Susan Carol Hauser

Peeping the Land: A Survey

In Bog-watching, Peeping the Land on July 6, 2014 at 11:19 pm

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Peeping the Land: A Survey, July 6, 2014

I have lived on this land for nearly forty years and have seen many painted turtles in that time. This year is the first time that I have seen a snapping turtle. It climbed the hill from the bay and when I discovered her, she was laying her eggs in a shallow nest dug into the soft dirt alongside the house, under a window on the west side. I would not have seen her at all had I not leaned into the window seat that morning to crank shut the side windows against impending rain. There she was, backed up against the house, appearing to be up to nothing, but I knew she was laying eggs. I removed the screen from the window, took a few pictures, then went about my day. When I checked the spot in the afternoon, she was gone, her nest with its    white ping-pong ball eggs neatly covered over. I have seen many such nests alongside the road that goes by my house, but I only have seen them because they had been raided, dug up by skunks, raccoons, or birds, soft bits of turtle shells strewn around the site. I decided to protect the nest. I laid a piece of fire wood on each side of it perpendicular to the house, then laid a wire garden tray on top of the logs and weighted the tray down with two split logs. The bottom logs opened passage ways that the hatchlings could get through when they came out of the nest. The top logs would prevent small predators from moving the tray. A nest is thought to be detected by the odors that swarm out of it: the wet coating that covers the eggs as they are laid, sometimes turtle urine, or the smell of the eggs themselves, if some are broken or have gone rotten.  I wonder if even the scent of freshly turned earth might attract some animals or birds. Eighty to ninety-percent of turtle eggs are believed to be lost to predators or other natural afflictions, such as weather. The hatchlings are also at risk, both on land and in water, until they mature. There are probably twenty to forty creamy-white eggs in the nest outside my window, their inhabitants growing the way hope does in our human thoughts: taking on an inevitable shape, finding its way to sunlight, embarking on a journey to somewhere, to an unpredictable conclusion.

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