Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Turtles all the way down.

I have yet another thing to write about that I can't write about because I'm too depressed over it.  I mention just because I want to write a "happy fun gee whiz bicycles are awesome post" but these ...hits...keep coming and it does something to me.

Instead of that incredible grief-stricken post about how cars suck and I hate them and hope they die in a fire.... instead I would like to talk about turtles.

Do you like turtles?  I like turtles.  It turns out that their numbers are slowly declining.  As a girl I was lucky enough to catch a few beautiful box turtles on Cape Cod in Massachusetts.  They did not eat for me so I kept them for hours, not days, and then released them.    I liked their slow and steady movements.  I like their bright orange eyes.  I liked the way their shells sealed up for them when they ducked inside.  I liked their coloring.  I saw a dead box turtle once as a kid and it made an impression.  It was on a road, on Cape Cod, in an area that had water on both sides of the road.  It's shell was crushed and it's head was extended all the way, it's mouth grotesquely open.  It was gone in the way that the people and animals and reptiles and avians that are killed by cars are gone.  Completely.  Painfully.  Sadly.  Wastefully. 

It was on a list frequented by road bicyclists and bicycle commuters that this article was circulated.  None of us had much to say but the general feeling was that it is hard to share the road with people who aim for box turtles with their car with the intent of killing them.  I want to stop those people and interview them because I find driving with the intent to kill unfathomable.  I want to understand.  I am not sure it is a matter that can be understood.  Box turtles are slowly disappearing from everywhere because it is dangerous for them to cross the road and sometimes the danger is because people intentionally run over them. 

Story time.  We had friends who visited Cape Cod most summers.  One visit they told us, very proudly, about driving on the narrow highway (four lanes, two directions, water on both sides) and seeing something ahead in the road.  Something big.  They slowed down and pulled over.  The something was a gigantic snapping turtle.  Snapping turtles are very very old and not well loved.  Their bite is quite dangerous.  They eat cute fuzzy ducklings.  They are not colorful and pretty like box turtles.  Still there it was, painfully making it's way across the highway and our friends considered the creature and then the patriarch of the family got a chunk of wood and brought it to the middle of the road.  He thrust it at the turtle who bit down on the wood, hard.  With great effort he then hoisted the pissed off turtle into the air and carried it to the far side of the road and watched it scuttle down to the shore and disappear into the water. 

I thought about all of this as I read yet another article.  It was about Kemp's ridley sea turtles (a very endangered turtle) being caut in a cold snap in South Carolina.  Apparently the turtles come in to shore to eat and feast and the older clueful turtles head out to sea but the not as bright younger turtles stay too long and if there is a cold snap their reptilian natures leave them stranded and dying.  So teams of people watch the temperature and if it drops they march out to search the shore, they wear waders to splash through frigid waters, and they count the dead turtles and rescue the living ones. 

What does this have to do with bicycling?  We are out there.  Turtles.  Some of us are not so bright.  We go along though in our turtly bicycle way and mostly we are ok except for those scary instances when someone decides (why?) to aim for us.  It is a very hard thing to share the road knowing that some people intentionally run over box turtles.  It is a good reminder that when someone does intentionally strike us, it is not anything we have done.  Box turtles are very very inoffensive, box turtles are even beautiful.

In the myth about Pandora, Pandora's box is opened (she is curious) and evil (greed, cruelty, anger, envy) escapes into the world.  She is so panicked that she shuts the door on one last creature.  That creature is Hope.  She is persuaded to open the box again and this time Hope escapes into the world to temper the dark impulses we see in people.  And so it is that there are people out there who appear to delight in pointing their cars at box turtles and there are people getting up at 5am to wade in frigid waters and try and save endangered turtles.  Hope keeps us going, hope that somehow the people who want to avoid the bicyclists with their not all that useful shells on their heads will out-number the ones who delight in knocking over someone and not worrying if that person is injured or dies.

I think, in the end, the question is:  Which person do you want to be?  The one who crushes another living creature with your car because you can or the one who gets up early and heads out to save someone who is drowning.

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