Friday, June 4, 2010

Wonder Turtles and Foxes and Bunnies, Oh, My!

Thought I'd take a detour from the usual soapy stuff, as fun as all of that is, and tell you a bit about some recent awesome animal encounters I had.

I'm a runner and so is my husband, Ken. We have our usual neighborhood jogging routes, but sometimes we like to go somewhere else, just to mix things up a bit. The change of scenery is nice, and sometimes, if you go to the right places, you can see some cool animals.

Sometimes you see a bunch of cool animals.

Last weekend's "Wild Kingdom" episode started out with an intense Wonder Turtle Sighting. We were heading east down Highway 20 toward Freeport. There ain't much out there except for trees and a speed limit of 60 mph (which means that everyone does at least 70). We were cruising along when we saw something in the road ahead.

A turtle, just hanging out.

As Ken pulled over onto the shoulder, I was already taking off my seat belt. I am not unaccustomed to pulling turtles from the road. I think they like to sun themselves on the warm asphalt, not realizing that they are this close to being roadkill. I opened my door and checked for traffic. Clear all the way.

As I got closer, I noticed that this was not your ordinary everyday Wonder Turtle. This turtle was not one of the cute little critters that I'm used to picking up and carrying to the other side of the street. And it most certainly was not wearing a red bow tie.

This little guy was a charmer. First of all, this turtle was covered in mud, like it had just emerged from a swamp or the La Brea tar pits. And mosquitoes the size of Volkswagens swarmed all around it. And it was a Florida snapping turtle. As in a snap-your-finger-off-at-the-knuckle snapping turtle.

There were a lot of reasons to not pick up this turtle.

In the distance, I could see a truck approaching. I tried to gently prod the turtle along with the edge of my shoe (which I later burned). The turtle rocked forward on its hind legs, hissed at me, and refused to budge.

I retreated to the shoulder of the road as the truck got closer. By now, Ken was out of the car, too.

The truck blew by at about 65 mph, straddling the turtle, which scared it and made it hiss again.

Ken came up to me and asked, "Is it injured?"

I said, "Not yet, but he's pretty disgusting." I explained that the turtle was filthy and snappy, and that I wasn't going to pick it up. What if it threw out a kung-fu move and took my head clean off my shoulders before I could say "zoinks"?

So Ken popped the trunk and started rummaging for something other than our hands that we could use to pick the turtle up with. If we left it there, sunning its silly self, it would get run over eventually. And this turtle had made it clear that it wasn't moving on its own.

Meanwhile, another car whizzed by going the opposite direction. If anyone was worried about us folks on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere, seemingly in distress, they never let on.

Ken grabbed his gargantuan golf umbrella and headed for the street. More cars were coming from both directions. Nervous, I was.

As Ken approached, the turtle hissed at him. Ken put the umbrella near the turtle's head, and it turned and grabbed a hold of the umbrella's fabric with its snappy little jaws. It held on long enough and tight enough for Ken to lift it a couple of inches from the pavement and safely deposit it on the other side of the road. Then he waited for the oncoming cars to blow by before returning to our car with the umbrella (which we later burned). We were lucky that neither one of us died during all of this (Headline: "A Niceville couple was killed today while attempting to rescue a turtle that did not want to be rescued ...")

Hey, remember those giant mosquitoes? By now, they were all over us. Fortunately, we had bug repellent in the car and were able to spray them away. Oh, and did I mention that we had both left our car doors open and that the car was now infested with mosquitoes? We drove the rest of the way with our windows down, hoping that the little bloodsuckers would get sucked out. And I occasionally sprayed myself and Ken with the bug repellent, which startled him at times.

Now you would think that The Turtle Incident, as it came to be known, would be enough for one day, but oh, no.

We finally made it to our destination and started our jogs - I went one way and Ken went another. We each have our own routes, and he's too fast for me anyway. We use the same paths, though, and are never too far away from each other. As I was finishing up my last mile, I heard a faint whimper near the footbridge I was crossing. I looked over the side, thinking I had heard a dog or a kitten, just as two foxes ran out from underneath. One of the foxes froze and stood guard near the bridge as the other one came out onto the path, eyeing me. I froze and tried not to make it obvious that I was eyeing it, too.

Interesting side note: Did you know that foxes can growl like dogs? I guess it makes sense since they belong to the Canidae family of species.

This fox was growling at me while standing not fifteen feet away. Not a snarly, teeth-showing, hair-standing-on-ends growl - just a low rumble in its throat, warning me to step the heck off. It paced across the path a few times before eventually retreating to the woods. The other fox stood at the foot of the bridge, waiting for me to go away already. After Growly McGrowl left, so did I.

I have never been that close to a fox before, let alone two foxes. All I can figure is that maybe they had a little young 'un nearby and Momma Fox stood guard while Poppa Fox came over to check me out.

I didn't see them again, but I hope they can continue to live in peace out there in the woods. I didn't feel especially threatened, and they weren't especially aggressive. I think they were just protecting something. Honestly, the whole experience was rather beautiful and thrilling. I wish I could have taken pictures of all of this, but, really, who jogs with a camera?

Oh, and I saw a bunny rabbit, too, which was also cool but not nearly as exciting.

Any of you Wonder Turtle friends have stories about interesting animal encounters? Please share!