Because of me, my granddaughter almost loses a couple of fingers.
We’re driving down a typical New England country road, bracketed with August-green swaying trees. Hawks swing on the tops of those trees, squawking loudly.
To our right is an almost-hidden river where kayakers slowly swing their oars. To our left is dense wood filled with squirrels and woodchucks and chirping sparrows.
“Madre, watch out!” Sophie yells. I ram my foot on the brake.
In front of us, smack in the middle of the road, is a smallish non-moving turtle.
I drive my car carefully past the turtle and then stop on the side of the narrow two-lane road.
We both get out of the car and approach the black reptile, wondering if it’s alive. But the shell is not damaged, and ever so slowly, we notice a tiny head peek out.
“The turtle is trying to reach the water,” I explain to my granddaughter, as if I’m a fountain of knowledge. “If you’d like, you can pick it up and move it over to the edge of the river.”
Sophie slowly advances toward the seemingly innocuous creature. “Is it safe to pick up?” she asks her all-knowing grandmother.
“Sure!” I say confidently.
As she kneels down toward it, hand outstretched, another car approaches. “Wait!” I shout to her.
But instead of passing us (me raising my arm to make sure the car doesn’t hit the turtle), the automobile stops.
A man and woman step out of their station wagon, which is bouncing with the exuberance of three large dogs inside, wagging their tails and tongues. “Quiet!” the man demands.
The car stops bouncing.
Almost simultaneously, he shouts to Sophie, “Don’t touch that!”
The woman stays by their dog-filled car while the man walks closer to the turtle. “Yup,” he says as if to himself. Then he addresses me. “You trying to help the turtle reach the other side safely?”
“Yes,” I answer.
“Well, don’t touch it with your hands. That’s a snapping turtle. It could take a finger.”
By now, Sophie has scurried behind me.
The man shows me his hand. He has only half a right index finger.
“Aw, it’s only a baby,” the woman shouts from the safety of her position. “Pick it up!”
The man huffs his chest and places his fingers near the shell.
Then he stands up, takes a deep breath. “I don’t wanna lose another finger,” he shouts back.
“It’s only a baby!” she repeats.
The man kneels closer, but then a large pick-up speeds down the street. It passes us, then brakes and stops in the middle of the road.
I read the sign on the side of the truck. Public Works.
Two manly men step out, wearing waders, thick beards, and nervous grins.
“A snapper!” the blonde bearded one says. “Don’t touch it!”
I turn my head toward Sophie, who is sweet enough to not say anything to me.
The other bearded one finds a big stick and asks the turtle to latch onto it so he can move it to the other side of the road.
The turtle has escaped into its shell and will have none of it.
So Mr. Blonde Beard scoots back to the truck and grabs a shovel.
“These things can bite. Hard,” the Public Works man explains as he oh so cautiously moves the shovel under the snapping turtle, which is still tight in its shell, and then carefully de-shovels it onto the side of the river.
I want to hug the man. Worse, I get tears in my eyes.
Here we are – all strangers – stopping in the middle of our busy day to save a turtle.
The six of us just nod to each other with smiles and return to our three vehicles.
Sophie doesn’t say a word until we arrive to her house, where she tells her mom all about saving a turtle.
She doesn’t tell her mom that because of her grandmother, she almost lost a finger or two.