One day last week, a coworker and I took the opportunity to enjoy the sunshine and beautiful trails that the Elkin Valley Trails Association work hard to create and maintain.
We began at the park and walked past the recreation center, down the E&A Rail Trail section, past the miniature waterfall with mysterious buckets always sitting and collecting water and on past the gong. Once we reached the end of the completed trail, our nosy natures (we do work at the newspaper) propelled us to seek out the area where the new bridge will eventually be added.
We walked to the edge, admired the beauty of the water and noticed the trees marked likely for removal. Instead of turning back, we decided to continue our adventure, down the steep hill and on to the flat ground next to the creek. At this point I’ve realized that I am most certainly wearing the wrong shoes. White clothes and dark dirt do not make a great combination.
As we near the end of our detour, and just before reconnecting with the walking trail, we’re stopped short in our tracks by a snapping turtle that’s ready to defend its territory. Robert, my coworker in advertising, was curious about the turtle and began examining him closer.
The creature looks like something straight out of the new Jurassic World movie with its spiky back, tail and claws on the end of its feet. We could tell it was no stranger to a fight due to the piece of its shell that had gone missing and healed over a long time ago.
The turtle stared back at us, legs positioned to pounce or chase us if it needed to.
While I have more experience with box turtles than snapping turtles, I am fully aware that this little creature can easily take off a finger if I were crazy enough to try to move it. Therefore, I grabbed a stick to hopefully coax it to one side of the trail and let us pass. Robert, however, had another idea.
Hearing me tell of stories I read where snapping turtles can be aggressive, Robert wanted to test the theory by simply placing the small stick near its mouth, without actually touching the creature. Instantly the turtle lunged for the stick, jumping what Robert swears was five feet off the ground and biting down on the stick.
As the turtle lunged at Robert, Robert jumped back, startled and unsuspecting of the athleticism and anger of such a prehistoric looking reptile. In that instant, we realized we had perhaps underestimated this turtle and weighed our options of either turning back, setting up camp and waiting him out, or making a running jump over the creature.
In my mind, I’m picturing all sorts of scenarios that end in me getting eaten or at least severely maimed. I see myself, in my inappropriate footwear, running, slipping on the slick dirt and ending up next to the attack turtle. In another scenario, I see myself jumping and the turtle latching on to me as I try to clear it but don’t quite make it. And finally, if the other two options didn’t occur and I was able to make the jump and clear the turtle, I saw myself stumbling on the landing and once again, end up falling into the mercy of the vicious creature.
As I’m weighing out my options, Robert goes for the escape, catching the turtle off-guard and quickly sneaking past on the left. With Robert safely back on the main trail, the turtle turns all his fury on me.
I try reasoning with the turtle, explaining my deep childhood love for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, mainly Michelangelo. He doesn’t seem amused. I keep talking as I slowly move to the right, hugging the tree-line as closely as possible without stepping into the brush and finding another type of reptile.
Grabbing on to trees as I pass, I move slowly, one foot in front of the other. Eventually the turtle grants me passage, allowing me to reconnect with the main trail and Robert, who has managed to regain his composure and laugh at my distress from a safe distance.
As we leave the trail and turtle behind, we acknowledge the wildlife warning signs that we had mocked on the way in. Suddenly, those signs didn’t seem quite as funny.
Karen Holbrook is a staff reporter for The Tribune. She may be reached at 336-258-4059, [email protected] or on Twitter @KarenHolbrook00.