Lessons From The Other Side Of The Road

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When I first glimpsed it there in the acceleration lane, I took it for a rock. But as I drove over it, straddling it between my wheels, I saw movement and recognized a familiar profile. This rock had a domed top, four scaly legs with clawed feet scratching at the asphalt, and a head thrust alertly high.

It was an eastern box turtle, and it seemed determined to negotiate all four lanes of busy U.S. 1 — a bold but mighty reckless plan.

So why was the turtle crossing the road? Who knows? To find a secluded place to lay eggs, perhaps; or to seek out greener grazing grounds; or maybe it was just a simple case of turtle wanderlust.

I wanted to stop and help, but all I could do was hit the gas, cringe and pray that the two trucks bearing down on me from behind wouldn't run over this minuscule pedestrian. They didn't. When I last saw the wayward terrapin in my mirror, it still held that thumb of a head bravely up — maybe scared, but game to keep on lugging its little doghouse along in the hope that all would work out for the best.

By the time it was safe to pull over, it made more sense to keep going, get off at the next interchange and race back. I think I knew I'd be too late. And sure enough, when I returned to my starting place and turned off onto the grass and looked out across the traffic, a woeful sight greeted me: The shell sat motionless and misshapen near the southbound center line. A jagged split ran across its olive-drab surface, rimmed in bright red.

Alas, my ambitious little buddy, you should have stayed on your side of the highway. Trust me; there's nothing that great on the other side.

But that's life, isn't it? We eagerly start off across roads that turn out to be wider and more dangerous than we think, and next thing we know it's too late to turn back.

You should never have tangled with Homo sapiens. You'll come off second best every time. But there was no way for you to know that. The human explosion has splashed across the surface of our planet so recently — just year before last in evolutionary terms — that species like yours haven't had time to adapt.

Though it's little consolation to you, lying there on the hot pavement like a broken egg, I'm certain your kind will someday win the tortoise-and-hare race with mine.

Turtles have been around for 200 million years, since before there were dinosaurs. And I'll bet they'll still be plodding on their way long after we humans have progressed to what sometimes seems a well-deserved extinction.

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