Since I need to train to get in shape to do the entire C&O Canal in five or six months I have been walking with a full pack, at about thirty-five pounds, as much and as far as possible. I’m also using this as an opportunity to practice and learn how I want the photography for the book to appear. On this day I went down to lock 44 in Williamsport as I thought the restored canal and lock would be interesting with the water frozen, plus I just needed to walk. I have found that one of the easier ways for me to deal with my grief is to stay in constant motion both physically and mentally. Sunday the eighteenth was a miserable day, a minor ice storm on Saturday, with just enough melting to leave some standing water on the ice, had left the towpath very slippery.
I parked the car and loaded up then went over to the lock and took some photographs of the lock and its operating mechanisms. I then took the rubber covers off my trekking poles to expose the carbide tips and took off west on the canal towards Cushwa Basin and the Conococheague Aqueduct. I swiftly learned that it was best to stay on the narrow patch of grass between the full, and thinly ice covered canal than to try to walk on the ice covered towpath, maybe ice skates would have been a better choice than my trusty Keen boots. Of course this meant that I had to be careful as to not lose my balance or slip on the ice as this would precipitate a fall into the canal and a very cold swim. I kept on going till I got to Cushwa Basin, took some more photographs, and decided to walk back to lock 44 down the remnants of railroad tracks on the berm side of the canal. This side gets more sun and is somewhat protected by Doubleday Hill, named for Abner Doubleday, possible inventor of the game of baseball, who may or may not have been present on this hill during the Civil War depending on who you talk to.
Took some more phots of the railroad lift bridge that crosses the canal just east of Cushwa basin as well as the bridge that crosses the canal for road traffic to the river. I was getting cold and damp and was thinking that this was going to be a short walk, so I hitched up my pack and continued on.
As I was walking along in the surreal little piece of landscape of railroad rails going through a scrubby growth of Osage, Black Locust, and Sycamore trees. I looked down and saw a young box turtle (Terrapene carolina), probably hatched last spring. I thought this was odd as this was definitely not reptile weather. He wasn’t moving so I scooped him up thinking the yesterdays warm spell fooled him into thinking it was spring and he got chilled by being out of his hibernation hole. I held him in my cupped hands and blew my warm breath over him to revive him a bit. I was hoping that he was not frozen by his night out of cover. The hot breath wasn’t working so I dropped my pack, got out my cup and coffee thermos, poured a little coffee in the cup, let it cool a bit, while still breathing on the turtle. When the coffee was cool enough I held the turtle in it with his head exposed to warm him some more. My efforts were to no avail he was dead. On closer examination I saw that his eyes were sunken all the way into his skull, nothing I could do would have brought him back.
After hatching in the spring and surviving all of the perils and verisimilitude of being the little guy in the food chain he may have survived to a ripe old age, (box turtles can actually live to be one-hundred years old), after making it through that first hard year.
Yet he was probably fooled by a brief spate of warm weather after the ice storm into thinking something that was not. In my grief filled view of the world I could not help but see a reflection of the loss of my son in the death of the poor little turtle.
Should I have interfered with nature and tried to save the turtle? Maybe not, but being a part nature and not just in it is what is important. Perhaps we should all try to save a turtle sometime. I regret deeply that unfortunately I had no opportunity to save my son.
I sat on a log with tears in my eyes both for Arthur and the turtle.
I should make known that I have a strange affinity with turtles and tortoises. When I first started doing wildlife photography it seemed like everywhere I went there was a turtle or tortoise waiting for me, I have lots of close-up portraits of these guys, even large snapping turtles. They just walk up to me sometimes.
I am also the kind of person that will stop on a busy road to move a turtle off of it, often much to the chagrin of my fellow motorists. Please remember if you do this, move the turtle in the direction it is going in or it will come back to the spot you moved it from; turtle logic makes no sense to us mere humans.