Photo by Susan Prisant
By Alexander & Susan Prisant
Thank God. Real life is still better than You Tube. And we have the miracle to prove it, right in our own backyard.
It was a bright August morning when we opened the bedroom blinds and were stunned. Centered in our window pane, not 15 feet away, a larger-than-life land turtle was laying her eggs. A dozen perfect white ones plopped into the hole she’d made just under our bushes.
It was just like http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YuW0E2Horh8.
Like the difference between watching National Geographic and actually going to Botswana.
That August morning, we instantly became official Protectors of Animal Life, or PALs. It was only 7 a.m. on a Saturday, but Susan went into action. She phoned the fire department, animal shelter, humane society and three endangered turtle protection groups.
They all told her the same thing: turtle young cannot be moved. This had happened on our property and so it was our solemn duty to protect those eggs. At all costs.
A flurry of google searches ensued. It turned out that ours was a Peninsula Cooter, native to Florida. They’re huge -- up to a foot and a half in length. In a big, dusty book we found, we discovered the turtles' love-making ritual: “males court females by swimming backwards in front of them and gently stroking the sides of the females' faces with their long claws.” What more would you ever want to know?
That You Tube video looked like our kids’ Mom had posed for it. And there were others -- how to protect eggs from predators and disinterested chainsaw-bearing ex-felons, posing as “gardeners.’ We learned about clever uses for refrigerator shelves and red pepper. Dead leaves were reborn as camouflage.
Having laid precisely a dozen eggs -- just as the dusty book said she would -- Big Mama decided it was now our problem and slowly ambled down to the canal in back. We nervously approached and looked at how well she’d covered her young and her tracks. And then promptly proceeded to turn the site into a 4th rate Times Square, with red reflector and 3-foot full-color sign, to warn off the literate, and lots of that red pepper to warn off the illiterate
Our garden is like a jungle.
Photo by Susan Prisant
We have scores of seasonal births: microscopic frogs jumping 20 times their height or slipping under the two-mm gap below our terrace door, while baby geckos cling to the screens, halfway up.
A larger lizard once set up shop in the sun at our garage door -- dicing with death every time we rolled up and honked. He’d force us to get out and finally shoo him into the bushes. An absolutely wild cotton-tail, aka Mr. Bunny, is shrewd enough to come for his carrot, most evenings, precisely at cocktail hour, while blue jays and cardinals vie for the bird bath.
And all the while, the newborn of several Florida species scream for food from their nests in our trees. The whole place is like a four-legged, two-winged maternity ward.
But the really hard part about hatching turtles is that they run on a schedule even less dependable than the old Erie & Lackawanna Railroad. Those experts told us we
were looking at a two-to-seven month mission -- the babies could hatch at anytime in between.
As the weeks dragged on into months our anxiety grew. We spent half our lives staring stupidly down at the ground. Were they already dead? Was it our fault? All the usual, irrational concerns of the (self-appointed) Keepers of Life.
Then, at the very end of October, a miracle. My wife went out on patrol to discover a perfectly shaped hole in the soil, with our grate undisturbed still on top, meaning no predator had come in from above.
It had happened after all. In spite of everything, Mother Nature refuses to quit.
We missed the births, but in the face of some pretty ugly stuff in the world, it still made our week. If we were still in the scouts, I just know we’d have gotten the Tortoise Merit Badge, with Oak Leaf Cluster.
Writer Alexander Prisant and his wife, Susan, live in Florida.