Box Turtles

I’ve done some pretty dumb things in my life. What amazes me is I continue to do them.

In the area where I live we have what are called Box turtles. If you haven’t encountered one of the adorable little turtles, you’ve missed a great experience- in my humble opinion.

In the spring and summer they migrate from one location to another. This means they eventually cross roads and highways. Some fools see them as a small lump of garbage and make no effort to bypass them. One of the saddest sights to me is a box turtle on the side of the road, killed inches from the grassy side of a highway. When in high school, east Texas was full of these little creatures. In a five mile drive one could pass twenty-fine to thirty turtles on the road. A lot of people slowed down and swerved. A lot didn’t.

So, at seventeen, I made it my goal to save as many of these little harmless travelers as I could. I still do today. It was only a month ago I was returning home from the store and passed a Box turtle on the center stripe between a two-lane highway. Heaven forbid! I immediately pulled off the road, bailed out of the car and ran back to the little turtle. I had just grabbed it and took one step toward the side of the road when I heard the sound of cars coming. Oh My Gosh! Must hurry!

Now, you have to understand, I have done this for years without a mishap. But, never wearing flip-flops. I made it to the edge of the road. The shoe of one foot hung in the grass while the other slipped on the blacktopped road. I think they call it a double-back-flip. Landed and rolled, stopping flat of my back, the turtle in my right hand held up in the air. His head was out of his shell and his little legs were “swimming”. No doubt he’s thinking, this stupid human!

By the time I stood up, there was a line of some six cars and trucks in the lane going south and a few more in the lane going north. People were gasping, mouths hanging open like they had just seen a flying pig. (Maybe they did! I’ve been meaning to shed a few pounds.) Barefooted I limped away from the road and gently placed the turtle down. He or she wasted no time taking off for parts unknown.

My knees were skinned, elbows the same, chin was bruised, grass embedded in my hair and the palm of my left hand still carried small pebbles from the edge of the road. I picked up the stupid flip-flops and headed back to the car. As I sat down, the cars had again continued wherever they were initially going. I thought about what had happened…and I started to laugh.  And I laughed until the tears flowed. What a picture I must have made, tumbling across an embankment with a turtle in one hand and shoes flying in all directions. What a stupid thing to do in the center of a highway.  BUT… one little Box turtle would live to rule another day. For that, it was worth it.

I’m certainly not telling anyone to pull a tumbling act on a highway or put yourself in danger trying to save a little harmless creature. But avoid hitting them when you can and do NOT wear flip-flops to any rescue!

And if you happen to see one in your yard, offer it a bite of cantaloupe! It will thank you for it!

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My First Horse

I was eight years old when my Dad finally caved and bought me my first horse. He was a bay gelding with four white socks and a blaze on his face that looked remarkably like a bolt of lightning. Hence, Lightning came home to our pasture.

I didn’t have a saddle but we did fine without one. I would lead him over to the old stump in the back yard, climb on and away we would go. We were confined to the back pasture and the paddock area which was enough to have an enjoyable, allbeit short, ride each day.

I’d had him almost six months when Lightning figured me out. I would rein him to the right and he would either stop or go to the left. I was one of those who did the unthinkable and let him graze as we walked along. But let him get into an area full of sweet Bermuda and the ride was all but over. I was small and skinny – oh those were the days! – and sitting on top of this 15 hh horse without a saddle it was all but impossible to pull his head up and away from that sweet green patch of grass.

One day I mentioned this problem to my Dad and he decided he would remind the horse of his training and manners. The next afternoon he came home with a big black saddle in tow. Said he borrowed it from a friend and instructed me to go and get Lightning. I watched patiently while he saddled the horse. As a minister he could read people pretty good but apparently he had no clue as to the body language of a horse. Lightning was not happy.

I asked my dad, “why don’t we wait and see if he is still not minding me tomorrow?” His reply, “Nope. He has to learn.” And with that he led the scowling horse out of the paddock and into the edge of the open field. (Yes, a horse can scowl. They put their ears flat back against their head and humans had better look out.) After a couple of tries, Dad made it into the saddle.

At first there didn’t seem to be a problem. I remember thinking my dad looked funny sitting on a horse. It was not a common sight. They went up the slow rise toward the center of the field and apparently they entered the area of Lightning’s Bermuda patch. And he wanted to graze. And my dad was just as determined that he wouldn’t.

As my mother and I stood at the barn watching, the strong will of the man and beast came to a head. One minute I heard my dad screaming ‘no!’. The next, they had taken off in a dead run across the pasture. As they made the circle and headed back toward the barn Lightning apparently decided this human hadn’t learned his lesson and began to buck. We’re not just talking a couple of crow hops, we’re talking a full, suspended-in-mid-air, rolling, bone-jarring buck at a dead run. Dad’s legs flew out to the side, his hat went sailing and daylight could be seen between the saddle and my father’s behind. It was our own personal rodeo.

My father was yelling “whoa!”. Lightening was screaming a few choice horsey words. Somehow – remarkably – my father held on. They got to the barn. Lightening stopped.  Dad dismounted in that he got one foot on the ground and fell the rest of the way. Gotta love gravity. He got up, handed me the reins and kinda limped toward the house.

Now, I should have had the sense to keep my mouth shut. But nooooo. I had to ask the question: did you teach Lightening a lesson? My father, God rest him, never said a word, just kept limping along and muttering.

A few weeks later I came home from school and a new horse was in the back yard. Lightening had found a new home. I knew it was coming. I could tell by the way my father walked for three days after the incident.

I will always remember my first horse. I’m sure Dad did too.