Saturday, March 13, 2010

Turtles are the happy wanderers of life

I have been called Turtle Lady for at least 25 years now. I have had sick ones I had to take to the that was a costly adventure. I have had to give them injections, lance all manner of ugly things, de worm them, undo other peoples mistakes, try to heal the stupidity of humans on these lovely creatures and struck up some long lived friendships with others who are turtle freaks too.

I worked for a professor of biology at UNM over a three year period as he did a study of the migration patterns of common western box turtles in the Socorro, Pie Town and Magdalena area of New Mexico. He was a very nice man but a crazy person. We would go all over hell's desert trailing after turtles. He was most interested in finding out if the population was dwindling and the reasons why. Lofty thoughts and hopes.

A typical morning started with high boots being worn so the rattlers didn't get ya, a snake wand, which is the funny crooked metal stick used to move snakes without getting bit, long sleeves, bandana (just in case you screw up and the hole you go into has a surprise and you need to tie your arm off), large brimmed hat and heavy jeans. Now this was not a suggestion but the way it was if you were gonna work on his team. Many a grad student showed up wearing the wrong attire and had to spend the day alone at the van. Keep in mind that this is the middle of summer in the high desert.

We had a portable x-ray machine and my job was to wear a 12 lb lead apron and to put the turtles on their backs while someone else x rayed them to see if the females had any eggs. Turtles flip so fast and sometimes it was more than one at a time. It was like juggling water. It was really cool though to see which females were gravid.....oh now you have a new word for pregnant turtle. And the weirdest part is that a. turtles can wait to lay eggs for up to 2 years, just in case the climate is bad and b. does not need to be inseminated but just once in order to lay eggs for up to 5 years. So much for the need for a male. Besides, when you see the habitat, you realize the Mother Nature knew what she was doing. A female could wander the desert for years and not bump into another turtle. We're talking smart planning here.

I saw so many wonderous things during my time with the prof. Learned things that I will never in my daily life ever need to know but then I have a Trivial Pursuit kinda brain anyway so what the hell. All of my work with prof gave me some wonderful practical application knowledge as well. Like how to treat a snake bite, how to drink enough water so you don't get the desert fever, how to pack lite and move quick and let me view all manner of bugs, and birds and critters, and plants and gorgeous rainstorms with scarier than hell lightening and thunder and fabulous rainbows that stretch foreva. Dust devil do pack a whollup. Rattlesnakes really don't want to mess with humans. Skunks are mean and vindictive. Prarie Dogs chat up anyone who will listen and unfortunately the turtle population is in a decrease because of man's encroachment on habitat, cross species disease (strep of all things) and climate change.

If you ever get a back yard turtle. Make sure your fence doesn't have any breaks either horizontal or vertical. Those craftly little beasts can turn themselves 90 degrees and go that way too. Don't leave dogs, cats or chickens alone with a turtle, somebody is gonna lose an eye or a toe. No really. Wear shoes while watching them or just relaxing on your porch with a barefooted neighbor or you could have to extricate a turtle from someone's toe. Don't feed them cheese, it can kill them (enzymes in the cheese can kill the good bacteria in their guts). Cat and Dog food is for furry animals. Eggs, meat, fruit, veggies and bugs are great for them. Don't give them something to swim in.....they can't. Don't expect that they will leave any strawberries or tomatoes or pumpkins or squash if you plant them. Don't expect that they will not eat all the flowers from bulbs, cuz they will. Nothing cuter than a turtle with a tulip sticking out of it's mouth, cromping the good stuff.

Turtles live to be 40 to 50 years old, so put them in your will. This last year, a sweet lady neighbor died suddenly and no one in her family remembered she had turtles in the back yard. Months later, we were finding them everywhere in the neighborhood because no one shut the gate. The new owners were quite surprised at what they got in the spring. A new yard and baby turtles. The neighbor kids told them to call me, I'd know what to do. Yeah the Turtle Lady strikes again.

This time of year, I get a little antsy, wanting to see who made it through the winter, who is new and tiny and who is missing and won't be joining us for this years round of turtle watching.


  1. ~do you realize how truly fascinating your life adn stories seem to have experienced so much and have lived doing as you wish...i adore turtles...we were going to get our oldest one last year and then the lady told us how long they lived and my oldest decided maybe they would choose a different animal...still no animals here...lucky are you to be the turtle lady! brightest blessings~

  2. Love toitles too!! Had my babies for a long time but now live with friends. I loved that you mentioned our beautiful rainstorms, heart-pounding thunder, rainbows, but don't forget the "smell of rain," out here. You can smell rain before it ever hits the ground...actually, it's the chrisso (sp.) bush growing in the it!!

    Had a great time talking yesterday...I mean it, lady, we need to get together sometime this year...we're only 4-5 hours away by car...let's plan.

    Love ya,B&G,

  3. Linda, you have lived one very exciting life. How interesting it had to be out there in the desert learning about all those creatures and learning survival techniques, as well. I am sure you will never forget those times. You tell the best stories and I enjoy every word.
    I have many turtle brooches and many little turtle sculptures that people have given me as gifts, but I've never been graced with one for a pet. I will have to wait and see if my future holds any live turtles in it. (: I know this much - I have learned a lot about turtles from you - things I never knew. Thank you for that.
    The Turtle Lady - I love it!!!
    ♥ audrey

  4. hi linda...i just went and looked at the dishes. these are the markings:

    made in the usa

    1 LA Mark


    hope you can find some!!!

  5. I love turtles, but they have stinky pee when they're unhappy with you. Plus, I'm not competent to own a turtle, mostly because I own cats of the treacherous sort. As an animal lover though, I'm extremely glad there are people like you in the world looking out for those sweet things. They really are so innocent. Except for that toe biting thang.

  6. I am so enjoying learning about your turtles. I find it amazing that you actually have them, it's really cool.

  7. Thank you for the education on turtles, very interesting.

  8. This is so cool Linda!
    You are the Turtle Queen!
    I could never join you in the desert though,
    I´m TERRIBLY AFRAID of snakes, can´t even watch them at TV!
    Lots of love to the turtle Queen

  9. I have a red ear slider that is probably close to 20 years old. I can't remember exactly how old my son was when he brought her home from my parent's house. He caught her in a pond on a gold course when she was about the size of an old 50¢ piece. Her shell is about 11" long front to back now. We just got her a new bigger pond but haven't got it set up yet. I wrote a post about her (label 'turtles') if you are interested.

  10. I really enjoyed your turtle tails. I love turtles but can't keep them here. My cats, chickens and ducks would have a field day Yikes! Dave and I once rescued a baby snapper. He is still at the nature center last we checked.


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