COLUMN: If only the turtle could talk

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I ended the life of a box turtle the Sunday before Memorial Day. It was an accident and while my conscience isn’t as easily shaken as it once was, I felt remorse.

The turtle was crossing, or attempting to, Indiana 66 between Grandview and Rockport. I saw it in plenty of time and even slowed. However, it was in the area of driving lane where my passenger-side tires would normally be. I could have swerved left but an oncoming car prevented a deft maneuver.

The experience reminded me of a more successful run-in with a turtle several years ago and a column it generated. Below is that piece, published in late May of 2006.

The unfortunate box turtle was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Had the turtle been able to talk that Saturday afternoon, it might have said the same thing about me.

But the Eastern box turtle I clutched by the shell that warm day wasn’t saying anything. It couldn’t even if it wanted. I’d just killed it.

I was discing a field and the turtle either went under a wheel or one of the sharp metal blades. I didn’t see the accident happen, but saw the turtle on my next pass in the field.

I hopped off the tractor and looked down at the yellow and black shell. The turtle’s head was hidden inside.

Maybe it didn’t see trouble coming, I thought to myself.

I truly felt bad. Like a lot of people, I respect my seniors, and the turtle was probably years older than me. The reptiles easily live 20 or 30 years and judging by its size and weathered shell, this guy or gal was probably older.

I carried the turtle to the edge of the field and gave it an unceremonious but gentle toss into a patch of horseweeds. The heavy rain last week may have washed the turtle downstream. I’m sorry for that, too.

Back on the tractor, I contemplated how many times the turtle had made its way across that field — I read once where box turtles don’t wander far and people shouldn’t move them. The turtle lived its life, searching for food, sunning itself and looking for love, behind the scenes. I’d never noticed, until it was too late. I just hope it lived life to the fullest.

I’m not alone in trying to avoid bringing about the demise of old things, whether animals or plants. I’m a firm supporter in the belief that trees are a renewable resource and harvests of forests – despite the ragged appearance timber harvests create – are important. But I have an affinity for certain large trees and believe they should be protected.

A friend working on a high-dollar renovation of his house was comparing types of flooring when I e-mailed him a few months ago. He was close to buying some rare wood I’d never heard of. “The trees grow in Indonesia,” he said.

I’ve read plenty on how renegades cut some of the world’s most pristine rain forests to harvest valuable woods. Some of the cutting is carried out by renegade companies, but other trees fall to the chain saws of poor natives trying to make a living. The sad thing is that locals sell valuable trees for only a few dollars. Others make the real money.

I told my friend to buy domestic flooring for his home and sock the rest of what he would have spent away for retirement. Who knows if he listened?

While attending an environmental conference for journalists once in the Dominican Republic, I heard one maritime biologist talk about the age of many fish eaten at restaurants. People plunk down big dollars for orange roughly and other long-lived fish, she said, and they often don’t realize the fish are decades old.

“It’s like eating your ancestors,” I remember her saying.

Most of us respect senior citizens. I try to let older folks go ahead of me in the checkout aisle and try not to tailgate older drivers, even when I’m in a hurry.

Perhaps we all need to extend those feelings to nature’s other old-timers, such as the box turtles we see crossing the highways or the trees that become flooring or furniture we put in our homes.