Tale of passion, redemption and mistaken turtle identity


Jonathan Miano / Staff Photographer
Sun Publications 2009-02-09

Susan_Carlman_01 Jonathan Miano / Staff Photographer Sun Publications 2009-02-09

Why did the turtle cross the road?

I’m not sure, actually, but it looks like it involved affairs of the heart.

But let me back up a bit, to Jamie. And Jake. And the egg.

Our son, whose keen interest in all things reptilian made him the most adorable 3-year-old dinophile I’d ever met, became the proud master of a splendid box turtle when he (meaning Sam) was still pretty little. So was Jamie, for that matter. And his gentle, amiable demeanor made them a good match for our laid-back boy. He wouldn’t require the same constant doting and mindful backyard airings as Dave, our goofy golden retriever, or careful nonchalance demanded by our cat, the uber-aloof Mrs. Pinch.

Still, Jamie was lonely. We could tell by the look on his tiny turtle face. Enter Jake, a like-minded reptile with a similar gait. The two quickly became bros, way before the term became cool. Indeed, they had a bit of a bromance. Kinda.

We could tell by the egg. The one that lay there in the tank one morning, the two turtles peering through the glass as if to say, “WHAT.”

With turtles, sometimes you just can’t tell.

Although Jamie did live to a ripe old age — taking it in slow-mo stride when she was sneered at by Mrs. Pinch and nuzzled across the wood floor by Dave after the kids would set her on the floor, for an adventure — I hadn’t thought about her and her unlikely paramour in a while.

And then we got the call about the turtle crossing the road.

It happened last Friday, where the splendid Springbrook Prairie runs smack up against suburbia on Naperville’s near-south end, separated from civilization by an asphalt sliver of no-man’s-land known locally as 75th Street.

As the morning commuters went about their business, a large snapping turtle began lumbering across the busy road, heading out of the wilderness just east of Book Road to do what turtles do. The animal got to the median in one piece and was on the final stretch when a westbound motorist was unable to avoid contact.

A driver pulled over and gingerly relocated the turtle, no doubt suffering from some shock, to a patch of pavement between Oxford Bank & Trust and the Kensington School, just to the east.

Molly Bisesto, the school’s director, said morning drop-off became interesting after the turtle decided to continue east, into Kensington’s driveway. It was placed into a box, for everyone’s protection, and Animal Control was called.

“They said this is the time of year when turtles start to lay their eggs. Females head north and look for rich, loose soil,” said Bisesto, reporting that the school saw the unexpected development as a teaching opportunity. Working title: The Turtle Project.

The critter was left alone for much of the afternoon, until an anxious parent came into the school late in the afternoon, to report that a large turtle was heading across the yard, toward 75th.

“It was quite the show to have this enormous turtle trying to leave our parking lot,” said Bisesto, adding that some of the school staff had learned that afternoon that a snapping turtle can lay up to 60 eggs at once before heading back south again.

At that point, Animal Control people came out, took the animal out of harm’s way and into their van, where they saw that the morning collision had cracked its shell and left some abrasions. Off it went to the Willowbrook Wildlife Center in Glen Ellyn, for some TLC.

“It turns out that the turtle is a boy,” said Sandy Fejt, Willowbrook’s site manager, earlier this week. “Usually what happens this time of year is turtles move from location to location, whether it’s to lay eggs or to mate.”

They even ran some X-rays, just to make sure there weren’t any eggs concealed by that battered shell and androgynous underbelly. With turtles, sometimes you just can’t tell.

“It’s obvious he was hit by a car,” said Fejt, noting that the scratches on his leg went pretty deep. “It was hard enough of a hit to actually crack the shell open.”

Dr. Jennifer Nevis, Willowbrook’s vet, treated the scrapes on his legs, put some special epoxy on the cracked shell, and started him on some antibiotics. Fejt said they’re going to keep an eye on him for a week or two.

“If the shell looks like it’s healing nicely, he’ll go back into the wild and do what he does, which is eat bugs and fish and things,” she said.

Oh, and seek companionship. He wasn’t a terrible terrapin. He apparently was just a lonely guy, out looking for love in one of the wrong places.

I bet you could tell by the look on his not-so-tiny turtle face.

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