I’ve always been one of those people who just has to get into things. Especially as a kid. I’ve always been a critter guy too.
In about 1968 my parents started bringing my brother and me to Tellico on a regular basis to get us out of the city and for them to fish for trout. We eventually got a pickup camper and a truck to go with it. Pretty soon Tellico and the camper were every-weekend affairs.
This was the era where parents still actually parented their kids. You know, don’t leave the yard without permission, never be out after dark, never leave the block without an adult along. That environment was very secure but from my prospective as a just-barely-teenager, highly restrictive.
Tellico was different. We could come and go as we pleased, subject to telling Mom the general direction and being back by dinner. We could play in the river, hike the woods, chat with neighbors and just generally have fun. Especially with all the critters around. Snakes were everywhere and I usually had one wrapped around one arm or in a pocket.
There was a culvert under a road that headed off across from the Green Cove RV park where we had our camper. There was a perpetual stream through this culvert, fed by a spring on up the hill (and maybe a little nourishment from the random septic tank!) The area around the culvert was muddy and slimy and green and just perfect for a kid to play in. I spent a lot of time there catching salamanders, crawfish and the occasional snake.
On this particular weekend, when I arrived at the culvert I saw something new. The Mother of all Snapping Turtles. A huge ballistic submarine-looking thing that pretty much filled my favorite mud hole . I knew about snapping turtles because I’d caught smaller ones but I’d never seen anything this big. I found me a stick and gave it a poke. It bit the end off the stick. KEWL! This turtle just HAD to be caught.
I step down into the mud hole. The turtle, as big and bad as he was, decided that retreat was the better part of valor and scooted back into the culvert. Unfortunately the culvert was just a bit too small for me to get my shoulders into. I got down in the mud on my hands and knees and groped around inside. The turtle decided that he liked the middle of the culvert. Hmmm. Time for plan B. I got a longer stick and tried to poke him out. No good. He could wedge himself in there tight enough not to budge. Plan C.
Plan C brought out the budding engineer in me. Civil Engineering to be specific. I decided that since turtles like water so well, I’d just deprive him of same. A dam was in order. I gathered up river rocks from all around and damed up the little creek. Diverted the flow out onto the street. I had, of course, attracted a crowd by this point, if for no other reason than I looked like I’d been spray painted with brown paint from head to toe.
The dam worked but the water didn’t go down. It was obvious that some civil engineering needed to be done on the other end. I got my GI trenching shovel and went to work. Pretty soon I had path dug from the downstream side of the culvert out onto the street.
The water came out. The turtle didn’t. This was becoming serious. I thought a bit and decided that some artillery might be in order. I collected up some smooth round rocks and then straddling the culvert entrance with my back to it, proceeded to heave the rocks between my legs and into the culvert. After a few I got down on my hands and knees and looked in. If a turtle could smile then he was doing it!
Time for some heavy ordinance – M-80s. Yeah, they were quasi-legal back then. I tied an M-80 to a rock, lit it and hurled it in. Rolling thunder bellowed from each end and muck sprayed everywhere. Conspicuous by its absence in that muck was the turtle. Hmmm.
I decided to try a sneak attack. Sit back and watch the culvert. He had to come out sooner or later. I’d sit for a half hour then go look in one end. He’d be walking toward the other. This war of wills (well, at least my will) went on for several hours. I was muddy. The road was muddy. The grass for a hundred feet around was muddy. The spectators were bored. I decided to give it up. I walked across the road to the Green Cove store where there was a garden hose that I could wash off with. About the time I got good and wet I heard one of my spectators laughing. I looked back and I swear that turtle was walking on his tip-toes across the road with his butt in the air, giving me the moon! Of course I had to get ’em.
A snapper can be picked up either by the tail or by the shell behind the rear legs. Do NOT try to pick him up by the leg! There’s more neck in that shell than one might think! I go traipsing back to the camper, turtle in hand. He’s hanging vertically with that big ole head reaching out trying to bite anything he could. I come into camp, Mom has a cow and Dad laughs.
One of the adults suggested turtle stew. I was going to take him home and let him go in the back yard but that sounded good too. Said adult suggested that I kill the turtle, flip him on his back and use a chainsaw to cut the shell between his legs. That way his bottom plate could be peeled off, revealing the actual turtle inside. Sounded reasonable.
I got Dad’s little McCullouch and my .22 rifle (OH MY GAWD, the kid’s got a gun. Well yeah, we did that back then) and headed out to the yard. I shot him hin the head, waited a few minutes and flipped him over. The chainsaw made quick work of the shell. I put my feet on the shell and started peeling up the base plate. That was the Worst Mistake of My Life!
I swear a brown cloud billowed forth from that shell and with it the WORST odor I’ve ever smelled. A month-old portapotty smells like perfume in comparison. A Bosnian mass grave smelled good by comparison. The inside of my nose blistered and my eyes crossed. I’d have probably puked had I been able to draw a breath. Oh. My. God!
When my eyes cleared enough to see again, I noticed I had an audience and they were rolling on the ground laughing. PRICKS! Turns out, my “advisor” knew what olfactory assault awaiting me. He thought he’d be cute and “neglect” to tell me one important detail – that I should have been out in the river with the turtle underwater when I peeled off the bottom plate. BASTARDS, all of ’em, bastards…
My nose was numb by then so I had the last laugh, chasing them around with the carcass. I managed to get a few heaves out of some of ’em. Then the turtle went into the river to become crawfish chow. Never did get that turtle stew.
There’s a moral in this story somewhere but I’ll be danged if I can figure out what. Certain, ah, friends still bring up this little escapade whenever we get together. All I can say is, Paybacks are Hell!