Metro-East Living

Rescuing turtles through tears and gritty perseverance

Michelle Meehan Schrader with a turtle like the one she tried to rescue.
Michelle Meehan Schrader with a turtle like the one she tried to rescue.

It’s early morning and I’m late for spin class, flying down the highway en route to the gym. My best friend Lydia is keeping me company on Bluetooth. We’re gabbing away about hair dye and broken fingernails. I glance to my right and that’s when I see him.

I’m going one way. He’s going the other. A mud-splattered dark green, he looks up from his shell.

“Oh no! He’s gonna die,” I mutter out loud to myself.

“Who’s gonna die? What are you talking about?”

“It’s a turtle,” I tell her. “Why does this always happen when I’m running late?”

It’s true. There are never turtle emergencies when I have plenty of time. I drive a little farther and pull off the road, listening to Lydia tell me what I already know: “Don’t risk your life for a turtle.”

I wasn’t risking my life. I was jogging down the shoulder of the road. Thank God I was wearing my Nikes. High heels might have cost me an ankle.

One car swerved around him. Two cars. Then three.

“Hold on, buddy. I’m almost there!”

Just one big white van and the little guy would be home free. The crunch of his shell beneath the van’s tires echoed down the highway. I shook my fist at the driver before heading back to my car.

Sadly, that’s the way it goes with turtle rescues. At least 30 percent of them end badly. If you’re the guy heading toward the turtle – and traffic permits – you can stop and help him cross. But if you’re going the opposite direction, you have to find your way back. Sometimes there’s time. Sometimes there isn’t.

Not the first time I’ve cried and likely not the last. The first turtle I ever owned was of the dime store variety. His name was Ticky. My twin sister’s turtle was Tocky. Melanie and I were 6 years old when Ticky and Tocky passed. We held hands at their funeral.

Then there were Jason and Mary Ann — box turtles we found on a camping trip. Our parents let us keep them in the basement. I realize now, they led terrible lives.

By the time I reached high school, I was all about Turtle Rights. A 5-inch-long box turtle is probably 20 years old. After all those years of freedom, he could never adjust to life in a cellar.

Turtles are amazing creatures and deserve to live long happy lives.

I like to think that was what I was thinking when, at age 16, during a driver’s training class, I swerved off the road to avoid a turtle in the road.

“You were not paying attention, Miss Meehan,” I can still hear my driver’s ed teacher bellow. “I cannot in good conscience pass a girl who would nearly crash a car to avoid hitting a turtle.”

He was right. If I had been paying attention, I would have slowed to a stop. There was no traffic and plenty of time. Once again, I cried over a turtle. Not because he died but because, by sparing him, I flunked driver’s training. My friends still tease me today.

Speaking of today…

“A white van got him,” I told Lydia, when I called her back on Bluetooth. “Do you think its driver was watching me run down the road and that’s why he didn’t see the turtle?”

“The way you look when you run, it’s possible,” Lyd said.

Unbelievably, she found a way to make me chuckle.

There is a fine line between tears and laughter. I wiped my eyes and drove away.