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Story of a turtle

by Sam Younghans
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(A story about a turtle)
by Sam Younghans

I met Willow Lake in a dream. I was walking along a small stream that was running rapidly down a slope into a larger, slow, moving river. I noticed objects that looked like small boulders moving down the stream. The person with me, explained that they were turtles, returning to the river.

The turtles go up stream to lay their eggs and then return to the river before the small stream dries up. He told me to watch them because some of them bump into obstacles, or get stuck, and then they do funny things while recovering.

We followed the stream through the woods until we came close to the source. I noticed something moving in the muddy bank. It was a turtle that was stuck in the mud. I grabbed a dead branch, laying nearby, and pushed it back into the water.

The water cleaned the mud from the turtle. It was a beautiful specimen with pretty, bright yellow and orange stripes over its shell and on its head. Just then it jumped out of the water and started chasing me. I was surprised, but not as surprised as I was when it started to shout at me.It shouted, “Leave me alone. I know what I am doing.” I laughed, which angered the turtle, and it asked, “Why are you laughing?

I quickly circled it and picked it up from behind. It kicked and screamed and wanted to be put down. I told it that I wouldn't hurt it, and that I had never talked to a turtle before. When it heard my voice it calmed down.

It explained that "she" was laying her eggs and had fallen asleep. The mud was soft and she had sunken in deeper than she expected. She thanked me for the help, but added that she would have gotten out by herself.

For some strange reason I felt an attraction to her. I felt a warmth, as if she was my daughter. I asked her where she would like to be set. She replied, “Willow Lake”.

“Willow Lake! Where is Willow Lake?” I never heard of Willow Lake. My friend told me it was about thirty miles north of here.

I couldn't take her just then, although, I wanted to. I told her I would come back the next day and take her to Willow Lake. She told me to put her in the river and she would wait for me there. We got to the bank, and I felt as if I was saying goodbye to my daughter; I felt a loss.

I set her in the water and she swam down into the clear depths, where I saw other turtles swimming. I knew she was safe. Then, I saw her turn toward me and swim to the surface. Her head broke the surface, she looked so pretty, she said, “I'll see you tomorrow.” then she turned and swam back to the other turtles..

It was five years before I returned to that spot on the river. It was Christmas Eve. The river was grey and murky. There was trash and debris floating in the river, and the banks of the river were littered with cans and garbage. There were buildings along the river and the small stream, where I found Willow Lake, was now a cement drainage canal. My heart sank. “Why had it taken me so long to get back here? What has happened to Willow Lake?”

My questions were soon answered. A tiny head broke the surface of the murky water and moved towards me. That same beautiful voice said, “Hello, I am so glad you are here. I knew you would return. Terrible things have happened here. No one cares about the land or its rivers. Everything is so bitter and we have no place to lay our eggs. When you left I knew you would be back today. Welcome!”

As she crawled out onto the river bank, I saw that her beauty had been dulled by the years of living in the polluted water. She slowly crawled to me. The Stripes were still there but were now dulled from the pollution. "I'm ready to go to Willow Lake" she said.

I picked her up and felt the same warmth coming from her. I felt a purring coming from inside her shell. We drove to Willow Lake. I had never been there, and as I approached I noticed how beautiful the area was. There was a sign ahead “Willow Lake Park, A state park preserved by the Governor.”

As I parked the car a young man came up to me and handed me a pamphlet. It said “Save Willow Park” I read on. It seems a new Governor was now in office and he was going to permit logging, and also permit the development of condominiums. “Progress” was his motto.

I took Willow Lake down to the water and sat her gently on the lakeside. She told me there was a small stream on the other side of the lake where she could lay her eggs. Then she told me, the reason it took so long for me to return for her, was, that I was the one who could help save the lake.
“How? How can I save the lake?”

She said, “Just follow your heart and keep your eyes and your mind open to the truth.” She turned and slipped into the water; swam out a few feet and then turned and said, “We will meet again. Thank you and Merry Christmas.” Then she disappeared into the depths of the lake. When I cleared the mist that had filled my eyes, there was a soft flurry of white snow falling from the sky and Willow Lake was gone.

Willow Lake was her name; she came from a long line of turtles. Turtles have a different life than people. They never really know their Mother or Father. They are hatched from the eggs their Mother sets in the mud. When they hatch, there is usually water in the stream, and they instinctively move towards it. From their very beginning, they are on their own.

Willow Lake was hatched in that stream. She moved down to the river and struggled for her life with the rest of the little turtles. Turtles eat meat and vegetables just like people. In the river there is plenty of food for turtles, but sometimes it is very dangerous trying to get to the food. There are other creatures that like to feed on baby turtles. People are the most dangerous creatures to turtles.

After leaving Willow Lake at her new home, I became curious about turtles. Following are some facts that I read from an Encyclopedia: “Turtles have lived on Earth for more than 200 million years. Even before there were dinosaurs, there were turtles. Dinosaurs became extinct, but turtles survived. Now there are about 250 species of turtles, grouped into 12 families. Some turtles live on land, some in fresh water, and a few species of turtles live in the sea. All turtles live in temperate or tropical climates.

Turtles are reptiles, Reptiles are animals that are cold‑blooded, have skin and scales, have lungs to breath, and hatch eggs. Turtles have a hard upper shell, called a carapace. Usually, turtles can pull their head and legs inside the carapace for protection. Turtles also have a lower shell called a plastron.

Turtles range in size from small freshwater box turtles that are no more than six inches long to large seagoing leatherback turtles that reach a length of eight feet. Turtles are omnivores. That means that they eat both plant and animal matter. Turtles can live a long time. Some turtles live as long as 50 years.

Turtles do not take care of their babies. They dig a hole in the sand or mud , lay their eggs in the hole, and cover them with the sand or mud. Then the turtle goes away and leave her eggs to hatch on their own. When the babies hatch, they make their way to the water all by themselves. Turtles are born able to take care of themselves.

The biggest danger to turtles is from people. More than 30 different kinds of turtles are considered endangered species. People have hunted turtles for their meat and to make jewelry from their shells. Turtle eggs have been gathered for food, and some kinds of turtles have been captured to be exotic pets. The worst problem is destruction of turtle habitat. People are doing things that damage places where turtles live, so that the turtles can't live there anymore. When that happens the turtles die, because they can't learn how to live somewhere else.

turtle (tûrotl) noun
1. Any of various aquatic or terrestrial reptiles of the order Testudines (or Chelonia), having horny toothless jaws and a bony or leathery shell into which the head, limbs, and tail can be withdrawn in most species.”
“Turtle, REPTILE (order Chelonia) with an armor like shell and strong, beaked, toothless jaws. Turtles are found throughout most of the temperate and tropical world. The land‑living species are commonly called TORTOISES; the name terrapinis generally applied to large freshwater or brackish water species. Turtles range in length from a few inches to over 7 ft (11 m); many specimens have lived over 50 years in captivity. The 200 to 300 species of turtle are classified in 12 families. The largest family of the Northern Hemisphere is the family of common freshwater turtles (Emydidae). Turtles are the oldest living group of reptiles, dating back to the time of the earliest DINOSAURS.”

The Concise Columbia Encyclopedia is licensed from Columbia University Press. Copyright81995 by Columbia University Press. All rights reserved


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