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August 8, 2020

Mack Williams: From pandemic to endemic

By Mack Williams
For the Salisbury Post
This is my humble effort to temporarily divert our minds from the pandemic to something endemic and also harmful to other creatures — the eastern box turtle’s annual effort to cross the road in late May-June.
While driving recently, I saw some crushed clumps in the road. The ones with wires sticking out were pieces of truck tires; but the squashed, oval-shaped objects were the remains of run-over eastern box turtles.
Then I saw a live eastern box turtle, its head poked out and up, as if listening for oncoming traffic.
I decided to do the humane thing, so I pulled over and assisted his crossing.
The turtle had red eyes, meaning it was male. When I picked him up, he pulled his body into his shell, “hissing” (an out-rush of air from the closing shell, not a true hiss). He seemed more scared of me than he was of traffic.
Sadly, as we crossed, I saw the remains of a crushed turtle of some weeks before, its flesh gone, with only shattered, remaining shell fragments about a half-inch distant from each other, like a tragic puzzle never to be re-assembled.
Naturalists advise “turtle-Samaritans” to keep the assisted turtle in its original travel direction (a male could be headed towards water, food, or a female turtle). This one happened to be headed towards a locally notorious night spot on the Virginia-Carolina border (after all, the turtle was male). As it was mid-morning, and as the night spot wasn’t open; and since it was highly unlikely the turtle would satisfy any of its possibly prurient reptilian interests there, I placed him at the edge of the woods behind the building, not at its door; although that was where he had seemed Hell-bent (or “turtle-bent”).
If any of my church friends had seen me that day in the vicinity of “perdition,” and had doubted my turtle-aid story, my proof was long gone, maybe somewhere in those woods “having a good time!”
Before reaching my destination, I spied another eastern box turtle heading directly across the road towards an ABC store. Again, I pulled over and helped him across. This turtle was also red-eyed (not from previous ABC store trips, but because he was male).
As with the other turtle, I placed him behind that “den of dissoluteness,” but still in the same compass direction.
I once again thought of my fellow parishioners’ possible concerns; and to them I would say: “I’m 69 years old, and since eastern box turtles can live to be 100, it’s like I was helping seniors across the street.” After all, in my youth I was a Saint Paul’s Lutheran Cub Scout (to the best of my numerical memory: Pack #352).

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