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Wet enough to make turtles sing

By Sue Wunder / May 22, 2003



It's been wet this week, outright thunderstorming, steadily drizzling, or darkly misting, in endless shifts. Our resolve to clean the barn of its winter buildup of manure and spread it on the pastures has been put on hold because the spongy ground cannot absorb one more bit of moisture. The cows leave cloven hoofprints full of water as they wander about devouring the thick spring grass. The dogs' wet pawprints on the wood floors of the farmhouse never quite dry in between their comings and goings.

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My friend Amanda, down the road, posed an apt and arresting question today: "Are the turtles on your place singing?"

I love such language. I love poetry, and while I don't know how to make it, I know it when I read it. And yes, the turtles on our place are singing. They are everywhere, and the mute chorus of their joy is deafening to those who will listen. These days I come upon turtles in the brush along a rushing stream, in the mulch of the forest behind the pasture, and out in the grass, too, necks stretched at the noisy intrusion I make on their splendid solitude - on their singing in the spring.

I have had a soft spot for turtles ever since I watched my father sprint across a lane of the New York State Thruway to rescue one from the center of the tarmac and relocate it to the green edge of its apparent desire. Our family was bound for the Adirondack Mountains for a summer vacation, but the sight of that outstretched neck in the middle of the highway was an emotional brake for us all. We pulled over. Dad plucked the turtle from probable doom and deposited it on the grassy verge; it's an image right up there with Christmas morning in my childhood memory bank.

I have done the same thing so many times, I'm beginning to wonder if turtles regard roads as sure-thing shortcuts and bank on that friendly hand to save them a few languid steps in their journeys. But no, sing as they may this time of year, I don't honestly think that turtles think. Which isn't to say they aren't worth saving.

We'll get back to the barn when the weather dries. I've missed the cleaning up this week. I like to lift a pitchfork's worth of manure layered with the cows' daily winter bedding of straw, hay chaff, and leaves, and heft it into the spreader. I don't mind how many times I do it on a fine day in May. This is spring cleaning with a vengeance, and it does me and the pasture good.

But it's still far too wet to continue. So for now, I'm content to slog about in rubber boots looking for mushrooms and checking on the cows close to calving. Often I come across turtles in their proper habitat, far, far from harm's way and splendidly silent - until I pause to listen with more than my ears.

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