One of the things I love about riding the bike trail is that throughout the summer each flower, bird and insect has it’s time. Early in the season it’s the red-winged blackbird whose cryptic, twirling cries announce the beginning of summer, and shortly thereafter the wildflowers start to show up one by one - Queen Anne’s lace, purple coneflower, day lilies, chicory, compass plant. It seems like every week brings something new, and even the insects have their hour - the helpful bee, the loathsome mosquito, the biting gnat and the exotic dragonfly. Right now it’s the grasshoppers, and I spend a fair amount of time trying avoid hitting them while also hoping they don’t fly in the general direction of my head. Because apparently it’s possible to care about something’s well being while still NOT WANTING IT TO TOUCH YOUR FACE WITH IT’S BUG-PARTS.
Yesterday I saw an unusually plump grasshopper in the middle of the trail, and as I passed I realized it’s short, dense stature was due to the fact that this particular grasshopper was actually a frog. I instinctively turned around and parked my bike thinking I would give it a little prodding and help it hop off the trail. Can you get warts from touching these? I wondered, is that actually a thing? This one looked extra gnarly and brown, and as I got closer I realized the reason for that was because this particular frog was actually a small turtle. Which made my rescue seem all the more timely because I thought, that thing is not getting out of the middle of the trail anytime soon. I picked up it’s small, leathery body - not much bigger than a large walnut - and placed it on the grass a few feet from the paved pathway.
I got back on my bike, rode a few feet and thought, that thing is going to turn around and crawl right back onto the trail because the asphalt is nice and warm on it’s cold belly. I executed my second u-turn, parked my bike and found the grasshopper/frog/turtle just a few inches from where I had left it. The river is just about 150 feet away through some tall grass, and I thought this little creature might be happier close to there. So I picked it up a second time, and now it started to struggle - probably thinking I had decided to come back and eat it after all. It’s small head was too big to retract into it’s shell, and looking at its tiny jaws I thought, looks like we’ve got ourselves a little snapper here.
I talked to it on the way to the river, comforting it (I imagine) with my reassurances about how I was a friend to turtles, that it was in no danger, etc. When we got closer I put it on a little grassy patch where it could choose to either go toward or away from the water, whichever felt more instinctual. I don’t know a whole lot about turtles and didn’t want to just toss it in the river, inadvertently drowning it after “saving” its life. Thanks for nothing, human! The little turtle then scurried, if such a thing is possible, and fell end-over-end once before righting itself and heading down towards the water. I guess the little fucker can swim after all! I thought.
I turned and started to head back towards my bicycle, a purple Schwinn walk-through which was looking exceptionally stunning in the evening light. I told it so, because apparently I’m widening my circle of “things I talk to“ to include inanimate objects. I hopped back on and started riding, and thought, that tender thing you did back there, Namoli - what's that all about, why do you think you do that kind of stuff? Why would you stop and pick up a frog or turtle from the trail, or rescue a spider from a slippery porcelain sink they’ve fallen into? Some people would say it’s crazy or silly or a waste of time. The answer came quickly and forcefully, almost spoken aloud - because I know what it’s like to feel small and unprotected.
And I also know what it feels like to be helped.
My good deed was done, but my imagination wasn’t and a few minutes later two other Very Compelling And Also Related Scenarios began to play themselves out in my head. The first was based around the questions, do turtles carry disease, and can you get sick from touching them? A quick google search revealed the answers to be yes, and salmonella. But no worries - due to other circumstances, I currently have no less than three bottles of hand sanitizer in the front seat of my car at any given time. Glass half full (of hand sanitizer.)
The second flight of fancy imagined a scenario 15 years later where I’m tubing down the Upper Iowa river with friends. Suddenly a hungry-looking snapping turtle emerges from the water eyeing my delicate, exposed toes like stuffed grape leaves on tapas plate. “Look out Namoli!” a fellow tuber would exclaim, “Look out!” as the turtle approached menacingly and began to open its powerful jaws. But then - a curious flicker of recognition in its reptilian eyes and an unheard, telepathic conversation between the two of us:
Turtle: “Bike lady?”
Me: “Little snapper?”
Turtle: “You helped me when I was small, and also scared the hell out of me.”
Me: "Sorry about that, it was supposed to be a rescue type of situation.”
Turtle: “I couldn’t tell if you were eating or saving me.”
Me: “I didn’t speak turtle, but I did mention it in English.”
Turtle: “Well anyway, I’m supposed to say this - you were a friend to a turtle in need, now go in peace with all ten toes intact.”
Me: “And also with you.”
Me: “Sorry, it’s a Catholic thing. It was supposed to be funny.”
Turtle: "Well anyway, I’m not going to eat your toes.”
Me: “Thanks, grasshopper.”
Turtle: “What’d you call me?”
Me: “Never mind.”
And so ends the tale of me saving three creatures in one, while also defeating a powerful bacteria using nothing but my wits and a pre-packaged, mass-produced, alcohol-based product I had laying around. Looking back, I think I saw a little of myself in grasshopper/frog/turtle - something that's easy to misidentify, anxious and defensive, and also something that's occasionally found standing in strange places looking slightly stunned and a little lost. Sometimes I feel like that in the grocery store these days. I guess we've got to try to look out for each other in the ways that we can, even if it means metaphorically risking having bug parts touch our faces or (metaphorically, of course) getting warts and salmonella. Yet one more reason to WASH THOSE HANDS (not metaphorically.) What on earth is the moral of this story? Maybe that for now we shouldn't stray too far from our natural habitat, lest we have to rely on some crazy person talking to their bicycle to rescue us. For example.