A contradiction

I’ve been away for a couple of weeks; I went down to Southern Ontario to Wild Ginger Witch Camp and from there to London to visit some friends.

While I was at camp, I ran into a situation which was both distressing, and deeply thought-provoking. We have a nightly ritual around a campfire, and it was my job to build and supervise the fires. On the first night I went down to the main firepit and found a medium-sized snapping turtle, paddling slowly in the sand with her hind feet. She was either digging a hole for her eggs, or covering them up. She wasn’t finished, and she wasn’t going to be finished before we had to start ritual. What to do?

My immediate thought was to move the ritual to another place. There are two large firepits at camp; we would simply use the other one. Unfortunately, I was overruled. I made the best compromise I could, fencing the turtle around with benches and leaving her a way out that would take her directly away from us when she was done.

People kept leaning in over the benches to look at her, sometimes even putting their hands inside the space. I think I was the only one who could read her signals. She wasn’t happy; these large, strange creatures (there were about fifty of us) kept milling around and making noise when she wanted to lay her eggs in peace. She clearly didn’t feel safe. Eventually she finished and left. The next night there were two turtles at the firepit, and we moved the ritual; I was relieved.

The third night, no turtles, but a second clutch of eggs had been laid right beside the firepit. Against my better judgment, and feeling rather overwhelmed by a more forceful opinion, I agreed to light a small fire on the far side of the firepit, about three feet from the nesting site. I also covered the both sites to keep them from being stepped on.

We should have ceded the area to the turtle on all three nights. One woman argued that even if I didn’t build a proper fire in the firepit (which I was pretty sure would kill the eggs in one site, at least) other campers would do it over the course of the summer. I’m glad I didn’t give in to that argument, but I still feel bad about not standing my ground. I feared that if I didn’t take control of the size and placement of the fire, someone else would make a big one close to the nest.

I know better than this, truly I do. Having been taken off guard once, I’ve now decided that if I’m ever in a similar situation, I’ll have to take a stronger stand in the turtle’s defence. I’m only sorry I didn’t do it this time.

The kicker is that most of the people at this event expressed deep concern about a quarry proposed for the area. Part of the concern was for the animals who would have nowhere to go – and in many cases no opportunity to go there if they did. At the same time these people didn’t see how that same principal applied to the turtle at the firepit.

Snappers are feared and sometimes even hated. I’ve heard people say “Aren’t you supposed to kill them? Because they’re vicious?” George, the alligator snapping turtle who lived for years at the Metro Toronto Zoo, carried in his neck lead slugs from the 1860s. I’d like to think we’ve outgrown that ignorance, but clearly we still have a way to go.

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