When I was a kid, folks used to visit people. We’d go see neighbors and relatives. It doesn’t seem like people do that much anymore. Maybe they do, and it’s just me.
When I returned home from church last Sunday, Linda told me that we had had a visitor. What’s more, that visitor had dug a hole in one of her flowerbeds and laid a bunch of eggs in it. By now, hopefully, you know it wasn’t a neighbor or relative.
That visitor was an eastern snapping turtle. The photo my wife took was not the best, so it may not make the cut, but I suspect you know what a snapping turtle looks like. To me, the larger ones always look like they have outgrown their shell. Unlike the little box turtles that you see around, the snapping turtle is unable to withdraw completely into its shell.
The chosen flower garden is more than 100 yards from the nearest surface water, a small stream passing through my neighbor’s field. That stream emanates from a little pond, where another neighbor’s cows get their water. I suspect that is where our visiting turtle calls home. I don’t know how the little fellows, if they hatch, are going to find their way back to the water.
It must be the season. The day before, our daughter, who lives in St. Just, near Unionville, called to say she had a snapping turtle in her front yard, and wanted to know if she should move it to a nearby creek. We advised her to leave it alone. People used to say that the first thunder of the year wakes up the snakes. Maybe it wakes up the turtles, as well.
On the Internet, I found that snappers usually lay their eggs in June, but that it can be anytime from May to October. I also read that a wild snapping turtle weighing 51 pounds caught in 2008 near Ft. Pickett by a commercial snapping turtle fisherman holds the record in Virginia. There are reports of captive snappers growing to 75 pounds. I didn’t know there were such things as commercial snapping turtle fishermen. Turtlemen?
So, what did the folks do in the old days when they caught or found a snapping turtle? When I was a kid, a lot of people who had an acre or two raised a few hogs to butcher in the fall. They would keep a barrel near the hog pen, and put all sorts of leftover and surplus foodstuffs in it. I’m sure you have heard the expression, “slop the hogs.” That is what they called it when you fed the pigs from the slop barrel.
We always put the skimmed or separated milk in that barrel, and a milling byproduct that we bought by the sack called middlings. Snappers will eat just about anything they can get in their mouth and down their throat, including some pretty awful stuff. So, to “clean them out,” folks used to toss the snapping turtles into the slop barrel.
After some period of cleansing and fattening in the barrel, the turtle was taken out, killed, dressed and eaten. I have to confess, I have never eaten turtle meat of any kind. Old folks used to say there were six or seven different types of meat on a snapping turtle.
The last one I brought home as a kid, I took to my Uncle Willie, who always told me how good they were. Aunt Bessie told me later that he was unable to kill and dress the turtle, and he let it go. That’s not a bad thing. And, since I read that snappers can live for 70 years, it’s possible the one that visited us is the same one Uncle Willie set free. But, that would be a stretch, even for me.
Richard Brady can be reached at 540-675-3754 or firstname.lastname@example.org.