Sunday, September 13, 2015


A good-sized snapping turtle, its long neck fully withdrawn
Look at those claws.  The beady unblinking eyes.  The hissing, rasping sound it makes.  It's what you might expect a dragon’s breath to sound like.  Its carapace is flecked with leeches.  The pond holds all this:  snapping turtles, leeches, the animals–whatever they are–that make tunnels around the rim, plus boatloads of frogs.  Right now it brings to mind an African waterhole in the dry season.  We’ve had a dry August, followed by a not-wet-enough September.  The pond water has thickened with inhabitants once spread thin, now crowded like city dwellers.  Small green frogs, probably the tadpoles of spring, sit in the open on muddy beaches that had been covered with water in mid-summer.  The clay earth, my garden, is cracked open by aridity.

Leeches and mud read:  I came from the pond

Getting back to the turtle (chelydra serpentina), this creature is far from uncommon in Vermont.  The above specimen is the second we’ve come across near the pond.  Its carapace was about fourteen inches long.  They can get to be up to about eighteen inches or so.  Snappers like slow-moving water with muddy bottoms, and that describes our habitat precisely. The first time we saw a snapping turtle near the pond it was clear in which direction it was moving so we let it continue on its way, away from the pond and down the slope to the woods, presumably to lay eggs.  It was June, the time females leave the water to lay their eggs on land.  

This time the turtle was in the driveway, ambiguously facing the house.  It’s not the season for egg laying.  So where was it headed?  Ken put on a pair of gloves, picked it up, and, very gingerly, carried it to the pond and tossed it in.  It’s likely, from the evidence I'd say extremely likely, that that’s exactly the place it left behind, and we were forcing it to repeat the trip.  But the alternative was–well, where exactly?   At least in the pond it was out of harm's way (read: ugly encounter with dog or car) and would have an opportunity to rethink the whole tedious trip.  

Low water allows frogs to make use of the pond's new beach

This is the second time Ken has picked up such a heavy snapper.  The first time we found a snapping turtle it was in the middle of Route 23, inching its way to the far side. We stopped the car and Ken got out and picked it up with bare hands–yes! and it was even larger that this one–and staggered across the road, all the time ducking its snapping jaws.  Now, only now after this second snapper-lift, we know better!  A snapper should be grabbed at the far end of its carapace, hands on either side of the tail at the rear (never by the tail itself as this could dislocate the spine that is fused to its shell), and gently pulled, rear end lifted, front claws dragging, backwards to safety.  Next time.

The newly muddy edge tells of visitors come to drink.  (It's off limits to Styler, so we know they're not dog prints.)

A dearth of rain has meant good weather for haying.  Farmer Dan Kehoe got a second cutting done.  The grasses had been so lovely I was sorry it was going to be cut.  There were several acres of clover in blossom, many kinds of wildflowers, milkweed, and a variety of grasses.  The newly raw cut meadow brought to mind the freshly shaved heads of army recruits.  Raw and bleeding.  For a week afterward when we walked in the field Skyler sniffed out and nibbled the remains of mice left among the detritus.

Farmer Dan making hay while the sun shines; the baler tosses the bales into the cart
Looking almost like a ride at the fair, this piece of equipment rakes the hay into rows

I can’t say it’s been as good for the garden as for the hay.  I like to let nature takes its course and rarely water anything besides potted plants an the vegetable garden repaid me in kind.  One eggplant plant equaled one, only one, eggplant.  It was a nice eggplant at least.  The tomatoes had a climactic week and then decided they were pretty much done for the summer.  Likewise the pepper plants.  And I don’t even want to talk about the cucumbers.  There was a summer I planted two cucumber plants and ended up with over thirty cucumbers.  (Cucumber salad, cucumber soup, pickled cucumber, etc.)  Not this time.  They are stunted and few.  Even squash–pattypan this time–a vegetable that by reputation always overproduces and overgrows, produced a single product.  I was so resentful of that plant I have yet to cook it.  I may let it rot.

Good drying weather for the wood pile

A remarkably good yield of raspberries. 

I may be glad in the darker days of fall to come that there was so much heat and sunshine in late summer.  It was, after all, a good year for raspberries.