Warning: Turtle Zone Ahead
In general, I like living in northern Franklin County. It’s peaceful, the neighbors aren’t too close and mostly behave civilly on those rare occasions when we encounter each other, and the general store carries an excellent selection of beer and an adequate stock of liquor (in case I run out before I can get to New Hampshire).
If I want culture, there’s a First Friday Artwalk just eight miles away. If I want a farmers’ market, there’s one in Farmington that takes orders online and delivers. If I want to escape from the constant din of Maine politics, Canada is barely forty miles away. Once I’m across the border, it’s as if the partisan bitterness infecting the United States doesn’t exist. And if there’s a plague of similar sentiments on the Canadian side, I’m too ignorant of the details to notice.
But back to northern Franklin County. The only two things I’m lacking in my rural retreat here are baseball and turtles.
I used to be able to fulfill my desire to observe the National Pastime by returning to my old haunts in southern Maine and taking in a Portland Sea Dogs game. But the Sea Dogs, the Double-A minor league affiliate of the Boston Red Sox, are well into their second consecutive year of being absolutely awful. The game they play bears some superficial resemblance to baseball – in much the same way that rugby could be mistaken for a barroom brawl – but lacks the discipline, the finesse, the coherence that characterize the sport of Willie Mays, Ted Williams and Stan Musial. It’s not that the current crop of Dogs players lack talent or drive (although more than a few of them do), but that they seem satisfied with losing games so long as their personal statistics look good enough to give them a shot at the majors.
Even so, I go to see this synthetic form of baseball, partly from force of habit and partly from lack of an alternative. It’s not as if I’m suddenly going to develop an interest in soccer. And there’s always the chance things will return to normal when the next Dustin Pedroia comes along.
All of which has exactly nothing to do with this week’s topic, which is turtles. Of which, as noted, there are none in northern Franklin County.
Don’t take my word for it. Check the latest U.S. Census figures. I guarantee you’ll find no mention of any indigenous shelled reptiles in my immediate vicinity.
I’m no herpetologist (a form of scientist that, until recently, I thought studied herpes), but I’m a reasonably observant person. I’ve seen all sorts of frogs and toads, spotted salamanders in quantity (and in compromising positions), snakes of at least three different species and one cold-blooded selectman with vestigial gills. If there were turtles around, I’d have noticed them.
Apparently, the furthest north turtles dare venture is somewhere around Franklin’s border with Kennebec County, because the swampier parts of the Belgrade Lakes have turtles piled up on each other on half-sunken logs and rocks to take in the sun. Not a spring goes by that I don’t spot a snapper or two trying to cross Route 27 to get to a convenience store (“Got any hard candy? I mean really hard candy?”). It’s obvious Maine has no shortage of turtles if you look in the right places.
Unfortunately, turtles are not big on that “right places” concept. They walk into roadways indiscriminately, often trying to get to a hardware store (“Got any Turtle Wax?”) or comic book shop (“Is the new issue of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in yet?”). As a result, they get hit by cars, which is bad for their image and their lifespan.
To mitigate that problem, the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (motto: Protecting Our Little Animal Friends – At Least Until Hunting Season) and the Nature Conservancy (latest campaign: Save The Flesh-Eating Bacteria) came up with the idea of putting up some signs.
It didn’t work all that well. When the turtles encountered a notice that read, “Warning: If You Stupid Turtles Cross The Road Here, You’ll Be Squashed By Vehicles,” they paid it no mind. This is because turtles have a strong libertarian streak and resent any effort by the government to restrict their freedom to become roadkill. In that, they’re a lot like Ron Paul supporters.
Anyway, it was back to the drawing boards. New signs were created, aimed not at the turtles, but at the drivers of vehicles in areas turtles were known to frequent (mostly near malls where they sell reflective shell decals). Those signs have now been put up along roads in Wells, South Berwick and York, where most of Maine’s population of endangered spotted and Blanding’s turtles lives, because those species generally have good incomes and can afford the high housing costs and excessive property taxes caused by the local public works budget for road signs.
I hope this solves the problem, and York County residents alter their driving habits, so that they no longer arrive at their destinations with squashed turtles on the grill of their vehicles.
As for my own turtle problem, I’m pleased to say I’ve found a solution. A few years ago, while driving through North New Portland (motto: No Turtle Road Fatalities Since Before The Last Ice Age), my wife and I noticed a big cement turtle on a lawn. Sometime later, my wife spotted a “For Sale” sign on it, whereupon she turned around and got the number. After much negotiation, we purchased the turtle, which weighs about five hundred pounds. With the help of a friend who owns a pulp truck with a cherry picker, we were able to move the thing to our front yard, where it alarms tourists and eases my dismay at the lack of real turtles.
Now, If I can just find a big cement statue of a baseball player.
Al Diamon will now retreat back into his shell. Even in there, he can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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