How would you react if you were bicycling and found a huge snapping turtle in the middle of the road?
John Gregg and I ride bicycles together every Thursday morning for fun and fitness. Last Thursday, we were riding on Long Shop Road east of Blacksburg. We were chatting as we often do, with John carrying most of the conversational load while I struggled vainfully to keep up. John plays trumpet with several bands and had recently played at a Memorial Day observance at a local retirement home. The keynote speaker was a military man. His message was that too often our nation is unprepared for wars as they arrive and Liberals are to blame. John chose to avoid a confrontation and remained silent, although he told me his feeling was that our nation had embroiled itself in too many preventable wars. “I recognize the sacrifices of our military men and women, but too many of them have died unnecessarily.”
I noted that seventy years ago, our fiercest enemies were the Germans and the Japanese and twenty years later it was the Russians. Now, all are friends. “Perhaps if we could learn to respect other nations’ needs as well as our own, we could wage peace instead of war.”
As we prepared to stop where Long Shop Road approaches the intersection with McCoy road, two cars had already stopped. One driver looked to have middle-eastern origin. I guessed him to be a graduate student at Virginia Tech. He stepped out of his car and we pondered the primordial behemoth before us. This turtle’s shell was as big around as a dinner platter. It had long, pointy toenails at the end of rugged, stubby legs, a long alligator-like tail, and beak-like snout. Nobody wanted to approach it.
We decided our best bet would be to nudge him towards the tall grasses beside the road. We’d heard that if we could find a stick and goad him into snapping onto it, we could use it to drag him. But no stick was available.
Meanwhile, another car stopped, this one on busier McCoy Road. A nicely dressed 60-something black woman in a late-model American car took one look and said, “Let me call my husband. He’ll come over and kill it and we’ll make turtle soup out of it.” She began to dial on her cell phone, but a car approaching from the rear caused her to move forward and circle the block. The middle-eastern man drove away. The black lady came by again and said, “Keep an eye on it. My husband is on the way.” She drove off to circle the block again.
The next car to stop was driven by a small, attractive young lady in a Volvo station wagon. She looked all the part of a proverbial suburban soccer mom. She walked over to the turtle and said, “He’s a beauty! I’ll bet he’s 30 years old.” Without hesitation, she grabbed him by the tail and hoisted him to chest level. “My husband teaches biology at Virginia Tech. We’re real familiar with these guys.” She deposited him gently into the tall grass beside the road.
John and I rode off, beginning the hard climb back toward Prices Fork, talking about what an unusually diverse community we live in. The black lady pulled up beside us and asked us where the turtle went. We mumbled something about it running back into the grass where we lost track. She was unhappy that it had gotten away, but we were glad about giving it another day to live.
John commented before he left me in his wake that this incident, with its multiple characters and possible outcomes, had been seemingly defused amicably. What if the world could resolve its differences so peacefully?, he wondered aloud. Then he sprinted on up the hill.