In these volatile times when any given day can produce unexpected upheaval, June has delivered its annual reminder to our little hobby farm that dedication and consistency have not abandoned us.
As she has for years, our visitor recently appeared right on schedule – in the precise week that tiger lilies send up their graceful stems and our tulip tree unfolds its delicate blossoms.
That’s the way it works at the place we call Shalom Acres in Rhode Island’s Apple Valley: The cycle of life is predictable through the seasons, tethered to the steady ticking of nature’s ponderous grandfather clock.
So when the snapper shows up heavy with eggs, intent on her existential mission, we know the apple blossoms will be gone, and likewise the forsythia, its faded gold backdrop replaced by the carpet of tiny buttercups in our meadow.
The turtle, all armor and sinew, plods with crocodilian gait from woodlot to the little frog pond outside our front door, disappearing for a moment in the tea-colored water before emerging to fulfill a primordial responsibility.
Her reassuring punctuality is at the heart of the rhythms, breathings, and relationships on our good green Earth.
Way back in the 1870s, a Rhode Island fisherman of a certain eloquence, W. E. Whalley, made note of how one occurrence in nature can foretell another, and in his case even helped put food on the table:
“When I see the first dandelion, scup come in. I watch the buds, and when the buds are swelled full, then our traps go in.
“When the dandelion goes out of bloom and goes to seed, the scup are gone; that is true one year after another.
“I am guided by the blossoms of other kinds of plants for other fish. When high blackberries are in bloom, we catch striped bass from 12 to 20 pounds. When the blue violets are in bloom you can catch small school-bass.
“That has always been my rule… handed down by my forefathers.”
Snapping turtles have many forefathers, indeed. They are believed to have been here for 90 million years, once roaming the American landscape with dinosaurs.
Where our guest comes from each June is a mystery; she just appears one day from the surrounding woodlands and their brooding vernal pools. Her destinations over the ensuing year are likewise her business alone. But like the wildflowers and the red-winged blackbirds, she is suddenly here when nature declares that she will be.
Her ritual is always the same. Seeking out a spot where grass has thinned, she pushes the soil with clawed back feet until the depression suits her purpose, and deposits a dozen or more leathery eggs that she covers before moving off.
Step by deliberate step, she crosses our little meadow and disappears, shuffling toward whatever ooze may suit her fancy.
We won’t see her again until next June. But a few months from now, as has happened through millennia, a gaggle of reptilian babies will squirm from their earthly hollow and wriggle toward the woodline, tiny links in an unbroken chain connecting the eons.
Gerry Goldstein (firstname.lastname@example.org), an occasional contributor, is a retired Providence Journal editor and columnist who has been writing for Rhode Island newspapers and magazines for 60 years.
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