Eastern Box Turtles Terrapene carolina

Richard Russell Scenic Highway, Blairsville, Georgia. August 2002.

Also known as The Box Turtles from Hell...
It was a glorious sunny morning in North Georgia. Karl and I were driving along the Scenic Highway through the forested mountains, heading for a town called Helen for a day out.

Along a winding road Karl abruptly stopped the car, opened the driver's door and scooped something from the road. "Hold this, would you?" he asked me, handing over a small box turtle. "If we leave her there, she'll be flattened by the next car that comes along," he explained. 'She' was a female box turtle, resembling a small tortoise with brightly coloured yellow patterns on her shell and legs, a colour scheme reminiscent of an overripe banana. The turtle didn't seem too bothered by her sudden abduction, so I let her sit happily on the rubber mat in the footwell in front of me.

Just as well I did, for only a few more yards along Karl stopped again and this time handed me a wildly kicking male box turtle in full breeding colours. I put him in the footwell with the female but he was having none of it and, at an improbable speed for a turtle, dashed over the handbrake and wedged himself under Karl's seat. I picked him up and held him tightly, avoiding his snapping beak, while he flailed his legs and glared angrily from smouldering orange-red eyes. He wasn't frightened, just incredibly frustrated and resentful of being whisked into the air by aliens and imprisoned in their monstrous vehicle right when he'd been on the trail of a delicious female. The fact that the very same female turtle was just below him in the footwell seemed to have escaped his notice as he thrashed furiously in my hands, demanding to be released.

We looked for a suitable safe place to release them, but we were too late. Just as Karl turned the car onto a wide, grassy strip beside the road, the male turtle's patience snapped and he called forth the wrath of the turtle gods to wreak revenge on us for kidnapping him. There came a sudden, horrible, grating noise from the car's left front axle.

It was a long walk to the nearest house and telephone and an even longer wait for the breakdown truck to arrive. The turtles were long gone, run off into the forest safely away from the road. The car's axle had completely broken, and no, I don't think I imagined that satisfied gleam in the turtle's red eyes at the moment of its fracture.