For those of you that have been following along, we picked up a hitchhiker about a week ago as my family drove back roads home from St. Louis to Wichita. We acquired a female Ornate Box Turtle which my boys named Flora. Upon bringing Flora home my wife Kate and I did some research and came to the conclusion that the right thing to do was return Flora to her home since Ornate Box Turtles are protected reptiles in Kansas and tend to have shorter lifespans in captivity than the 50-100 years suspected in the wild. So…last Saturday we packed the boys into the car and made the 3 hour round trip drive to Flora’s home: A bridge just north-east of Toronto, KS on highway 54.
Flora spent her 6 days living in our back yard plotting multiple escapes and nearly succeeding twice. I was in awe of her burrowing capabilities and her complete distrust of me despite feeding her multiple leaves, watermelon slices, and apples was a good reminder that this was a wild reptile that belonged in her own home. When I found her the week prior I was convinced I was doing the right thing by saving her…keeping her from being squashed in the road. After seeing her desperately looking for her home and being miserable in an enclosure it was a clear decision. Flora needs to go home. We told the boys, “Flora has had a nice stay with us but she needs to go home to her mommy and daddy now, her family misses her and she misses them.” Max (3) understood this while Dodge (1) smashed a cracker into the seat.
Without much fanfare I placed Flora under the bridge by the river that fed into Cedar Creek and eventually Toronto Lake in hopes she might go under the bridge this time instead of over it where cars and trucks rumble by. She thanked me by peeing on me one last time before scurrying into the deep grass she seemed to know so well and hiding in the mud of her home. She did look back to study me and I like to think she was thinking, “Thank you…thank you for bringing me home.” When in fact she was probably thinking, “Don’t ever touch me again you stupid flesh bucket!” More than likely she was thinking, “Muhlbc;hu elsf h;FH…” because turtles can’t speak.
We counted 17 turtles in the road that day, one of which was about the size of a basketball and trapped on the median of the Turnpike as cars whizzed past at 80 miles per hour. We didn’t count the squashed ones but we did watch one get killed by an unsuspecting mini van. I narrowly missed one making a break for the other side and was impressed by it’s speed…which gave me hope. The whole thing made me feel sad and acutely aware of how something as simple as a road bisects animal’s habitats and changes migrations and nature forever. It reminded me of Robert Moses and how the Cross Bronx Expressway forever changed neighborhoods like Tremont in New York City when neighbors were suddenly divided by a seemingly endless 6 lane highway. I like to think Flora went home that night to her tribe and forever told stories about that wild week she survived among the flesh buckets from outer space! I like to think she’ll live for decades…longer than me. I like to think she made it to the other side of the road. I like to think a lot of things about Flora the Ornate Box Turtle…but the one thing I know is that my family and I did the right thing. So, if you see a turtle in the middle of the road…don’t take it with you. Pull over, gently pick it up and place it on the side of the road in the same direction it was facing or heading. Its like helping a little old lady across the street. It takes a few seconds out of your busy, busy, busy day…but its the right thing to do.
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