted when I stopped in, but the occupant appears to be quite thirsty and very untidy.
Remember to be grateful for what you have, because you don't know how other people have to live.